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The epic Greek tale of Jason and his band of Merry Men finally arrives in the UK, but is it more 'Meet the Spartans' than '300'...
Taking a fresh look at one of Greek mythology's great and epic stories, Liquid Entertainment's action-RPG, Rise of the Argonauts, has already taken North America and Europe by storm (well, more a light drizzle). Two months on, and it's finally the UK's turn to travel through the mists of legend on board the good ship Argo; it's all sounds a far cry from Liquid Entertainment's previous game, based on the Desperate Housewives TV show...
Not only is Rise of the Argonauts the first time that Liquid Entertainment has delved into the realm of action-RPGs, it also marks the first time Californian outfit has developed for the console market. So what's it all about? For scholars in Greek Mythology or Ray Harryhausen's CV, it's probably best if you skip the next paragraph.
Where's The God Of War?
Set before the Trojan Wars, Rise of the Argonauts sees players take on the role of Jason, King of Iolcus, on the eve of his wedding. As you'd expect, things don't go to plan, with the assassination of his would be bride Alceme by a member of the 'blacktongues', mystical types who seem pretty handy with a bow and arrow. It seems that Jason is about as stubborn as any mule in his kingdom too, as he refuses to believe that Alceme is gone for good, and decides to go on an adventure with some of the greatest heroes of Ancient Greek literature to seek a solution to death itself. Whilst core elements from the ancient story remains, much of this latest interpretation goes off on quiet a tangent.
OK game-playing PhD students of the Classics, you can start reading again.
Liquid Entertainment's heritage is steeped in mid-range PC titles, and with Rise of the Argonauts, it shows. Action-RPGs should provide a heady mix of strong real-time combat and depth of customisation, and Rise of the Argonauts of course attempts this gameplay cocktail. On the face of it, the game's campaign of battling fantastical creatures, ancient beings, and the telling of a voyage of epic mythological proportions, should provide that. What the game actually delivers is tens of hours of bland retreading over key places in Greek myth, where gamers determined to find out whether Jason gets his wish will end up using the in-game map to find where they're supposed to go, just to finish it as soon as possible. In short, it's quite a plodding tale.
What's all the more frustrating is that Rise of the Argonauts could have been an engaging title, the launch of a franchise that would give publisher Codemasters a nice piece of the multi-platform action-RPG pie. It could have been a far more exciting adventure had it steered clear of padding out the campaign with large gaps of aimless running about between the same bits of relatively small locations across the gameworld. Sure, players expect there to be an emphasis on exploration as well as action in action-RPGs, but top/tailing the seemingly endless escapade of Fed-Ex travelling for lowly citizens of Ancient Greece (Jason is a king, remember) with conversations that at times reveal the game's desire to be Mass Effect: The Ancient Years, and others that are about as involving as a chat with a lump of stone, just encapsulates where Rise of the Argonauts goes horribly wrong. Travelling between locations across Ancient Greece should also form part of the adventure, but Liquid has also missed an opportunity; return to the Argo, and Jason will 'wake up' on board ship already at the next city/ruin/dock - it's the sea-faring equivalent of taking an elevator. It altogether feels disjointed, hindered further by a clunky menu system, and sums up a lot about Rise of the Argonauts.
The Argonauts joining Jason on his journey, including the mighty Hercules and Achilles, all have their part to play through the story, weaving their recruitment into the King's quest along the way. There are other Ancient 'greats' featured through the campaign, along with nods to other famous stories of the time, such as Icarus' doomed flight from Cyprus, but Rise of the Argonauts is very much Jason's story. The lack of co-op, something that's becoming increasingly used in the genre, strengthens the game's old-fashioned feel - and not in an adorable nostalgic way either.
There are numerous glitches spread out through the campaign too, with frame-rate issues stuttering to life when there's barely anything going on at the time, and jumps in character animations during conversations; both are things that really shouldn't be occurring in a game with triple-A ambitions. Visually stylised, Rise of the Argonauts' characters on the face of it are solid enough, it's just the rest of the game that lets down what should be a rich looking world. Bland really does sum up the game's various locations, with very little soul or atmosphere to be found. For a game based on the wealth of Ancient Greece, Rise of the Argonauts is noticeably poor.
Jason & His Merry Men
Things don't get much better for the 'action' part of this action-RPG either. Sony's all-conquering God of War could very well be described as an action-RPG, though its emphasis is definitely on visceral action. Perhaps it's the reliance on melee combat with swords, shields, and maces, but combat in historical or mythological titles should feel more involved than their gun- and laser-toting cousins. Players should almost feel the weight behind ever offensive sword attack, bringing a level of immersion to combat - even if the game isn't wholly action-orientated. Instead, Rise of the Argonauts follows a fairly standard 'light' and 'strong' combo system that'll leave most players feel uninvolved; however, it at develops as the game progresses. Relying on three different weapon types, swords, spears, and maces, all of which are upgraded as the campaign unfolds. Many are rewarded when optional quests are completed, giving Jason certain buffs in combat.
Despite looking like a high-speed car crash at times however, the game does have (one or two) features that may intrigue forgiving fans of the genre.
Supporting Jason's quest to resurrect his dead bride are four of the Ancient Greek gods, Ares, Apollo, Hermes, and Athena. Providing the opportunity for players to buff up the king with abilities and skills, from damaging enemies whilst in defence to accessing a selection of 'God Powers' mapped to the d-pad, the god of war (no, not a certain angry PlayStation icon), the god of the sun, the messenger of the gods, and the goddess of heroic endeavour, open up a lot of progressive depth for gamers to exploit. In a rare, neat twist of originality, the completion of different objectives can be cashed in to by these so-called 'Aspects'.
A form of encouraging gamers to complete optional mission objectives targets (tracked as unlocked constellations in the menu), exchanging objectives like 'Kill 35 enemies' or 'Complete Ares Challenge', the Aspects offer a unique take on the usual development trees found in RPGs. At the very least, it means that Rise of the Argonauts hasn't had to rely on the usual mechanic of finding treasure chests or breaking pots to accumulate some spending money...playing the monarch of a Grecian city-state, such a dynamic would have been well, silly.
Codemasters will have no doubt planned for Rise of the Argonauts to develop into a franchise, but with this lacklustre first attempt not even doing enough to be a solid foundation for a series, we wouldn't be surprised if the game will be referred to as 'Fall of the Argonauts' too.
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