Champions: Return To Arms Review: 5 Reasons to Buy

Champions Return to arms cover

Champions: Return To Arms Review: 5 Reasons to Buy

The straightforward simplicity of destroying your opposition is a hallmark of shooters and hack-and-slash games. Snowblind Studios’ 2005 game created for PlayStation 2 Champions: Return to Arms picks up where Champions of Norrath left off. As a basic hack-and-slash it’s got everything that would make a player happy, with no filler. So, grab an ax, a sword, some potions, and a few spells and join the melee.

A New High Point for the Genre

Screenshot from Champions: Return to Arms, showing the player character fighting a group of enemies in a dungeon.
Be ready for combat with exciting weaponry.

It’s quite possible that Champions: Return to Arms is the best hack-and-slash game ever created. Unfortunately, it has been built heavily upon the foundation of Champions of Norrath, so much so that fans of that game may feel somewhat betrayed that Return to Arms is so similar. Consider it an improved version of Norrath – almost like an expansion pack that uses the same map.

The story is a bit thin. As revealed through cutscenes with the requisite bad voice acting, you are on the hunt to collect shards of the shattered god Innoruuk, who was defeated in the last game. 

Immersive Gameplay of Champions: Return to Arms

The action is relentless, if not entirely unpredictable. The gameplay can become a tedious affair after a time since you will have little more to do than block and attack using axes, swords, and magic. Familiar locations such as the lava stage, an underwater level, the sky dungeon, and the forest have been recycled. Although there are new enemies, they still attack in the same unintelligent patterns while wielding weapons that range in destructiveness according to the level of their class. Your best defenses against the enemy are health and magic potions. Bring these along on every dungeon crawl, because there are places such as the dragon’s lair that you can’t exit until they’re completed.

Lots of Exploration

Screenshot from Champions: Return to Arms, showing the player casting a spell as two robotic enemies approach
Exploration may end in the discovery of new and intense battles.

The developers have managed to instill a sense of freedom in the game, at least in terms of exploring. Return to Arms as a whole is fairly linear, but there are different ways to go about tackling objectives. The dungeons are rich with goodies; weapons, potions, health, and spells are plentiful depending on your character and his or her propensity to use them effectively. New levels can be unlocked by playing mini games in which you have a time limit to kill a specified number of enemies. Called the medal rounds, these challenges exist outside of the main mode.

Tons of Playability

If you play through the game as all characters, the replay value is tremendous–but keep in mind that’s going to be a lot of button mashing. If you left the game alone for a few weeks at a time you could squeeze so much more out of it and preserve your thumbs. There are also some improved online modes that support a friends list, and a server filter system that all but eliminates cheating.

You can play with either a good or bad alignment in this game. The Vah Shir Berserker and the Iksar Shaman are two new classes to play with. They are basically amalgams of the other five classes. The Berserker has access to lots of throwing axes, making him one of the better-equipped ranged fighters.

Beautiful Presentation

Champions return to arms
Eerie feel to some levels.

Champions: Return to Arms is an incredibly good-looking game. It’s very refined and polished. The animation is smooth. Character models are fully realized and never obscured by the backgrounds. This is helped by some excellent 3D rendering that uses lighting, colors, shades, and focus to fix images within a specific dimensional plane. In other words, it’s easier to see things that are closer to you and the background remains in the background.

Marring an otherwise perfect presentation is repetitive music and poor voice acting. At least you can skip the cutscenes, although you may want to see them your first time playing through the game.

Final Words

Champions: Return to Arms is an excellent example of a hack-and-slash game in the tradition of the Gauntlet series. It’s not particularly innovative, which may be of concern to fans of the genre, but newbies are well advised to get this game if they want to learn how to dungeon crawl with the best of them.

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