Have you ever played a medieval-era video game and just wanted to get right to the fighting? NIS America knows how you feel, and thus provides for your gaming pleasure Clan of Champions. This multiplayer fighting game has taken the "less is more" proverb to heart, sticking with a fighting system and trying to make it the best they can. How does this game hold up?
In medieval Somewhere, a war is being waged over the newly discovered ruins of a city, when it is discovered that ancient magics are found within. You lead a band of mercenaries, hired to help the Templar forces contain the city for themselves. The story itself doesn't really intrude on the game at all, telling itself mainly through text introductions to each of the game's 24 missions. The game is focused on fighting first and foremost.
Each of the missions has basically the same structure: you, along with your partners, try to kill all of the enemies (or a specific target) in a small arena; sometimes you have to go through several of these arenas before the mission is actually complete. As you battle enemies, you'll knock weapons and armor away from them, which will fall to the ground; this gives you a better chance of defeating your foes, but you can also pick up any dropped weapons, shields or helmets and use them for the duration of the mission, which I found to be a very cool mechanic and similar to what would happen in an actual battle. Be careful, though, as your equipment can be knocked to the ground as well, if you aren't careful.
Your attack options in battle are well done, as well; you have just enough attacks available to provide a variety of options without making the controls bothersome. Your right-hand weapon has basic low, middle and high attacks, controlled by the three mouse buttons; of course, if your mouse's middle button is a piece of junk like mine, then you're basically down to two attacks. In addition to those basic attacks, you can also equip up to four different skills, which are also easily executed by combining the Ctrl key with either a mouse click or your spacebar. Additionally, you raise your shield with Shift, and can pick up dropped equipment with the 1, 2 and 3 keys. Overall, the controls are very well designed, providing a variety of options without ever needing to move your hand out of its comfort zone.
The game also has RPG elements to it, as well. Your warrior can take one of three battle stances, for lack of a better term: Sword and Shield, Dual Wield, or Close Combat. Each one has its specific strengths and weaknesses, and you can level up each one individually to improve its skills, though you may have to do some grinding to get everything at a decent level. Each stance has its own specific set of skills, as well, and as you level up you'll be able to choose which skills you want to improve for each stance. As you play, you'll also unlock new skills and magic spells, which you can swap out freely from the game menus between missions.
Equipment can also be upgraded, increasing your strength, defense and other parameters. As was mentioned before, you can pick up dropped weapons and shields and such from the battlefield, but unfortunately you don't get a chance to actually keep them. Instead, at the end of each mission you'll have the chance to purchase new weaponry, shields or armor; this way works fine, except that you can only buy one of each equipment piece offered, and I always found myself torn at the prospect of buying exactly one boot. In addition to buying new weapons, you can upgrade them by combining them with weaker weapons or armor, which will either upgrade or downgrade your stats depending on the equipment involved.
The game's major flaw is its cumbersome menu system. Basically, everything takes one or two steps longer than it should in order to happen, from selecting missions to purchasing new equipment at the end of each mission. Especially frustrating is the fact that you can't upgrade anything that you currently have equipped, which means you need to go into a completely separate menu to unequip the item, then back to do some fusion, then back again to equip the item again. Additionally, while the game constantly shows you when equipment has better stats than your current stuff, there are few instances where it clearly shows that you're about to downgrade; this is especially the case in mid-battle, where they don't specify either one of these. The system in general is filled with extra steps like that, and I think the menus could have done with some serious streamline. It's not a deal-breaker, but it will turn out to be more of a hindrance than players will probably anticipate going in.
In addition to the normal missions, you also have options for multiplayer versus and co-op modes. The way the game is designed, it's always one team of players against another team of players, and so the multiplayer system logically builds on top of that. You can select a single-player, multiplayer, or co-op mode when going into the mission select, and you'll have 24 missions to choose from, each one of which can be played on one of four difficulties. The easiest difficulty really is not impressive, but as the challenge ramps up you'll find yourself performing less mindless mouse clicks and paying more attention to your opponent's movements.
The game is also quite impressive aesthetically. Environments and characters are both well-designed and are sharp, and the lighting effects are well-done as well. Weapons and armor flash when they fall to the ground or take damage, making them hard to miss, which is beneficial. The game's sound is also well done, with generic yet pleasant medieval music, as well as sound effects that enhance your immersion without becoming too repetitive or grating.
Clan of Champions may only offer one main mode of play, but that just means the developers have had plenty of time to refine the system and make it work quite well. Gamers may be turned off by a badly-designed menu system, but once they dive into the actual gameplay, they may find it more difficult to quit than they anticipated. It's an overall solid game, and anyone looking for a fun combat game, or a multiplayer hack-and-slash, would do well to give this game a look.
Final Game Guys grade: B+
(NISA provided a copy of this game for review.)
- by Jim Avery for news10.net's Game Guys