On my latest bargain bin hunt through Gamestop, I came across The First Templar (TFT) for Xbox 360. I remembered hearing some good things about it, so I immediately picked it up. It promised riveting gameplay, fantastic graphics, a phenomenal musical score, and both online and local co-op. I was sold. After tax this $19.99 game would have put me over my twenty dollar limit, but my Gamestop rewards card brought it in under budget by a few cents. The question, as always: is it worth buying for a whole twenty bucks?
When I popped TLT into the console and started it up, I was immediately greeted with some options on how I wanted to play my first game. There were the usual choices, like difficulty and picking my storage devices, but then I was asked to choose who could play with me. Would I like for anyone to join, friends only, or by invite only? Naturally, I picked invite only, fearing I would have any number of random gamers dropping in to play my game with me because I’m a girl. Sigh. Turns out, this choice really didn’t matter in the long run, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The campaign began with a fairly pretty loading screen accompanied by narration to set the scene. The 14th century…Templars…the Spanish Inquisition…the Holy Grail. You get the idea. But nothing could prepare me for what came next.
Let’s just say that the back cover of The First Templar was just a little self-aggrandizing. The opening cutscene was less than impressive, utilizing in-game graphics rather than pre-rendered graphics. Normally this doesn’t bother me, except when games tout that they have amazing graphics. I mean, the game was launched in 2011. The only valid reason for going this route is if the game is so vastly HUGE that they needed to reserve their resources to accommodate its amazing-ness. Honestly, the in-game graphics are just OK, with face models that are far more creepy than anything else. I think it’s the dead eyes, rampant molestaches, and entirely expressionless stares that really gave me the willies. The worst part about the cutscenes throughout the game is the editing. One minute the characters are running through the woods. The next second, they have stopped at a village that’s quiet… a little too quiet. Then, there’s a dead body. Suddenly we are inside a church. A little incoherent banter gets you just confused enough to be taken by complete surprise when you are attacked by Muslim warriors. Every cutscene follows suit with choppy editing – even during conversations with your AI counterpart.
Cutscenes aside, the story is entertaining enough to keep you interested. Naturally there are several detours you must take while on your quest for the Grail – sometimes to win over an ally, and sometimes to settle unfinished business for your partner. Regardless, the story keeps moving forward and holds your attention. None of the distractions feel like distractions, and they usually end by finding more clues on the location of the Grail.
The First Templar is undeniably a hack & slash game. You can easily make your way through it by running out into a group of baddies and smashing the attack button until no one is left standing. However, TFT manages to provide a few interesting tweaks to the usually boring genre. Getting kills, finishing objectives and bonus objectives, and opening certain chests provide you with XP points you can spend on your cross-shaped skill tree. Unlocking one skill immediately unlocks another and the XP flows like the river Jordan, making leveling quite quick and painless. You can unlock new moves, extra health “orbs”, rage modes, and extra ‘mana’ orbs, etc. The action-RPG elements aren’t really imaginative, prominent, or new, but it was a welcomed addition to the game. You can upgrade your character and your AI partner on the fly, which was handy. Normally, you would expect to receive new weapons and outfits with special perks throughout a game like this. They were there in essence, but provided nothing more than a visual change. You can’t pick up weapons off the ground, and there is no kind of inventory system.
Another aspect of TLT is the ability to search certain areas of the maps for clues. This was fun, as well as a little silly. Sometimes ghostly shoe prints would magically appear, leading you to a missing Templar. Other times you would be made aware of hidden traps and trap triggers. This comes in handy, especially if you are searching out extra XP from bonus objectives or making your way through a puzzle of a dungeon. The puzzle areas are not entirely difficult, but the limited objective compass and maze-like qualities of these areas give you a nice break from the combat. Here’s where having your AI follower really comes in handy. Sometimes you will need to separate in order to pull levers to get each other through a series of doors and gates.
As I’ve mentioned, you have an AI partner that accompanies you on your quest. Through the game, this character switches between Roland (the Fighter), and Marie (Assassin/Rogue). You play as Celian (the Paladin), a champion of cause on a mission – who isn’t afraid to get his blade bloody when the situation calls for it. You will probably play as Celian the most, since he is usually stronger, but you can switch between which ever counterpart is with you at your leisure. The AI is generally pretty competent, and proves easy to control with simple commands from the D-Pad. Having an actual friend play with you is even better when it comes to demolishing your foes, allowing you far more strategy in your combat. HOWEVER, you may end up with a pretty pissed-off friend. Regardless of whether you are joined online or by your BFF at home, only First Player will receive any achievements and spendable XP. I couldn’t believe it. Why on God’s green Earth would anyone do that to a co-op game?? There are so few couch co-ops any more that this was the main selling point for me, and they completely nerfed it. What incentive does my friend have to play with me? None. The only time this wouldn’t bother Second Player is if it is your reluctant non-gamer girlfriend who is determined to have quality time with you, even if it means being forced to play video games. If that’s the case, be prepared to be single soon. They also decided to go with the dreaded 4:3 split screen rather than a full widescreen ratio. This makes it incredibly hard to see what you are doing, considering TFT a third-person style game.
Regardless of all the things that are wrong with The Last Templar, it is still a surprisingly addictive game. Even though certain aspects of the game are far from ideal, there’s enough of a variety to keep you interested. Take an average hack & slash, mesh it with some basic RPG elements, and throw in some decent combat options and a handy AI partner, and you have a nice little 12 hour, linear campaign. While the graphics aren’t what they should be for a 2011 release, you begin to forget how ugly it is as you get sucked into the story. TLT was actually a budget title when it was released, so it is easy to forgive these little atrocities when you consider there just wasn’t a lot of money poured into the game production. The achievements as easy to get, and most of them will pop up without you really having to try. The difficulty-based achievements are stackable, and you won’t have a problem blazing through it on Hard, so go ahead and get them in one shot. With all this in mind there are enough redeeming qualities to make this one a fun addition to your budget-game library.
If you’re into a little hack & slash, The Last Templar is worth a buy.