One of my planned acquisitions from last year’s Steam Christmas sales was DeathSpank. It’s what these days called an action-RPG, like all games these days, but I think a better description is that it’s a bit like the various Diablo II followers, Torchlight and Titan Quest - with a bit of Monkey Island in there.

Wallpaper of DeathSpank
This wallpaper was released in 2008.

DeathSpank first appeared on Ron Gilbert’s blog as one of his comics, Grumpy Gamer Comics #8.1 However, this throwaway character had much more potential.

I started working on this game four years ago and was turned down by just about everyone that had a business card with “publisher” printed on it. A couple of years ago Clayton Kauzlaric and I start doing the short-lived (mostly because we’re lazy) Grumpy Gamer comics and created the DeathSpank character and I thought, hey, he’s a lot more fun than the main character I had before, so we started messing around with story ideas and fleshing him and his world out.

At first, DeathSpank: The Game was supposed to be an episodic game. Then it turned into a one full game and finally was released as a two-parter, DeathSpank and DeathSpank: The Thong of Virtue. The second game continues exactly from where the first game ended, even though the first game is set in the medieval world of dragons and castles and the second one starts from the Second World War.

Like Torchlight, DeathSpank has a bit of a problem with the inventory. You don’t really know what you’re supposed to do with all the junk and you have very limited storage options and yet you accumulate all kinds of crap quite quickly. The game has stores where you can buy additional gear2, but most of the stuff drops from enemies and barrels anyway so I didn’t end up shopping at all.

The game also has elements, like Fire, Undeath, Nature and Ice. However, I did not really utilize this aspect of game at first, but then I realized that certain enemies are quite easy once you use the right element weapon against them. Even then, Fire is pretty effective against everything except for demons, who, naturally, are quite easy with an ice weapon.

In short, the game has everything your run-of-the-mill role-playing game should have. It does not bring that much new to genre, other than being really fun - especially if you are a fan of Gilbert’s previous games3. The game’s world resembles a bit of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. You have odd characters, crazy weapons and a general sense of oddness fills everything. And yes, there’s a side quest where you’re expected to collect unicorn poop. The game also makes fun and references other games and pop culture in general. For example, one of the biggest revelations in the game is that Eubrick, the retired hero, knows the Secret of Monkey Island. In Discworld fashion, you’re the really stereotypical hero who needs to vanquish the evil. DeathSpank is happy when things are this simple and easy.

Screenshot of DeathSpank
These monsters are Orques.

Borrowing from the good old adventure games, DeathSpank has also some puzzles and your hero has an inventory, but the most fun you get out of it is from the item descriptions. There are one or two places where you’re supposed to combine some of your inventory items to accomplish your task. And maybe there are uses for the junk in your inventory (which has more space than your separate weapon inventory), but I ended up with a lot of stuff I had no idea what to do with. You also get dialog trees, which are one of the strongest points of the game. The dialogue is what really fills the world of DeathSpank and breaks it off from the normal hunt for bigger numbers that describes many new Action-RPGs. Sure, DeathSpank levels and the weapons do certain point amount of damage but these don’t mean that much because for most part the combat is quite easy.

The game has a co-op mode, where the other player plays as Sparkles the Wizard, but I don’t have any friends nor a gamepad, so I wouldn’t know about it. It does sound like a cool idea, though.

DeathSpank is the first (and probably only) game for which I achieved all the achievements. You end up getting almost all of them through normal gameplay and only one is a bit tricky because it’s a bit hidden. As such, they’re a good indicator how far people usually get in the game.

Global achievement statistics for DeathSpank
The last one is the tricky one.

We can assume that every player who actually plays DeathSpank, dies at least once in the game, so we can say that 78,7% of players have really played the game.4 Of those, just 37% (or half of actual players) manage to kill the third-or-so boss character. And just 24,2% of all (or a third of actual players) have completed the game. It’s easy to see why strong single-player campaigns are rare, if just a quarter of your customers see the whole of it. DeathSpank is not a long game (I completed it in 12 hours, but I did a lot of side quests) nor really hard.

In summary, this is a game for fans of adventure games. It’s great fun and I will probably play the game again ,but on a harder difficulty setting than the normal and no doubt the sequel will also be on my to do list.

  1. Unlike in the comic, in the real game DeathSpank can’t jump.

  2. One nice thing was that throughout the game DeathSpank’s wardrobe changes in certain themes. There’s the outfit that reminds you of Ancient Egypt and then there’s an outfit full of gargoyles and so on. It reminded me of Hand of Fate, where the main character changes her outfit many, many times throughout the game.

  3. The game is not necessarily for Putt-Putt fans, though.

  4. This number compares pretty well to Braid’s 87,5% of players having traversed the World 2. Or Portal’s 72,8% of players getting the full portal gun (yes, 27% of Portal owners are posers). Or Torchlight’s 87,2% of players entering the mine.