Brutal arena combat gets a fantasy infusion in the PC versionof PS3 team battler Clan of Champions. Orc versus elf: FIGHT!
As a pretty big Lord of the Rings fan (and fan of high-fantasy in general), Clan of Champions looked like it was right up my alley. I mean, there are Orcs, elves, and humans- all clad in armor and wielding big pointy weapons. What’s not to like, right?
Well the thing of it is, Clan of Champions is a little bit of a mixed bag. This is no dungeon crawl or expansive action/RPG- it’s actually not even a fighting game. CoC is an arena brawler… at least I guess that would be the most accurate term.
There isn’t much of a story to speak of (don’t expect any lavish cut scenes), but basically the game sets you and your warrior pals up against other groups of fighters in some relatively small arenas- usually no more than one or two chambers linked by a loading screen. The tale of the game is told in text (no vocal track) and it basically just sets up what is a straight up fight to the finish that has little in the way of fanfare.In fact, even the taunts that ‘boss’ characters hurl at you are printed in text boxes that float above their heads. It’s a little off-putting that developer Acquire took this track with the game in an era where pretty much every game has voice acting. It’s just kind of… weird.
When you first start the game, you’ll be presented with some light customization options. And when I say ‘light’, I mean it. You can pick your race and fighting style and a wee bit of your looks- and that’s about it. There are Orcs, Humans and Elves in the game as far as races go and you can pick to be any one of the three.
The customizing fun sort of stops there though. Even your sex is limited to what’s pre-set for each race’s character template- Orcs and Humans are guys and the Elf is a gal. No, it’s not a huge amount of character building, but at least you have the option of playing as more than the standard Human- and any game that lets you play as an Orc can’t be all bad right?
And Clan of Champions isn’t all bad. A fact that’s mainly true because the weapon play is actually really fun and well designed. You can pick from a trio of fighting styles and there’s lots of weaponry and armor to be had throughout; all of which can be broken down and strengthened between levels. I’m hesitant to use the word ‘loot’, because Clan doesn’t feel like a loot grab game at all (like Diablo), but it kind of is.
In fact, one of the best things about the game is that when you’re done fighting and the last man has hit the dirt, you can scoop up all the weapons and armor that lay scattered about the floor. You can either hang onto this booty for yourself, or use it as raw material to be broken down. It’s amazingly addictive to manage your cash levels while you buy, upgrade, and otherwise build your initially defenseless warrior into a first class assassin.
Combat is another bright point in Clan and is (thankfully) the meat and potatoes of the game. You can semi-aim your attacks to parts of your opponents bodies in order to knock armor free and bash shields away via low, medium, and high attacks. Once unprotected, you can then follow by delivering some truly crushing blows with your special attacks.
Specials can be bought and equipped between missions like your weaponry and really spice up the combat. A good leaping downward stab can take a huge chunk off of your opponent’s health bar and really shorten a battle.
Try not to lose any armor yourself though. Anyone who tries to keep pressing an assault after they’ve lost a significant amount of bodily protection will find themselves on the losing end of a blade, fast. If you do drop something you can pick it back up (or grab something else that’s laying around)- just make sure nobody’s on top of you when you do or you’ll find yourself on the ropes.
Oh, and don’t get cornered. It’s stunningly hard to fight your way out of a corner against just one foe- against two it’s nigh-impossible.
Fortunately, this isn’t an exercise in frustrating controls. CoC plays well enough with a keyboard and mouse and doesn’t get bogged down with too many options that it becomes unwieldily. I didn’t try it with a controller, but I imagine that it’d be even more streamlined and easy to play that way.
The amount of combat strategy is actually pretty surprising in Clan- and very welcome. In spite of everything that’s not so great about the game, I found myself having a great time just repeatedly upgrading my armor and weaponry and charging back to battle in the next fight. Even though the story is bare bones, the combat is far from it.
As far as graphics go, the player characters themselves probably won’t knock you over with their good looks but are decent enough. There isn’t a whole lot of detail in the designs and they end up looking pretty bland before you start stacking armor on top of them- which doesn’t take too long. Likewise, the enemies are about as generic as you can get and are just variations of the same character designs that you get to play as. The game basically throws the same guys at you over and over again too, with a little boost given to what would probably be called bosses. The bottom line is that you won’t find any cave trolls laying in wait deep in the dungeons of Clan.
I don’t want to be too harsh with NIS’ Clan of Champions, because I actually had a surprising amount of fun with it. The swordplay and action is really well done all around and the loot system, while unspectacular, is amazingly addictive.
The real knock against the game, if I was going to find one, is that it just has no soul. There’s no ‘oomph’ to it, nothing to get you up for a game and into the world that NIS has created. A deeper story would have been nice, but even just having better visuals would have been a huge bonus towards that end.
Something, anything that gave the game a personality all it’s own and the feel of a living, breathing fantasy universe could have made Clan of Champions a hundred times more enjoyable and worth coming back to. That said though, once you’re in it and playing, the fighting just might make you want to stick around for a while all by itself.