The humor is top notch, but the game gets repetitive and dull
DeathSpank is a funny game – a really funny game. It is one of the most genuinely funny games to come out in a long time. It is really close to being a great game, but some design flaws bog it down and it starts to get boring about five hours in. It is an action RPG in the style of Diablo, and loot lust is implemented very well. On top of that, it offers a semi open-ended world to explore, which gives it a much richer adventuring feel than Diablo. Unfortunately, character development is so poorly done that it is practically nonexistent. There are no unique abilities or attacks that you gain access too with a development tree. Ten hours into the game, you will still be experiencing the same basic “click to kill” gameplay that you experienced in the first five minutes. No matter how great the humor is, it can’t carry the game through its many dull stretches.
DeathSpank is a Mel Brooks style parody of the action-RPG genre. Irreverent and fully self-aware, the game makes light of the genre in all kinds of humorous ways. The food that you eat to restore your health is junk food like nachos, sundaes, and French fries. Eating food is accompanied by an amusing, piggish “Nom nom nom” sound as you stuff your face. The game acknowledges the silliness of item fetch quests by making you seek mundane items like a specially prepared taco. The dialog is full of lines that refer to the game being a by-the-numbers RPG. DeathSpank is a perfect example of a game that could never be a AAA, boxed title. Only a small team with a small budget could be free to write a game in this manner.
The main character (after whom the game is titled) is an undead warrior of sorts, who is seeking a powerful item. In order to find that item, you will journey throughout the land, progressing the story by completing standard “kill monster” or “collect five of these items” quests. You collect tons of gold and item drops and equip yourself with the best stuff that you can get. In order to cut down on your travel time, you can fast travel around the world by activating outhouses, and then travel between outhouses on the world map. While not a purely open-ended game like Elder Scrolls or Divine Divinity, there is still a strong sense of freedom to the game. The world is well-designed and very large. A wide variety of scenery and well-placed quest item and treasure encourage lots of exploration, and the occasional town allows you to take a break from smashing monsters and engage in some funny dialog.
For the most part, DeathSpank makes the most of its low budget origins with some quality art design and music. It features 3D characters walking on 2D backgrounds. The characters look kind of blocky, like something out of about 2003, but the full use of the color palette makes up for it somewhat. The music is pretty unconventional for this type of game – it is more like what you would find in a 60s spy movie than a typical RPG. If I didn’t know better, I would say that it was written by the same composer who did the “No One Lives Forever” series. This probably doesn’t sound good on paper, but thanks to the game’s humor, it works very well.
Combat is mostly standard RPG fare. You can equip yourself with two weapons. You attack with the left and right hands by clicking the left and right mouse buttons. When you score enough hits, you fill up a power meter that allows you to use a power move. You can also block and use crossbows, but that is about it. There simply isn’t enough variety to it. Left click, right click, block occasionally, and eat some food after an engagement to regain some health. Blocking requires some timing, but beyond that, there isn’t a lot of skill involved. Combat changes very little despite what weapons you are carrying, and that is probably why this game fizzles out. Gaining levels is very unsatisfying. It only allows you to gain access to better weapons and a 5% improvement in a mundane trait like movement speed or block duration. Without a great combat system based on player skill, DeathSpank desperately could have used a Diablo II style skill tree to give you more freedom in how to play your character.
After about ten hours of playing, getting to see a lot of the world and completing a lot of quests, I ran out of gas playing this game. DeathSpank is ultimately lacking the hook that keeps you coming back and always wanting to play one more hour. It is a decent start to what might end up being a great series, but I can’t give it an unqualified recommendation. Even though it is a unique title, DeathSpank suffers from the boring repetitiveness that the genre is known for.