Guest Author - James Shea
A hack-and-slash game set in the universe of the online game Everquest, "Return to Arms" does for Everquest what "Dark Alliance" did for the Baldur's Gate series. Return to Arms is the sequel to "Champions of Norrath", which was similarly aimed at a hack-and-slash crowd.
Based on games like "Gauntlet", "Return to Arms" has the player smashing his way through hordes of enemies. There are 7 classes to choose from (each a different race; most have the option of choosing gender, as well). There is a limited amount of choice for skin and hair color as well as hairstyle. The classes are, in usual RPG fashion, designed to complement each other (fighter hits, cleric heals, mage casts spells, etcetera), though each is fairly capable of standard hack-and-slash attacks. The two new classes are an Iksar Shaman and a Vah Shir Berserker (both from the original EQ's expansion packs). The game is primarily meant to be played online, where four people can work together to go through the story mode.
The story picks up where the last left off - the enemy defeated in the last game has broken into shards, and it is up to the player to either destroy them (the good path) or collect them to revive the evil being (the evil path). Mostly, it's used as a way to justify the hack-and-slash; there's not a great deal of development that occurs. There are some throwaway characters introduced (mostly so there is someone to kill) but for the most part the "characters" are just things that you are bashing.
Much of the game works like Diablo, and in fact even looks like it; the skill trees, the equipment and inventory system, and the basic system of hacking and slashing all recalls a Diablo-esque mode of play. Many of the conventions established by Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, such as casting magic while you fight and various facets of the interface, are also present.
The graphics are decent, for the most part. However, like in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (though not as ridiculously exaggerated here) the women are mostly scantily-clad and "bouncy". In fact, most of the characters in the game are these scantily-clad women, including the representatives for the "good" and "evil" sides. It's almost as though the game designers were admitting that the game was simply a vessel for "stuff teenage boys want" and not so much a story-based game. One could point to the Babes of Everquest calendar for the first game as further proof of this. Other than that particular notable, the graphics are good but bland in most cases. The audio is similarly bland; again, just a background for the hack-and-slash gameplay.
Overall, this game isn't really distinguished from any other hack-and-slash, except for the Everquest setting. If you're really into EQ, and you don't mind not having any sort of role-playing or storyline, then this might be worth a try. Otherwise, don't bother.