Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, May 16th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/the_first_templar/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Developer Haemimont Games is most well-known for the excellent simulator Tropico 3, but has a strong history with strategy titles on the PC. The First Templar, then, as a primarily action adventure title, is largely a departure for the team. However, it takes from their historical experience with titles like Grand Ages: Rome in depicting some early history of the famed Christian militia known as the Knights Templar.
You play Celian, a Knight of the Order, traveling with assassin Marie and at times, fellow Knight Roland. The game is designed around co-op, though bizarrely, chat (voice or text) isn't supported in-game, and the friends system requires Facebook.
If both of you don't have Facebook, the best thing to do is either set a game up through Steam and hope a random doesn't join the game before your friend does, or play solo (you can alternate between characters at any time, the other of which has reasonably good AI), which is about half as fun, though still well worth considering. The community at this stage doesn't seem too small or big for this purpose, in that you'll always have someone to play with, but there aren't so many games going at any one time your friend won't be able to find you.
The plot follows two main objectives: thwarting the Inquisition's plans to eliminate the Order, and acquiring the Holy Grail. It's not as in-depth as it could be -- this is no rich history lesson in the vein of say, Age of Empires, unfortunately, but, thanks in part to pretty solid voice acting, it's intriguing enough and serves as a welcome background to the action, compelling you to reach the end and learn the secrets of the Order and the Grail. The music, meanwhile, is fitting and well-done, though feels somewhat sparse.
The action is plentiful, backed by the varied combat system and skill tree. As you take out enemies, you'll earn experience which can be put towards new combos and abilities (counterattacks, strong attacks, quick recovery, etc). Many of these depend on 'Zeal' -- depending how much of this you have at a given time, you can perform a variety of special attacks. Enemies are varied in look and ability, some packing shields you must break, some with more health, and some with different styles of fighting. In some situations you can opt to go the stealth route -- simply sneak up behind an enemy and cut his throat. Sadly, this is about as far as the stealth elements go.
A wide range of locales, light puzzles, unlockable outfits, and the Steam-exclusive "Arena" (survival mode, happily co-op compatible) help complement the main game and may keep you playing, but only go so far. Roughly halfway through, many fights become an excercise in tedious repetition on Normal difficulty (even Marie says, "These guys are getting on my nerves; they just keep coming and coming"), so you may want to bump it up to Hard to force yourself to at least occasionally make use of all the mechanics have to offer.
Unfortunately the controls on PC don't feel very intuitive as a whole. Basic attacks and combos and such are fine (administered with left and right mouse clicks), but using the number keys to activate certain moves or abilities in the heat of battle, for example, is frustrating, though you can always plug in the Xbox 360 controller (natively supported) or remap the keys. A separate move list to be accessed at any time would help matters greatly, as well, instead of having to continually check the skill tree screen and wade through the unlocks to remember how to perform one of many moves.
Graphics options are here in spades, thankfully, though because a deferred renderer (LPP) is used, there's no traditional anti-aliasing, but rather, post-processing edge-based AA which leaves sometimes noticeable jaggies; traditional and more effective AA can be forced in your graphics card's control panel. Maxed, the game is beautiful for what it is; shadows and lighting effects in particular shine. The First Templar is conservative in its design, though: rather than going for the all out bleeding edge approach, it focuses on a few key graphics elements to immerse you in its world, paying off in performance.
On an X6 1055T CPU and 1GB 5770 GPU, it ran about 40-60 frames per second outdoors. Performance here is obviously not quite where it should be, though it never felt much distracting. Indoors, the framerate shoots up to 70-110. I experienced no stuttering and no crashes.
For online play and updates, you're required to sign up for an account through publisher Kalypso Media, and must sign in each time when you are connected to the Internet (if you're not, the screen is skipped). Annoyingly, there's no auto-login option.
On the whole, The First Templar is undoubtedly a well-made game, but the difference between well-made and highly recommendable comes down to a couple core shortcomings: unintuitive, sometimes repetitive combat, and a partly broken co-op system. As is, it's still definitely one to look into, especially at the $40 price point.
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