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Review: Rise of the Argonauts

Jordan Deam | 24 Dec 2008 14:30
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You've felt that sinking feeling before. Maybe you ended up at your safety school, or stayed at your boring desk job to keep up with your mortgage payments. You bought the minivan instead of the sports car. You settled.

The real world is chock full of these decisions, but you shouldn't have to make do in a fantasy setting. Sadly, that's exactly the experience that Rise of the Argonauts offers. An ambitious fusion of God of War-style combat and Mass Effect-like roleplaying, Argonauts falls flat on both counts. You occasionally get glimpses of a genuinely good game, but it's clear the developers just didn't have the time or resources to pull it off. Argonauts tries for the chariot, but ends up with the mule cart. In other words, it reeks of compromise.

Argonauts is an action-RPG that puts you in the shoes of Jason, King of Iolcus (which is not, in fact, a hybrid of a lolcat and a lolrus, but rather an ancient city in northern Greece). The game opens with your bride, Alceme, taking an arrow to the chest as she recites her wedding vows. After exacting your revenge on the assassin in the game's action-packed tutorial, you go on a quest, aided by the gods themselves, to retrieve a golden fleece which will bring your bride back from the dead.

That's when the tedium starts. Once you've acquired the three weapon-types that you'll wield for the rest of the game - a spear for long-range thrusts, a sword for quick close-quarters slashes and a mace for shattering your enemies' shields - you encounter the "RPG" aspect of Argonauts. What could have simply been mediocre "talk to X, kill 10 Y" gameplay is encumbered by bland environments, a clunky map and an over-reliance on ponderous dialogue and cut scenes.

Simply leaving the island to begin your journey is an exercise in frustration. You have to talk to a half dozen of your countrymen strewn across the palace before you have any idea where you're going. It's not immediately clear where your next quest objective lies, so you spend as much time with the game paused staring at the map as you do actually moving toward your destination. When you finally get there, there's a pretty good chance you'll have to wade through a couple minutes of nominally interactive dialogue trees before you're sent directly back where you came from.

Admittedly, I'm biased. I have as low a tolerance for cut scenes as anyone here at The Escapist. Games like Portal and BioShock have made huge strides in interactive storytelling - they showed where earlier games barely managed to tell. It might be unreasonable to hold Argonauts to the same high standard, but it nonetheless feels like a step backward.

If Argonauts excels at anything, it's the combat. It's well animated, visceral and surprisingly fun. You can hot swap between your three weapon types, but you'll probably favor one weapon over the others. Most of your satisfaction will likely come from the finishers, which are appropriately brutal and fun to watch. Land a powerful attack on a weakened enemy, and the camera slows down to give you a more cinematic perspective on the carnage. Hilariously, dead enemies seem immune to the game's normal rules of physics: Bash someone's head in at just the right angle, and his entire body goes flying across the field. It could be a glitch, but it's a welcome one.

Argonauts' character advancement system is also a step up from more level-based games. You unlock "deeds" by killing enemies, making certain choices in conversation or simply moving the plot forward at key moments. Later, at a shrine to one of the game's four primary gods - Ares, Hermes, Athena and Apollo - you can dedicate these deeds to gain favor with your god of choice. Each god has their own talent tree, which allows you to unlock passive buffs or active abilities that you can assign to the D-pad. It adds some variety and depth to what is otherwise pretty much just button mashing.

The biggest problem with the combat in Argonauts is there simply isn't enough of it. In the first three hours of gameplay, you'll probably spend two and a half hours walking, talking and watching cut scene after agonizing cut scene. It's especially unfortunate because the opening tutorial actually starts you out with a lot of momentum. It takes hours for the game to return to the pace it initially sets for itself, far more time than most players will be willing to invest.

I'm not sure whether it was a lack of time, money or talent that crippled Argonauts, but it feels like this wasn't the game the developers wanted to release. They may have had to settle, but when there are still so many quality releases left over from the holiday season, there's no reason you should.

Bottom line: Argonauts has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve, but there' s too much filler in between to justify the effort.

Recommendation: If you're a diehard fan of both RPGs and Greek mythology, there may be enough here to justify the $60 price tag. For everyone else, Argonauts will likely disappoint.

Jordan Deam is busy photoshopping a lolcus. With a bukkit full of cheezburgers, of course.

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