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Review: Clan of Champions has a war going on, but you'd never know it

Review Rating 5.5 Average
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Take a glimpse at Clan of Champions' story, and you’d swear it was set in a fantasy world rich with lore and quest possibilities. Three nations of orcs, humans, and elves are fighting for new territories. The western Kingdom of Ematrias seeks to repel the threat of the Al-waav Urban Allied Forces, but the deployment of unofficial mercenaries upon the battle has only aggravated the conflict. Only a new kind of technology can turn the battle in anyone’s favor, and each side is eager to claim it.

Now imagine this unfolding conflict set against identical mission after identical mission. The crisis is changing — even coming to an end as you close in this new source of power — but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Each time you venture onto the battlefield (be it castle, bridge, or … mostly castle) the routine is the same: hit the enemy until you and your two allies are the only ones standing. You’ll do this 24 times, in 24 “different” missions, with very little variation.

The game (from Tenchu, Class of Heroes, and Sumioni developer Acquire and publisher NIS America) starts you on “Novice,” the lowest of the four difficulties (which also include Veteran, Brave, and Legend, in that order), but it doesn’t seem to matter what setting you play on. The environments are largely indistinguishable, and you tussle with enemies in an enclosed arena before sometimes advancing to the next penned-in area, depending on the mission. You’re given a standard limit in which to complete these challenges, but you probably won’t need the extra time.

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I played the game mostly with a gamepad (an Xbox 360 controller), but maybe I should have started with the keyboard: Although I found the gamepad controls vastly easier to manage, the tutorials didn’t plan for them. You’ll have to compare and memorize both the gamepad and keyboard controls before you can make any sense out of the tutorials, which are less valuable than just experimenting through general play.

The controls are mapped out to make some sort of logical sense, though, and really aren’t so complicated once you get the hang of things. You have special skills, which basically add one button to the main set of moves: High, Low, and Midheight attacks, plus a fourth typically reserved for magic or a status boost. I mostly picked from the sword-and-shield style, but you can also use your experience to gain expertise in dual-wielding or close combat.

You can do a guardbreak, too, or parry, and you’ll quickly learn how to overcome any type of enemy through trial and error. If he strikes in succession or gains the advantage over you, just mix up your attack pattern or find out whether he’s weaker at his head, chest, or legs. Breaking armor with your special skills before going for straight shots is always a good idea, too. And when you’re in trouble, you can scavenge felled weapons and armor from the battlefield.

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The keyboard controls are less comfortable, and they take a bit more practice. You use the mouse to attack, which opens you up to accidental camera shifts. And stretching your pinky finger to the Control key for special attacks while trying to maintain your position on the WASD keys and click with the mouse at the same time is exhausting and not unlike trying to rub your stomach while patting your head — they’re not complementary motions.

Of course, you might not find this to be a problem if you have longer fingers or play PC games often (maybe you’ve built up endurance for these kinds of games), but all around, they aren’t the most suitable controls.

But gameplay is monotonous no matter what peripheral you use. You spend as much time sorting through loot and upgrading your equipment and skills as you do fighting enemies. Changing the look of your character is a joke — the game only gives you a handful of different outfits to buy and choose from — the voices in battle are completely one-note, and some of the skills don’t even seem to do anything. Not to mention you and your allies regularly get in each other’s way, fumbling over each other for the right to kill the last opponent onscreen.

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As plain and self-restricting as the game is, it’s not terrible. The music (what’s there, anyway) is enjoyable, and the popularity of hack-n-slash and action-role-playing games today have shown that people like repetitively clicking for hours on end. The graphics are sharp and sometimes gruesome, on the same level as you might expect from Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls at times. But Clan of Champions only dares to deviate from its formula on the occasion of a “boss battle,” which you can easily mistake for just another mission as far as mechanics are concerned. It’s a shame because as sporadic as these moments are, they’re cool, and I wanted more of them — even if the rattling jaws of reanimated skeletons were laughably cheesy, at least they added an authentic fantasy feel to the game. These little stylish details gave the game a big lift, but they weren’t enough to sustain the experience.

You can play through one difficulty and advance to the next — keeping your powers, stats, and equipment — and unlock new items as you progress, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. Clan of Champions isn’t a bad game for what it is, but it pales against modern-day competitors like Torchlight, Diablo, or just about any action or action-RPG game on consoles. The “arena” aspect isn’t much more than an excuse to keep players tied to a small area, and the game would have greatly benefited from opening up the playing field and letting players participate in the larger war.

Clan of Champions also has a number of multiplayer options, but connection to the network wasn’t available at the time of review. The game is available on Steam for PC. It’s scheduled for release on the PlayStation Network at a later date.

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Tags: Clan of Champions, NIS America, Acquire, Steam, PC

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