Rise of the Argonauts is the type of game that fans of the story are likely wondering why it isn’t more commonplace. The classic Harryhausen ornamentation creates a perfect backdrop for an action RPG hybrid. Developer Liquid Entertainment has finally brought that idea to life with their latest title for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that lands on store shelves just before the end of 2008. While it is a little rough around the edges, there are some truly inspiring ideas behind this classic tale of King Jason of Iolcus and his Argonauts.
The story here is as epic as you would expect, complete with substantial dialogue. It appears King Jason’s wedding day has been marred by mystical assassins on their wedding day. This leaves Alceme (Jason’s wife) on her death bed forcing the King to venture out in search of the Golden Fleece. What unfolds from here is an epic journey that covers a lot of well-known tales including the fall of Medusa and a host of other familiar fables. The story keeps a steady pace throughout and remains interesting to the final act. If you are a fan of the mythology or just enjoy a really well-told tale, then Rise of the Argonauts should satisfy your hunger for exceptional narrative.
Much like last year’s choice-driven RPG Mass Effect, RotA employs a dialogue tree system that gives players a chance to decide the outcome of any conversation. Similar to BioWare’s masterpiece your response options show up long before the NPC is done talking and you can interrupt them with a variety of options such as anger or cynicism. The problem though stems from the fact that rarely does your dialogue choice effect the game itself. How you choose to respond will only have minimal consequences at times and at others make not difference whatsoever. This is disappointing because it is clear the team invested a serious amount of time into the conversation aspect of the game, as it takes up nearly half of the entire adventure.
The conversation tools also carry over into the upgrade system depending on your responses. There are four Gods that Jason can dedicate points to that will earn him new attacks. Ares, Athena, Hermes and Apollo all share these various points and will reward the player with different powers based on Achievement-like tasks and dialogue choices. These upgrades are standard fare for any genre such as dealing more damage or faster health regeneration, but the manner in which they are handled makes the experience feel more immersive and addictive as you continue to earn points for each God.
The combat system works well enough, but is also where the game struggles at differentiating itself from the herd. There are a plethora of weapons and weapon combinations to toy around with, and at first it is enormously satisfying to dismember and decapitate foes left and right. However, after a few hours of repetition and the epiphany that you basically only need two combos to complete the entire game things tend to get a bit stale. Enemies follow the same pattern throughout the game and while you do upgrade your character, there is rarely a time when you are sure just how powerful you really are.
While regular enemies are basically cannon fodder the bosses to provide a bit more of a challenge with a focus on timing as opposed to repetition. These encounters do help break up the monotony of the rest of the game, but are not frequent enough to keep it from falling into the inevitable pit of boredom from time to time. The weapon system works surprisingly well and discovering new combinations of swords, shields and spears make for an interesting diversion, but the overall combat simply suffers from any necessity to stray from the simplest combos. You will also obtain helper characters throughout the game that could have benefited from the ability to control their actions or better yet a co-op function that let your buddies join in on the action. Unfortunately neither is true and these cohorts simply end up running around at their own free will.
Regrettably RotA’s biggest crime comes from a severe lack of polish in several areas. Let’s start with the visual representation, which is just a step above embarrassing for a next generation title. While the character models and weapon designs are tolerable the game suffers from frequent frame rate problems that can cause the action to stand still for two to three seconds at a time. While it never renders the game unplayable, it quickly becomes a nuisance considering that this is far from the best looking game on either of the new consoles.
This is further accented by the fact that the overall interface is minimal and some items are omitted that truly is needed. For example by default your health meter and general HUD items are missing to create a sense of immersion, which would be fine, if these elements were not so hard to decipher without the aid of these meters. Another sore spot is a complete lack of an in-game mini-map. There is quite a bit of exploration throughout the game and pausing to view your location every couple of minutes becomes tedious and unnecessary if they would have just included a mini-map to alleviate the frustration.
The rest of the game remains pretty solid with good audio work on all fronts. The dialogue can be rudimentary in some areas, but really excel in others. The sound effects are nicely done providing a proverbial thump to the combat and the score is tremendously fitting given the layout and theme of the game. Surprisingly the audio is the highlight of the presentation package by far and it really does lend itself well to the setting of the game.
Rise of the Argonauts is a solid effort with some minor flaws that will likely satisfy the Greek aficionados of the gaming community. The combat is competent if not a bit repetitive and the story is entertaining from start to finish. The graphical problems such as slowdown and poor camera management highlight what is wrong with the game, but if you can learn to adjust to these tribulations there is an ample amount of fun to be had. While it certainly won’t set the world on fire RotA is a promising first effort in a setting that has been criminally overlooked in the gaming world.