DeathSpank, developed by Ron Gilbert and Hothead Games and published by Electronic Arts, is a hack-and-slash action RPG in the vein of Diablo. The original console version featured some exceptionally witty dialogue, a great sense of humor, and a streamlined role-playing experience that was accessible and entertaining. The PC version retains all of that, while featuring nice, high-resolution graphics and an updated control scheme that works very well.
The story is essentially a vehicle for the delivery of punchlines, and in that regard it serves its purpose well. The story centers around DeathSpank, thong-clad Hero to the Downtrodden, and his search for The Artifact, a legendary “thing” that was prophesied he would find. What is the nature of The Artifact? For DeathSpank to search for, of course! In the process of his hunt, DeathSpank struggles against the villainous Lord Von Prong, rescues orphans, murders chickens, procures tacos, and smites a great number of fiends, among many other odd jobs. The story itself is silly, and the dialogue is always entertaining. Dialogue trees feature numerous ridiculous statements and also encourage you to explore every possible choice in order to hear every joke.
The game utilizes a simple yet colorful, cartoony art style that is exaggerated and highly amusing. The scrolling of the camera is accompanied by a sort of wrap-around effect, making it seem as though DeathSpank is running on a giant sphere. The character and enemy designs follow in this style, featuring cartoonish proportions and outrageous details, such as DeathSpank’s signature thong. The armor and weapon graphics are also well-done, and the developers deserve credit for making sure that each one has a unique appearance when equipped. There’s something to be said for wearing heavy plate mail and dual wielding a giant hammer and a lightning crossbow while battling chickens for their lips.
I found the audio to be suitably matched with the graphics, featuring a lighthearted sound that fit in well with the campy visual aesthetic. The main theme of the game is a boisterous, memorable song that stuck in my head even hours after I finished playing. As I mentioned earlier, the voice acting is well-done, with particular credit due to Michael Dobson and his performance as DeathSpank. He comes across perfectly as the staunchly heroic oaf that the developers were going for, and it was truly a joy to hear each and every line delivered with panache. He once danced with the devil in the pale moonlight.
The gameplay is Diablo-lite, featuring loads of enemies to smite, weapons and armor to equip, and quests to complete. Leveling up nets DeathSpank some bonuses to his health and damage, as well as a selection of hero cards that confer upon him new special abilities, though the distribution of these cards is random and their effects middling. The PC version features a few changes, including more numerous storage chests for miscellaneous goodies, a revamped interface that integrates the mouse and keyboard effectively, quick swapping between several weapon sets, fast access to food and special items, and finer-tuned control for targeting and movement. Players are still able to pop in a gamepad and play that way, if they choose, but I felt that the mouse and keyboard offered a superior level of control. Also, a second player can join in any time for local co-op as Sparkles the Wizard, though I didn’t have an opportunity to test this feature.
Overall, DeathSpank was ideally suited for the downloadable game format. It is quick, accessible, and hugely entertaining. I wasn’t captivated by stat min/maxing or hunting for the most powerful weapons, but the flow of new rewards was good, and I was thoroughly engaged by the interactions and combat until the last moments of the game. The overall design is solidly executed, and the PC version makes welcome refinements to that foundation. If you’re looking for fun, lighthearted RPG-ing with some laughs along the way, DeathSpank won’t do you wrong.