As enjoyable and fulfilling as beating people’s heads in with large, blunt instruments, and watching their brains fly about everywhere as a result might be, there’s always the risk of going through the nuisance of getting arrested and locked up for the rest of your mentally unstable life.
-unless you live in one of certain states of America, where the government can legally butcher you over it.-
Enter video games.
Of course, you have to weed out the boring ones with silly things like story or moral choices and other such garbage.
you’re an interesting person, moderately to decently pleasant to have around. In which case Rise of the Argonauts might be something for you.
And I say ‘might’ because giving a game a Greek-Mythological setting doesn’t necessarily equal perfection, as it should. I know.
As the title suggests, the game tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts, or at least it pretends it does. I’m actually fairly certain that after the designers decided on the name and setting, they gave a copy of the ancient myth to the writers who read it and said ‘This is really good stuff! We could use some elements of this in the game!” And the fact that I put ‘some elements of this’ in bold AND italics should show you the gravity of these words.
You play as Jason, who in this version of the tale is king of Iolcus and who is about to marry Alceme, the princess of Mycenae. However, your bride is shot just before your wedding is sealed with a kiss, and your palace comes under attack by masked mercenaries. Your first objective is to kill everyone who opposes you, but the fact that it’s an objective seems, to me, futile, as the only possible way in the game to go from point a to point b is by swimming in the ocean created by the bodies of those foolish enough to stand against you. The opening level serves as a tutorial to teach you about your three weapons -spear, sword and mace, in that order- and your shield.
Once everyone of the zillion mobs is dead, you face your bride’s assassin, beat him, and interrogate him. You end the interrogation by smashing his skill in with your mace. Next you see a scene where you cry over the loss of your bride so loudly the frikkin’ GODS show up to comfort you. Four of them, to be precise: Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena. They tell you the only way to bring back the girl is by retrieving the Golden Fleece from Tartaros. Not Colchis. Tartaros. The deepest pit of the fucking Underworld. To do so you travel to the ‘lost Oracle of Apollo’ that ‘noone has ever found’ but that you just come across by following your gut, leaving your advisor and uncle, Pelias, in charge. For those of you unfamiliar with the original myth of Jason, Pelias is the brother of Jason’s father, Aison, who kills him and takes the throne of Iolchis from him while Jason is away. Pelias promises the throne to Jason if he brings him the Golden Fleece.
Now, if you didn’t know that, Pelias’ evilness in this game is evident in the sinister, plotting voice he uses, if not the big-ass scar running down the side of his face.
Anyway, the Oracle tells you to find living, mortal descendants of the other three Gods who decided to help you (Ares, Hermes and Athena) so their blood can be used in some mojo jumbo to open a gateway to Tartaros. On your journeys you uncover a secret cult of Hekate, originally named the Black Tongues, who wish to conquer the world and who are responsible for the death of your bride and cutscenes show us that Pelias is the grandmaster of this cult surprise surprise.
You will sail to three places on the Argo, a steampunk ship, and along the way collect the descendants, and four Argonauts; Greek heroes who join you on your quest. This means that, in good old party-based games, you select two of them at the start of each mission, and they accompany you until the end of that mission. They each have their own skills and talents -Hercules is a giant who can rip people apart, Atalanta is an archer, Pan uses sorcery and Achilles is a nimble spear-fighter- that all seem to be variations of the same theme: make enemies dead. I did not find any advantage or disadvantage over choosing certain argonauts over others so I stoically went with the hot chick and the hulking brute every time.
And yes, you read correctly. Achilles is a member of Jason’s crew and party. I really, really blame Brad Pitt for this travesty, as well for the fact he is the single most insufferable character in the game. There’re good ways to do arrogant characters, and making them annoying to the point you wish they were real so you could throw them down a life volcano and then drop a nuclear missile on that volcano, then shooting each of the remains with a rocket launcher isn’t a good way to do arrogant characters.
Story aside, the game completely took me by surprised by the sheer fact it doesn’t suck horribly. Combat is pretty standard: press left mouse button for a quick attack, press right for a heavy attack, and switching between three weapons every now and again makes for a surprisingly refreshing experience. And as I said, using a large, blunt instrument to smash someone’s head in is always a fulfilling experience.
What I really liked, however, was the way the four gods were incorporated into gameplay. Through the course of the game you will fulfill certain ‘deeds’. Call them achievements if you’re an Xbox 360 whore. Many of them are rewards from optional quests, but a lot are tied to the main storyline, or are simply unavoidable, like murder five million people kill a number of human opponents. These deeds can then be dedicated to one of the four gods, which increases your favour with that god. This means that a bar for that god fills up, and once it’s fully, you gain a point. This point can then be used to purchase powers derived from that god.
That’s right. Rise of the Argonauts wants to be an RPG, but instead of one experience bar, you now have four. And it’s your choice which ones you fill in. Each god has a certain area of expertise and upgrades a certain aspect of Jason. Ares will make your attacks more vicious, and grant you mace-specific powers. Hermes will increase your speed and give sword powers. Apollo will give protection and healing and improve your shield, while Athena lets you strike enemies from afar with her father’s (Zeus’) lightning, and improves your spear.
Another way to improve your favour with the gods is through the dialogue system. You can decide Jason’s personality by choosing his lines during dialogues with other characters. The compassionate options will give you favour with Apollo, the wise, rational options does well with Athena, the selfish, cunning options scores you Hermes-points and Ares really digs violent reactions. The fact that you can only ‘specialize’ in just under two gods was the game’s attempt at replayability, but given the linearity, and predictability of the story, I simply couldn’t give a toss to go at it a second time. Especially since I could get through pretty much the entire game without using any one of the godpowers.
Rise of the Argonauts is a game that seems to have a lot of things in common with Mass Effect, but just fails to execute those things properly. It’s not a bad game, mind you. It’s just mediocre. Great fun to play through a first time. However, it really wants to incorporate a lot of RPG elements, while at the same time it is trying very hard not to be an RPG. I applaud it’s creators for setting the game in the very awesome, yet vastly underused Greek Mythology setting, but they almost immediately lose those kudos by wanting to incorporate every popular Greek myth, while at the same time completely disregarding the story line of the myth they base their game on. For example:
-Achilles is a gladiator in Mycenae, with Patroclos being his pimp manager.
-Daedalos is an engineer and master-smith working in the Mycenaean arena.
-Centaurs don’t have a bloodlust.
-Pan is a satyr, not a god.
-Medusa is a high-priestess of Athena, who turned into a monster because of her own vanity. Her gaze doesn’t petrify. At least not in the literal sense of the word. You can, however, beat her by showing her ugliness in her reflection in your shield, so bonus points for that.
-Jason and his wife live happily ever after. What spoiler? OFCOURSE they do! It’s a fucking law of physics the story ends like that! The sheer lameness of the ending scene killed me a bit inside.
-The biggest disappointment, however, goes to the role of Medea. She is not a love interest, as that would screw with Jason’s ‘I love my bride so much I’m willing to enter hell for her’ ideals. Despite this, she is presented as the game’s Moody Goth Chick(tm) sorceress character, who used to be a Black Tongue herself, but now fights them. After encountering her, however, she just sits in a room on the Argo and occasionally feeds Jason snippets of info on the Black Tongues. The sheer fact she wasn’t a possible party member was a huge let down, as everyone knows the awesomeness of Moody Goth Chicks(tm) can end nations.
All in all, Rise of the Argonauts makes for a fun game to set your mind of things. The story can be appealing to anyone who likes fantasy, but isn’t too obsessed by Greek Mythology to not weep when it is butchered by Americanizations, like myself. The combat is fun and fulfilling and the dialogue system would’ve been unique if not for the fact that Mass Effect was released a few months earlier, and fun if the main character didn’t look like he’d yell ‘THIS IS IOLCUS’ every five minutes, before kicking someone down a well. Unless you’re a games collector, like myself, who insists on having as many dvd cases in their games’ rack as possible, I’d suggest renting the game, instead of buying.
Except for us Belgians, that is, where the renting of games is illegal.
In other news, I’m very much dying to get my hands on Dragon Age: Origins next week Thursday. Luckily the train-people are on strike that day so I can not possibly get to Uni classes, providing me with quite a bit of unscheduled free time hayuk hayuk hayuk.
Happy All Hallow’s Eve.