I’ve been playing a ton of Marvel Heroes Omega and Victor Vran lately.  I even dabbled in a little bit of Diablo 3 last night (I was craving some mindless Greater Rift runs).  All of this action RPG gaming encouraged me to revisit one of my PS2 favorites from developer Snowblind Studios, Champions of Norrath.  My brother and I were visiting my Dad’s place a couple of weeks ago and had the chance to go through a bunch of our old games and toys.  While most of them were scratched beyond repair, we found this bad boy still in its case in perfect condition.  After popping it into the PS2 and playing through it again, I came to the conclusion that it hasn’t aged quite as well (it’s been 13 years since it launched) as I remember, but still holds a special place in my heart.

First, I have a confession to make.  I’ve never played an Everquest game before in my life.  Champions of Norrath & Return to Arms were my only foray into this world.  My first venture into MMORPG’s was Final Fantasy XI.  I knew nothing about the Everquest games or universe going into this, but I was a huge fan of Baldur’s Gate on PS2.  If this was going to be anything like that, I just knew it had to be good.  It came out around the same time as Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on Gamecube, but Champions quickly overshadowed that one in our household.

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The game begins with the wood elves being attacked by a group of Orcs and their leader Pelys, who have teamed up with the goblins.  It is up to you to help them out and restore peace to the forests.  Obviously this leads to a world ending story involving the god of hatred, but you gotta start out small right?  Players get to choose from one of 5 different races/classes; Barbarian Warriors, Wood Elf Rangers, High Elf Clerics, Erudite Wizards & Dark Elf Shadowknights (my favorite).  Barbarians are a force to be reckoned with, the Wood Elf Rangers excel in ranged combat (obviously),  the High Elf Clerics & Erudite Wizards focus on heals & damage spells, and finally the Dark Elf Shadowknights can summon skeletons to battle with them.  The Dark Elves can also use a variety of melee weapons and poison spells to put your foes at a severe disadvantage.  They’re awesome.  Once you’ve made your character look beautiful and placed all your stat points into Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence or Stamina, you’re on your way.  Gameplay is your standard hack n’ slash fare, travelling through forests, caves, lava fields, and even underwater.  The story does have a pretty cool twist towards the end I didn’t see coming, but the rest is nothing you wouldn’t expect from a game like this.  The portrayal of the female characters in the game is ridiculous.  They all have giant boobs and wear next to nothing.  It’s pretty hilarious, especially the vampire woman you find who lives with her vampire lord Vanarhost.  She’s beyond sexual, moaning when you’ve found her a flower that will curb her thirst.  Well, at least the female characters you play as are pretty reserved.

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Why does it always have to be spiders?

There is a steep difficulty curve when you first start out.  If you’re not properly prepared for enemies, you can get annihilated within seconds of going up against a group of them.  Like any action RPG that came out around this games release or before, you literally just spam the potion button and try to survive through the fight.  It wasn’t the most enjoyable way to play, but it got the job done.  Most modern games have placed a cooldown on potion use, which makes it feel super weird when I play this and then go to play something like Victor Vran and I can’t spam heal.  Once you start beefing up your character though things start to get easier.  It’s a nice change of pace from Diablo 3 and just face rolling everything that comes into contact with my Demon Hunter. I mean, it’s fun, but I go a little brain dead every time I play.  Champions is always challenging you.  Sometimes it can be a little unfair, especially against the Ant Queen.  She’s such a giant pain in the ass, summoning ants out of the holes in the ground and shooting fire at you.  I ended up just hiding in a corner somewhere and shooting arrows at her till she died.  Once you persevere though, there’s immense satisfaction.  It’s not Dark Souls satisfaction, but it’s still great nonetheless.

My only major gripe with the game is the items that drop on the ground.  It’s really difficult to see them.  Half the time I was just tapping the square button in hopes that I would pick something up.  They blend in a little too well.  It could also do with the fact that I’m playing a PS2 game on an LG flat screen TV, so you know, that could be a factor as well.

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Since I took back Champions of Norrath back, I’ve beaten it once and I’m trying to go through it again on Courageous.  With so much on my plate right now, I’ll get around to it at some point.  I really want to unlock the final difficulty, Champion, and just farm the final boss to get all the sweet gear.  If you’ve never played Champions of Norrath before and own a PS2, I urge you to try it.  You can get some copies for fairly cheap on Ebay., however, some people will try to gouge you with $100 price tags.  Pick up a multitap, and you could have lots of old school couch co-op fun for hours with your buddies.  I wish we could get another installment in the series, maybe an HD remake (yes please).  How about we get the Snowblind guys together again. Kickstarter anyone? – NVJ

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