Fantasy, in a gaming sense, is usually a genre in which tales of knights and heroes are told, existing in a world of monsters, magic and mystery. So when a knight in a purple thong turns up and introduces himself as DeathSpank, it is clear that this is not an ordinary outing into the world of Fantasy. Developed by Hothead Games, the team behind the Penny Arcade games, Deathspank was bound to be humourous, but what is interesting is how it matches both the RPG and action genres so well in regards to the gameplay.
In regards to the story, DeathSpank is a typical hero. He has an over-the-top heroic voice and he's on an epic quest to find the mysterious artifact known as "The Artifact". DeathSpank arrives at the house of Ms. Heybenstance, a witch, who has sealed the artifact away in a cave with black magic. On his continued pursuit of the artifact, DeathSpank comes to learn that his heroism is needed elsewhere. A tyrant by the name of Lord Von Prong has captured many of the town of PluckMuckel's orphans. DeathSpank must heroically save all of the orphans, defeat Von Prong, recover the artifact, and on top of that, help the townspeople with remedial tasks and fetch quests.
When starting the game, players are treated to a cinematic which briefly explains the story before throwing them into the playable game. Players are shown that DeathSpank can wield four weapons at a time including melee and ranged types, which are accessed through the face buttons. Items are mapped to the d-pad. Player movement is simple enough, the left stick controls DeathSpank's movement, whilst the right stick will move the camera ever so slightly left, right or further away. The game uses this very simple structure throughout, the only exception being special moves used with two buttons instead of one and DeathSpank's shield which is used with the right trigger. The only other feature is the 'Justice Meter'. Once this has filled up, DeathSpank has the ability to use one of his weapon's Justice ability. These can include pummelling an enemy into the ground or spinning around like a crazed swiss army knife. With features like these, it's hard not to have fun with the easy-to-use combat system which is so accessible, anyone can play it.
During DeathSpank's quests it is hard not to notice the world that Hothead Games have created; imagine theatre backdrops and that's halfway there. The land itself is believable (in a cartoony sense) with green fields, sandy beaches and stone paths, but the buildings, trees and assorted objects all look like they were made from plywood for a theatre production. Simply put, the land looks 3D, the objects look 2D. Music is another key factor in the world of DeathSpank. At times it is irresistibly catchy with a style matching that of a James Bond film, but at other times it is more fast paced, ideally matching the times when the player is in combat. The look and feel of the world is important in a game like DeathSpank considering players will be spending a good amount of time in it. Hothead have nailed this in the sense of the game never looked bad and the music never got boring.
Grinding, a term used in most RPGs to describe the process of performing repetitive or boring tasks in order to gain a level and become more powerful, isn't really present in the game. There is always something for the player to do or somewhere to go in order to escape the boredom of killing the same enemies over and over just to be able to kill the next enemy over and over. There are always new weapons to collect, each with their own stats, be it a club, mace, scythe, or chicken launcher, to name a few. There are new areas to explore, like the creepy surroundings of the graveyard or the colourful enchanted forest, complete with GingerBread Wild Men and Savage Unicorns that shoot laser-beams from their horns (yes, really). Players can even be joined by another player through local multiplayer co-op, if single player becomes a bore. But for those who love questing, there are plenty of quests to keep players occupied for a good while. Whether it's collecting demon poop to make prize-winning manure, or helping a couple trick each other into falling in love again.
It's hard to fault a game like DeathSpank, but that's not to say it doesn't have any at all, for instance, DeathSpank's voice. His character may be that of a loud, boastful nature but when DeathSpank talks to people, his voice just becomes annoying over time. The only real saving grace is that the dialogue is so well written and humourous, at times it was easy to just read the character's lines and skip ahead instead of listening to it. Another fault with the game could be considered a major one by RPG fan standards, elemental factors. A few weapons in the game have elemental attributes, for example, a battle-axe that causes ice damage, but there just wasn't enough emphasis on the gameplay. If anything, it was more of just a visually pleasing element to see DeathSpank holding an axe with blue sparkly bits on it.
To put it bluntly, DeathSpank is a game worth the price. It is a mere fraction of a full retail price game and much longer than a lot of them. The world of DeathSpank is visually pleasing even if the whole reason of being there is to kill everything just to save a few orphans. There is not much variety in combat short of running in and battering everything with a hammer but a variety of weapons, items and DeathSpank's shield allows for a more tactical approach towards the end of the game, keeping things exciting. The main quest in the game shouldn't take too long but an array of side-quests mean that players could potentially spend a vast amount of time playing the game.