Everyone knows about the Templars; holy order warriors that fought in the crusades, protectors of the coveted Holy Grail, and fist-pounding righters of wrong. Haemimont Games’ The First Templar tells the tale of one such Templar and his struggle to locate and protect the grail.
You play as Celian, a veteran Templar who discovers a very powerful relic is in danger of falling into the wrong hands. That relic is, of course, the Holy Grail. He and Roland, another templar, begin the quest to find the Grail before the evil men and protect it from ever being released again. Later on in the game, Celian and Roland rescue Marie from certain execution for being labeled a heretic against the holy order. She joins Celian in his quest.
The game plays out in a standard hack and slash game in the same vein as God of War and Dante’s Inferno. There are mainly two attack buttons assigned to both mouse clicks respectively. There are your standard attacks with right click and alternate attacks with left click. You can string together combos with certain click combinations and unlock more combos and special attacks by spending experience points. Some enemies will take more damage than others and some require special attacks to break through their defenses. When knocking an enemy down, you can perform a finishing move and rid the foe quickly. The game is meant to be played cooperatively with a friend. Single player allows you to switch between the two characters at any given time, but the AI is so poor that this isn’t the recommended way to enjoy the game. Each character plays slightly different with Celian being the standard warrior with sword and shield, Roland being the powerhouse with a two handed sword, and Marie being the rouge relying on daggers and quick attacks.
During combat, you can dodge roll away from incoming attacks by simply pressing a direction on the keyboard. So, double press A to dodge left, and so on and so forth. Eventually, after unlocking new attacks, they will be assigned to 1, 2, and 3. These attacks include a ram charge, spin attack, and more. The game also supports a gamepad, but playing with the Xbox 360 controller felt a little sluggish at times and you can’t dodge roll by tapping a direction on the analog stick. Not only did the controller feel sluggish, but the entire game did as well. Even while using a mouse and keyboard, the walking just felt a little off. It’s one of those games that if you stand still and press a direction key once, the character will automatically turn that way, so you’re left feeling like the movement is a little sporadic.
The best part of the game is the leveling up and learning of new abilities. There is an extensive chart on which you can place points into skills and learn new attacks, increase your health and vigor, and boost your stats. Gaining experience is as easy as defeating enemies, completing objectives, and finding chests. Yes, there are experience points in chests in this game. My mind was blown too.
There are collectables to find throughout the levels, some are just chests, some are tomes that give a small backstory into the Templar lore that has something to do with the-yeah, I’m already bored just thinking about it. You will also find items that range from new weapons to new armor pieces. They are part of a set and you must complete the set in order to use them. Even though, I really didn’t see a boost in attack with new weapons or defense with new armor. One good thing is, if you want to get all those pieces, the menus tell you which chapter they are in so if you miss one, you can always go back and grab the ones you missed.
The visuals are decent enough. Nothing will blow your socks off, and some of the characters’ animations are a little strange at times. I was able to run the game no problem on high settings, and my PC is no powerhouse by any means. The locales change up a good amount, and there are some branching paths you can take to get to your destination. One confusing aspect of the exploration is that you will see a path that you can obviously go down, but you’ll be greeted by an invisible wall and a text box saying “You can’t go here right now.” Only to find out it was part of the scripted story that you will see later on in the level.
The story itself is a somewhat boring affair. This is due to the fact that most of the voice acting is downright bad. Celian always sounds like he’s tired and whispering, and Roland is constantly wanting to kill stuff while pounding his fist. Let me take a moment to say that the fist pounding from Roland is what this character will be remembered for. Marie seems like the young maiden that feels like she always has to prove she can fight just as good as Celian, even though she is not a great fighter as far as the game goes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the game is not particularly bad, it’s just very underwhelming. The fights are almost too easy at times, and almost every enemy will go down with you spamming your standard combo with the left click. Granted, there is some times where you’ll kill the final enemy and you’ll get a cool finishing animation to end the fight. Playing with another person is recommended. A friend and I basically played it Mystery Science Theater style cracking jokes at the bland story and goofy animations, but still, even with its problems, I can still see the combat being very complex if you make it that way.
The problem with the PC version is if you want to play a game that is joinable only by friends, you have to set up the game through a Facebook account. That is my biggest gripe with the game. My co-op partner couldn’t get it to work properly, and he had to just search for my game in progress. Also, if you play co-op over the internet, I suggest using Skype or another from of online chat. If you don’t, you’ll be in complete silence. When setting up a game for the first time, you choose if you want it to be single player, or multiplayer. If you set up your first game to be single player, you’re stuck with it being single player. You will have to start a new game and make it a multiplayer game. That’s just plain stupid. Additionally, your co-op partner is simply a guest in your game. They cannot upgrade characters or even continue their progress with another player.
The First Templar was originally a budget title. I can see why. The combat is the only real redeeming factor in the game and that’s not saying much. The story is forgettable and, more than likely, you’ll end up zoning out during the cutscenes, just to get to the next action sequence. The online integration is cumbersome and sometimes doesn’t even work. I can say that, with a friend, you can have some fun with the game. Just take everything with a grain of salt and try to be patient with the game. Although I would suggest waiting for a price cut, if you’re dying to get some co-op Templar action on, go right ahead. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Review copy provided by publisher.