OK... It's just OK
The First Templar is an intriguing package from the outset. It is probably the first game that puts a spotlight on the Knights Templar, a prominent religious and military organization from the Medieval Times that was responsible for escorting pilgrims to the Holy Land. As a visual package it looks incredibly dated, given the blocky textures and the character models that looked pulled out of a last generation console. As a game, it has some simple yet fun ideas, combining a combat system with puzzles, an RPG-inspired skill tree, and a co-op option. In the end, the game is OK, but doesn't go above and beyond in terms of quality.
Taking place at around the 13th Century, you play the role of Celian, a knight templar. Teamed up with Marie d'Ibelin, a woman charged with witchcraft, Celian is ordered by his superior to look for the legendary Holy Grail. To complete the mission, the twosome, along with Celian's friend Roland, go through desert towns, castles, temples, and mountainous terrain. The story does have one really good plot twist, so the narrative has some merit, but the characters are of the cookie-cutter variety. Celian is the noble warrior, eager to help the weak even if it means delaying his main duty. Marie is the typical rich girl rebel who doesn't get why and how religion means something to people, and sidekick Roland is the warrior with a lust for bloodshed.
It doesn't help the game that the graphics look absolutely terrible. As mentioned before, the textures are bland and character models look incredibly outdated for the modern gaming scene. Their lip-syncing doesn't match their lines at all, and their attack motions look as stilted and clunky as those from the Dynasty Warriors franchise. However, I do give credit to the game for making due with little. Some of their set pieces look great, especially the temples, despite the graphical limitations mentioned earlier.
Although the protagonists do a lot of traveling in this tale, they also need to brandish their blades against thugs, army regulars and knights along the way. Combat is relatively simple. The characters have very few combos/special moves and the X button is the main way to damage foes. Blocking, countering and dodging enemy attacks is crucial, as players are either outnumbered or outgunned by bosses in every fight scene, and these mechanics are functional. There are moments where the difficulty spikes up enormously and unexpectedly (read: A ton load of enemies in a scene, perhaps too many). When participating in combat, characters earn EXP that can be exchanged for different skills and attributes to help in battle (like increasing HP or adding a combo). In all, combat is satisfying but uninspired, only requiring some moments of good timing in blocking, parrying and evading.
When not driving a blade into somebody's heart the game also has some stealth sequences, where characters try to maneuver around enemy forces without alerting them and stealth-kill unaware troops from behind. The mechanics for this portion of the game brings some question marks to the enemy AI, as sometimes you can perform a stealth kill right beside them and still not be noticed, and sometimes enemies don't notice you even if you are around 20 feet away without cover. I did have a problem with the stealth mechanic in one stage where there are alot of enemies and getting spotted would mean imminent game over (since you need to fight off too many enemies within a time limit), but beyond that moment stealth sequences are functional.
The best parts of the gameplay are the puzzle sections, where the characters have to work together to maneuver around traps, activate levers and press down on some stones to move on. The puzzles are elaborate, requiring some thought, but not overly byzantine, so players can get by without much difficulty. Thanks to the "just right" difficulty there is also a good sense of momentum that can really engage players. At the end of the day, I think the puzzle sections are the best part of the gameplay, even if it isn't overly creative or imaginary.
The best way to describe The First Templar is "simple", as the characters, gameplay, and graphics fit the description of that word. The product isn't that difficult despite three difficulty settings, so the game is definitely more appropriate for the casual gamer. The shelf life of this game is pretty short after its 10 hour playthrough, despite the multiple difficulty settings, numerous side quests, unlockable costumes, excerpts describing the Knights Templar, and a second ending that is not worth watching (watch it on YouTube; it's not that different from the other ending). There is just very little incentive to attain these bonuses as it does little to enhance the gameplay. In the end, the game is best suited for a rental, as you'll see what it has to offer in the first 4 or 5 hours.
I like Celian, and the story is pretty good, but the characters, including Celian, are stock and generic
Gameplay: 5.5/10 (3 for initial gameplay + 2.5 for late gameplay)
Combat and stealth sections are functional but not really really fun. Puzzle sections are the best part of the game by far. But the game rarely spices things up after those initial ideas.
The graphics are really dated despite some bright spots. Music is forgettable, voice acting is wooden at worst, average at best.
10.5/20 (round down to 2.5 stars)
It is simple but not the fun-nest package out there, and there is little reason to play it twice.