As if the EverQuest juggernaut needed any help, the Champions of Norrath game brings a new chapter to this RPG saga.
First, you choose your character. There are barbarian warriors, wood elf rangers, high elf clerics, erudite wizards and dark elf shadow knights. We seem a bit elf happy here, with none of the other interesting races represented. You do get to choose a male or female of each, but the females all look like Playboy models rather than normal human beings (or elven beings for that matter).
You get a tiny bit of customization - hair style, hair/skin color. A few point modifications to your stats and you're set. A quest to fight orcs, and you're all set!
The game is extremely Diablo-like. Your inventory lets you arrange your items tetris-like in a grid, and there is almost infinite variety in the combinations of weapons and armor available. This on one hand is good, but on the other hand, do you really need 80 different types of boots to choose amongst?
The graphics are VERY sweet, with whirling mists, swinging lamps on ropes, and well done body movements. This isn't a splinter-cell reality look, it's more like a 'living cartoon'. There are shadows and glows from lights, the flames flicker quite realistically. Even the menu scenes are very nicely done and get you in the mood.
The sounds are reasonably good, from the clicks of swords to the haunting music in the background. As in all games you can get tired of certain phrases or songs rather quickly, but that's what the mute button is for.
Gameplay itself is very much like other RPGs out on the market. You run around the randomly generated map slashing at everything. Creatures die. You gain experience points and push for the next level up to give yourself more stats. Depending on your character type, you can move along different skill trees to become more advanced at tasks you want to do. Note that unlike other games, if you click on something you're stuck with it. So think carefully before you click.
As enjoyable as this is, there are a few flaws to at least watch out for. One, the random maps are fun, but the randomly positioned save points are either really good or REALLY awful. If they were going to do a random map, they should have just let us save at any time.
Most RPGs let archers have unlimited arrows - but here you have to buy them. Then you're stuck running back for more all the time. Especially for a newbie archer, this really means you don't arch much at all. Not fun.
The bad guys seem to lurk by the spawn points, so if you die, you often come back to life only to watch in anger as your character is slain on the spot. This falls into the Not Fun category.
Also, the camera could use a fair amount of work. There are many times when you're caught fighting and can't see at all what you're doing.
Still, these are just things to keep in mind - the game in general is gorgeous to look at and great fun to play. Because it's random, and because it plays well in multiplayer (both in person and on PS2 Online), this is where it really shines. Much like Diablo was AMAZINGLY fun in an online setting, the Norrath online can keep you having fun for weeks and weeks, if not months and months.
Highly recommended for the RPG fan who wants to play with friends!
Buy Champions of Norrath from Amazon.com