Clan of Champions Review
Clan of Champions was one of those select titles that I always knew existed, but never had much information on aside from being the latest in the Gladiator series. Known as Gladiator Vs in Japan, it comes as a followup to 2010′s Gladiator Begins on the PSP and 2005′s Colosseum: Road to Freedom for the PlayStation 2. If you didn’t make the connection yourself, you’re not alone, as in addition to not sharing a consistent title internationally, the games have relegated themselves to existing as what is essentially an obscure Roman Empire fighting game franchise. Since I hadn’t played a good gladiator game since Gladius, I figured now would be as good a time as any to check out Acquire and NISA’s latest Steam outing.
The moment you begin the game, Clan of Champions tries to lay the exposition on thick as it describes in detail the game’s world. Despite the heavy Roman influence of previous games, this title’s world is home to three kingdoms that are comprised of humans, orcs, and elves, that are constantly at odds with one another for the land’s resources. An abandoned town situated along one of the borders attracts the attention of each of the nations, as rumors of ancient weaponry from the Golden Age begin to circulate. As the kingdoms rush to explore the ruins of the town, you take control of a customizable mercenary in which to undertake missions in the area.
And that’s about all there is to the story. Each mission has a brief description of what needs to be done as well as the overall significance of it. It’s not a proper substitute for story development though, and aside from a few brief cutscenes that are sprinkled in during the missions, you aren’t given much reason to care about what’s going on beyond the thrill of combat. Perhaps it’s more fitting that way, as I doubt the mercenaries themselves much care for the reasons behind why they’re getting paid to do what they do. Still, it’s not a game you will be playing for its riveting plot.
When you craft your gladiator, you get to choose between either a human, orc, or an elf. As much as I enjoy character customization in games like this, I was disappointed that my options were extremely limited. Everything from your face to your voice can be adjusted, but you are restricted to just three options for each. Granted, your character will be wearing a helmet the majority of the time anyway, but sometimes the creation process itself is half the fun.
Clan of Champions offers a pretty extensive tutorial mode, which is handy given the amount of techniques at your disposal. You can play with either a controller or mouse and keyboard combination, despite both having their own cumbersome quirks. Plus, the tutorials only instruct you on the keyboard controls, so while the default layout was rather comfortable on the controller, it was difficult to learn some of the more advanced techniques for this reason. Odd considering there’s a PSN version of the game on the way.
The game plays much like a fighting game, except the camera is fixated behind your character and matches are typically three versus three. You have three different kinds of swings with varying elevations, plus you can dodge, block, or parry anything thrown your way. Each “class” even has its own set of skills that can be equipped based on a small pool of them that are unlocked as your character levels up.
After battle, any loot dropped on the ground can either be claimed for use on your character or just sold outright. Anything that you’re not currently using can then be added to storage for use later (as you have the ability to upgrade items). Experience points gained from fighting translate into levels for your character which in addition earns you points that can be spent upgrading spells and skills. As alluded to earlier, your skills are limited by your “class”, which is merely just the type of equipment you choose to bring into battle with you, such as sword-shield, dual wield, or close combat. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, though the one you’ll ultimately want to stick with depends on your playing style. If you’re not feeling the one you’re working on, you have the freedom of switching at any point, as each setup has its own experience level. Gear can be purchased in between missions too, so switching classes is as easy as buying the equipment for the specialization of your choice.
Each of the game’s 24 missions progress in a linear fashion, which means you don’t get access to the next mission until you complete the one you’re on. This is true regardless of the difficulty level, so don’t expect to beat the game on Easy and have all of the stages open for Legend. There are four difficulty levels available, so despite the small mission count that can be ran through in one sitting, there is replay value found in conquering the harder difficulty levels, though the lack of mission variety may discourage further playthroughs. If you do manage to get stuck on any of the missions, you can recruit two of your friends to help you out. I did see an option for DLC in one of the menus as well, so expect Clan of Champions to get additional support following release.
While the entirety of the game can be played solo with two A.I. characters controlling your allies in battle, the game is designed around multiplayer. Aside from the cooperative mode that allows three players to take on the campaign together, there’s also a versus mode that gives six players a chance to slug it out in teams of three. While the latter is great in concept, I was disappointed to find that the options were incredibly bare bones for a game that is seemingly multiplayer-centric. There were no options for a free-for-all match among the six players nor for anything outside the norm, such as having three teams of two or capture the flag.
Clan of Champions definitely gets points for presentation, as attacking your opponents will leave some very visible damage on them. Weapons and armor will fall off or shatter, and slashing at exposed flesh will even leave wounds on their skin. These details alone go a long way to envelope the player in the visceral combat, and really fits in with the theme of the game. Fallen gear can then be picked up from your foes and used instantaneously, so if your enemy has a better weapon than you, all you need to do is take it from them. Heck, you can even pick up a helmet and smack them with it, which is an amusing gimmick. Sadly, even while using the controller, there were three keys relegated to picking up equipment, so trying to pick up something in the correct hand amidst the chaos of combat becomes something of an annoyance.
Despite its quirks, I had a blast with the combat aspect of Clan of Champions, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the game does very little to lend purpose to it. While the promise of loot and rewards were effective at playing the role of the carrot on a stick for a little while, the potential for adding some real emotional impact to your quest is squandered and it makes you wonder why they spent so much time world building at all. Especially since the world that was talked about to such length is out of reach for your exploration. That aside, Clan of Champions is not a bad game, just one with a narrow focus and heaps of missed opportunity. If you’re looking for a lengthy single-player adventure with an engaging narrative, you’d best look elsewhere. If you have a couple buddies willing to run through the various difficulties with you or are interesting in the competitive combat, Clan of Champions might be worth a look.