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Review – Rise of the Argonauts

posted on May 8th, 2009 by tony

I’m not really sure what I think of Rise of the Argonauts. On one hand, the game suffers from some poor design choices that can really slow the pace to an insufferable crawl and frustrate the player immensely … so I wouldn’t recommend it. On the other hand, the exciting combat sequences, engrossing story, fine voice acting and art direction made the game quite enjoyable … so I’d totally recommend it.

On another hand, the developer calls this game an RPG, which it totally isn’t. Yeah, you can choose new abilities and change your outfits, but both aspects are so limited that you can’t really call it a full-blown RPG … so we’re back to not recommending it again (for RPG players). And on the final hand, that limiting of options actually works in the game’s favor, because coupling intricate inventory management with sometimes slow story progression would kill this thing outright … so is that a plus? One thing I can say is that I enjoyed playing the game. It’s actually a lot of fun … except for when it isn’t.

Let’s start with the bad. The thing that I found most frustrating was the pacing. One minute you’re zipping along, crushing skulls with your mace, really plugging ahead with the story … and then you stop dead. The action ceases and you’re stuck talking to a village of NPC’s to refill your objectives list and hearing way more backstory than you’ll ever need.

Each of these conversations has multiple branches leading to different outcomes (think Mass Effect) but you can just re-initiate the dialogue for each NPC and choose the other options until you get the objective you’re looking for. It made the whole thing quite pointless and some of the info-gathering sequences lasted almost an hour. There’s just no excuse for that. The only thing that made it bearable was that the voice acting was very well done.

You’d think a civilization of blood thirsty mercenaries would choose something better than the ‘lost’ and ‘worried’ old man masks.

The game really starts to drag when you have to run from one end of the level to the other multiple times in order to deliver a message or item to an NPC. I must have missed that part of the Argonautica where Jason did all that courier work. Good stuff!

Another issue (at first) was the RPG-lite aspect of the game. You have the ability to outfit different weapons and armor sets, each having their own attributes and special powers. The problem is that none of the choices make that much difference. One suit will have the ability to regenerate health slowly and the other will allow you to cast powers with a lesser cost to mana. Which one of those is better? Don’t ask me, I kept the same outfit on most of the game until the finale and didn’t notice a thing.

The game also suffers from some serious frame rate drops and key points in the larger battles. Nothing game-ending, but noticeable and seemingly unnecessary when the same sequence would load without problems if you had to start the level over. The only thing I can think of is that the active loading of the levels and enemies was a bit sloppily coded, leading to inconsistencies with lag issues.

One other major problem I noticed was that installing the game to the Xbox hard drive rendered it unplayable, as it wouldn’t load the title screen. After I uninstalled the game it loaded fine, but then I had to listen to the drive spinning the entire time … something I didn’t realized I hated until I didn’t need to hear it. This is a problem that could easily be solved with a patch but it seems the developers pressed the game and then moved on.

Now on to the good. The story is great, which is very important to me in games of this type. I will suffer through a lot of crap if there’s an engrossing story. This is basically a slight re-imagining of the story of the Argonauts starring the Harlem Globetrotters all-star cast of Greek mythology. Your companions consist of Hercules, Pan the Satyr, Achilles, Medea, Deadalus, King Lycomedes, Atalanta, Medusa, and of course Argus. A large portion of these characters were not aboard the original Argo but are taken from various stories from the same era.

As Jason, you set out to obtain the legendary Golden Fleece in order to bring your murdered wife back from the land of the dead, traveling to multiple locations in order to build your crew and make it to gates of the underworld. Being a total Greek mythology nerd, it was quite enjoyable to see the artists’ re-imaginings of such places at the Oracle at Delphi, Iolcus the island of Zeus, and Mycenae even if the characters and history were a little jumbled around. The story is sufficiently epic considering the source material, and there is no shortage of stirring moments in the game that really drive home the scale of your saga.

The RPG-lite style really worked with one of my favorite aspects of the game. Instead of having the normal ability tree structure, your powers are based on level of favor you have with each of the four main gods: Ares, Apollo, Hermes and Athena. Each track has a different combat style, dialogue choices and god powers and every action you take in the game gives you points towards one of these tracks.

For example, you’re talking to a mercenary who is insulting your dead wife. Do you punch him in the face (Ares), tell him he’s being unreasonable (Apollo), arrest him for slander (Athena) or tell him you slept with his wife the night before and she seemed equally as dead (Hermes). Choosing one adds points to that god’s favor and allows you to open more of their powers when the tier is full. Also, every time you complete a deed (like killing 25 soldiers or freeing a group of slaves) you can dedicate that feat to any of the gods and gain large amounts of favor.

The boat is nice and all, but I could get where I need to go a helluva lot faster if you let me ride your flame-headed griffon thing.

After about ten hours of play, completing about 90% of the feats, I had maxed out only two of the god tracks and there are no power leveling options, so your choices really do matter. Some of the powers you can get at later levels are incredibly fun to use, like hurling spears made of lightning or temporarily donning a suit of armor that holds the brilliance and power of the sun.

The combat system was equally well designed. You have three main weapons: spear (Athena), mace (Ares), and sword (Hermes). Your shield can also become a weapon as you progress through the Apollo track. The fighting styles with each weapon are extremely varied but all enjoyable. The violence is swift but brutal with decapitations, impalings and skull-crushings in abundance. During a combo with one weapon it’s possible to immediately switch to another to end the sequence with a crippling blow making for some interesting tactical choices (especially with the larger enemies).

Your foes don’t vary wildly from island to island, but they arrive in such numbers that the epic heroes in the tale earn their legendary status. Playing alongside Hercules who’s ripping enemies in half and then using them to club the next wave of attackers to death also helps.

All in all, I think I would recommend this game as long as you know what you’re getting into. Be prepared to sit through some long dialogue sessions and frustrating point A to B missions. But also be ready to deal some seriously fun and vicious punishment to your foes as you take part in one of the greatest stories ever re-told. Mind the Kraken.

1 Comments

  1. Shota said on May 8, 2009:

    I enjoyed this review. For once a review actually helped me to make a decision. I think I’d like this game. Sounds like the stop and go action of Shadow of Rome. But the “go” outweighs the “stop.”

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