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DeathSpank plays as a satire of the action RPG genre, lampooning classics like Diablo and Dungeon Siege. Don't let the game's satirical nature fool you however, as it is still a deep and fleshed out title that takes its gameplay seriously. The game stars a champion of justice named DeathSpank that traverses the countryside in search of "The Artifact". Along the way he encounters a host of characters all needing his assistance in one way or another, and our hero's inflated sense of justice does not allow him to ignore the cries of the downtrodden.
All the standard genre tropes are here, from mowing through hordes of ravenous monsters, or embarking on quests in the name of justice, to gathering heaps upon heaps of sparkling loot. DeathSpank takes these RPG hallmarks and adds its twisted humor, sending you on quests to collect the lips of vicious chickens, or track down a fisherman's lost tackle box. It's not exactly the stuff of legends, but our hero carries out each noble quest with resolve.
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DeathSpank's ultimate goal is to obtain "The Artifact", an item of unimaginable power that was foretold to be his destiny. To ensure the acquisition of this item, DeathSpank decided to become a hero, lending his steel to helpless villagers and orphans. A virtuous life is never without obstacles, and DeathSpank's is an antagonist named Lord von Prong who wants his life extinguished, though his true motivations are cloudy at the onset of the adventure. The story is admittedly pretty straight-forward, but that is intentional given the game's spoofing of traditional RPG plot-lines.
Enriching the story in a massive way is the sharp and hilarious dialogue. Each character you meet has a distinct and colorful personality, which you interact with through branching dialogue trees. For example, there is the Wise Cow who dispenses advice to our titular hero through grunts and moos, which DeathSpank can inexplicably understand. DeathSpank himself is full of snappy one-liners and proud, boastful rhetoric about how impressive his questing abilities are, adding gravitas to unimportant tasks like fetching a lost phone. It's endearing, and hard not to chuckle at his charisma and gung-ho spirit.
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The formula for DeathSpank is pretty simple: progress along the main questline while picking up smaller side quests along the way. Side quests are aptly dubbed "Unimportant Things I Need To Do", and are usually simple fetch quests. Though they can become repetitive, doing quests grants both experience and item rewards, so are well worth the time and effort. There are 79 side quests to conquer in addition to the 33 main quests, so DeathSpank has a lot of evil to vanquish.
Combat is definitely a highlight, offering a lot more depth than is normally found in hack-and-slash gameplay. DeathSpank loves his arsenal of weaponry, so much so that he has up to four different weapons equipped at any one time. Each weapon is mapped to a different button on your controller, and can be swapped on the fly to execute some interesting combinations. You also have a "Justice Meter" that begins to fill as you slay your foes. Once full, you can unleash powerful attacks that decimate multiple opponents at once, and are great for clearing a crowd.
Character customization is one of the strong points of DeathSpank, and it comes in two varieties. The first is found in the assortment of loot and equipment that is available. There are tons of unique weapons and armor to be found off the bodies of your enemies or in treasure chests. Weapons are highly varied, with hundreds of swords, crossbows, axes, hammers, and cannons at your disposal. Most come with individual attributes, such as elemental damage. The second form of customization comes in the leveling system. Every time DeathSpank has accumulated enough experience points to level up, you can choose a "hero card" to upgrade his abilities. Some cards enhance DeathSpank's movement speed, while others increase his melee damage. You are offered three cards to choose from at every level increase, so you can tailor your choices to match your play style.
If you prefer to quest with a friend, there is a limited co-op mode available. A second player can accompany DeathSpank as Sparkles the Wizard, DeathSpank's loyal friend and sidekick. Sparkles has a basic ranged magic attack, as well as healing and support spells. While an interesting addition to the adventure, Sparkles is limited in that he shares a health bar with DeathSpank and cannot be customized. That said, if you're a fan of co-op it is definitely a mode that will interest you.
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The art direction in DeathSpank is phenomenal. A cartoonish and whimsical atmosphere permeates the landscape, perfectly matching the light tone and humor of the writing. The world itself is cylindrical, and the background rises like a pop-up storybook as you trek across the land. Color is used particularly strikingly, creating diverse locales like the pink and picturesque Enchanted Forest and the sickly green Slime Pits. Most equipment in the game has unique character models, so your upgrades reflect visibly. Characters and monsters look fanciful and otherworldly, populating this fantasy world with imaginative and fun personalities.
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Voice acting is a strong selling point for DeathSpank. DeathSpank himself speaks with a cocky and self-aware bravado that suits his character well. Supporting characters are also very well voiced, and really bring the world to life. The music is lighthearted and fun, and changes to match the tone of the location you're in.
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Controlling DeathSpank is both easy and highly adaptable. The left joystick controls movement, the back/select button opens up your quest log, and the trigger buttons open your map and and inventory. The d-pad and face buttons can be mapped to any usable item in your inventory. By default, the four face buttons all have a weapon assigned to them, while the d-pad is used for healing items and spells, though these can all be changed to your liking. The quest log/inventory management interface is very easy to navigate; when in any menu, simply use the trigger buttons to scroll through the various information screens.
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DeathSpank's conquest is not a long one, with an average finishing time of about 10 hours. Completing every last side quest may extend that to 12-14 hours, but there is not much incentive to return once the credits roll. There is an option to free roam once the game is completed, but with no new quests or areas to explore, most players will simply call it a day.
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DeathSpank is a quirky action RPG that casual and hardcore gamers alike will enjoy. It's a little on the short side, but offers plenty of variety in terms of weaponry, locales, abilities, and creatures to kill. The story and dialogue are genuinely funny, unlike some other video games that attempt to inject comedy into the proceedings but end up trying too hard. The Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network versions of the game are virtually identical, so players on either console are sure to have a blast. Any fan of action RPGs will find plenty to like in DeathSpank, ensuring it's a title that should not be missed.