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Champions: Return to Arms for the PS2 is the sequel to the Action RPG Champtions of Norrath for the same system. Return to Arms brings you more goblin-slaying action as well as new classes and new skills to master, over multiple difficulties. And when you start your first mission, you will be greeted with a choice. Will you fight for the forces of good? Or will you help evil to regain its control of the land of Norrath?
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Good Vs. Evil
In the first game, you were out to destroy Innoruuk and save the world. This time, you get to choose. Once you make the choice, you cannot undo it, so choose wisely. The actual choice does not make much of a difference in gameplay, and is mostly cosmetic. The dialogue will change, as will the location where you purchase new items, but that aside, there is little difference. Only a couple missions have any significant changes, and the most important one is the endboss. If you choose to fight for good, then you will be facing Cazic-Thule at the end, but if you choose to fight for evil, you will fight Mithaniel Marr.
Once you have beaten the game, whichever side you choose, you will be able to choose a new side on the next difficulty. I suggest playing through each side at least once to get the full story, There are several throwbacks to the first game as well, such as Vanarhost, so if you have played Champions of Norrath you will definitely want to be both good at evil at least once.
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Picking Your Class
There are seven classes to choose from in this game. The five from the original game return, along with two new ones. The five old ones can be male or female, though the difference is purely cosmetic. The new ones are both restricted to what I take to be male (neither are human, so it's a bit hard to tell). Here is a rundown of each class:
Barbarian Warrior - This is a very in-your-face melee class. Has several buffs, mostly individual, and can tank as well as dish out damage. Choose this if you want to use a lot of swords, axes, and the like in direct combat with the enemies.
Wood Elf Ranger - Primarily a ranged class, though can use melee weapons as well. You will have to pick one or the other to specialize in, otherwise you will find yourself too weak at higher levels. Pick this class if you want to take out enemies with bows or spears, or fight from a distance.
High Elf Cleric - A support class relying on magic to aid other fighters. On its own, the cleric does limited damage, and can have a hard time fighting. Has several heals and other enhancement magic. Choose this class if you want to play multiplayer and be support.
Erudite Wizard - A magic user that can damage both from a distance and close up. You will not have a lot of HP, so be careful, but at higher levels, this class can demolish groups of enemies with ease, and is great to have in a multiplayer party. Choose this class if you enjoy using magic.
Dark Elf Shadowknight - Similar to the barbarian, this class uses melee weapons but also uses dark magic, such as poison, to hinder its enemies. Not quite as powerful as the warrior, but more versatile, and able to take on multiple enemies more effectively. Choose this class if you like melee but are not about raw power.
Iksar Shaman (new) - A mixed class between a melee fighter and a spellcaster, similar to the Dark Elf, but the shaman is more on the magic side. Also capable of summoning a pet, this is a very well-balanced fighter in general, and is a great choice for a single player game. Pick a Shaman if you will be mostly playing by yourself.
Vah Shir Beserker (new) - Another melee variation, the Beserker is primarily about up close damage, but also has several area effect buffs that are useful with teammates. Can also use ranged weapons, but not as effectively as the Ranger. Choose if you like playing support but still want to do damage.
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Choosing your Skills
Each character gets skill points when they level up, and you must decide how to spend them. The higher level you are, the more points you get, and if you get your character all the way up to 80, you will be able to max the majority of your skills, depending on your class. The skills are organized into trees that group them by type, and it is very helpful to stick to one type of skill, in order to maximize their effectiveness. For example, if you are a Ranger, stick to either melee or ranged attacks until you have most of those maxed out, otherwise you will end up too weak. If you are a Wizard, try to primarily use one element (such as fire) so you can get those skills maxed early on. As all classes level up, they will be able to get at least a few points into all skills. Abilities such as Slashing Weapons are good overall choices, because they affect almost all attacks, so try to get them leveled up early.
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Another character development aspect in the game is the stat points you get from each level. I label them as minor simply because the bonuses you get from weapons and armor are much much higher, but they are still worth using. There are four stats you can increase: strength, intelligence, dexterity, and stamina. Basically, strength is for melee attacks, intelligence is overall mana, dexterity is for ranged attacks, and stamina is your overall health. One important omission is for magic attacks. Unfortunately, that is only affected by ability level, and not by any of the stats. There are a couple other points about stats, as well. Strength also affects how much you can hold, which affects how often you have to use a gate scroll to sell items. This is not a big deal, but can annoy some people. Technically, dexterity affects accuracy, but unlike the first Champions game, the effects seem to be minimal, so unless you are a ranged fighter, I would not worry about this stat. You will obtain 3 stat points per level, and unlike ability points, these will not increase.
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Items and Equipment
Champions: Return to Arms has several difficulty levels, and to beat them all, you will have to upgrade your equipment several times. You will always have access to decent equipment in the store, but usually, the prices for this equipment is not worth it, because you will find the same equipment in the field when you kill enemies. The only thing you need to make sure you purchase enough of is potions, because running out of these at a critical moment can be deadly. You also may need to purchase arrows or throwing weapons if you are a ranged fighter, but classes such as the Ranger and Beserker will eventually gain the ability to magically summon more arrows or axes, eliminating the need to purchase them.
You will find several weapons that have open slots, as well. These slots can be filled with items that enhance the weapon's effectiveness (such as a fire enchant) or add stats to your character. Through these slot enhancements, you can achieve very powerful characters, and this is one area where customization can go a long way. One of the most powerful slot items to look out for is the speed enhancement one. You will find different speeds depending on the difficulty level, but these can be very useful as they will allow you to get more hits in, for both melee and ranged characters. Unfortunately, these will not have an effect on magic attacks.
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Beating the Game
Once you have finally beaten Cazic-Thule or Mithaniel Marr, you can always play again at a higher difficulty, getting better items and learning more abilities. I would also recommend all the medallion rounds, as they will help you get more stats and items, including some rare ones. And if you think you've done it all, and have a level 80 character, then go play online, and try the Epic difficulty, only available past level 75. It is quite difficult!