by Stefanie Fogel
previewed on PC
The First Templar is a new cooperative action adventure title from Haemimont Games and Kalypso Media for the PC and Xbox 360. The game takes place in the late 13th century at a time when corruption is spreading throughout the Church, European culture is in decline, and fallen knights roam the land terrorizing the populace. Players take on the role of a French Templar and his companion, a noblewoman branded as a heretic, as they go on a quest for the Holy Grail. But don't expect to see any references to Christian mythology or Arthurian legend in this game. Known for creating titles grounded in historical accuracy, Haemimont is instead crafting a tale of conspiracy and betrayal that would make Dan Brown proud.
The First Templar is based around the concept of cooperative play. In single player mode, you can switch seamlessly between characters, utilizing their unique skills for the task at hand. The Templar is the tank character with a sword and shield, while the noblewoman is faster and uses acrobatic attacks. Using teamwork, the Templar can attract the attention of enemies and soak up damage, while the noblewoman sneaks up from behind to land the killing blow.
Multiplayer mode is supported on both Xbox LIVE and Games for Windows and allows players to drop in and out of an online game easily. Once a player leaves, the game's AI automatically takes over, and the developers are promising an AI smart enough to help with the many co-op puzzles that will be scattered throughout the game world.
There are some light RPG elements. Each character has his or her own skill tree that can be developed through experience points as they complete missions. At its heart, though, The First Templar is an action title. Kalypso's Ted Brockwood says that the game is based on beat 'em ups where you smash your way through every bad guy in sight. Although the developers have taken a little "creative license" when it comes to enemies in the game, it won't be orcs and undead you fight against. During the demonstration I saw at E3, the Templar and his companion took on human soldiers or knights, as well as a "giant" in one of the game's boss battles. Other enemies will include the Saracen and the Inquisition, and King Philip IV of France will be an antagonist as well.
The game's streamlined combat is based on a combo point system that anyone who's ever played a rogue in World of Warcraft will be instantly familiar with. However, for an action title, I saw very little combat during the demo. The characters spent most of their time wandering through an English forest, the graphics of which reminded me of Dragon Age: Origins - and not in a good way. Like BioWare's epic RPG, the world of The First Templar is dark, drab, and perhaps slightly outdated. Haemimont has built the game using an in-house graphics engine, the same one that was once used to make simulation titles such as Tropico 3. There are some nice touches - arrows stick out of shields, characters perform random and dramatic "fatality" moves - but, overall, the graphics were a little underwhelming.
Although the English forest seemed average, the developers are promising that 20 historically accurate locations will be recreated in the game.
Give it time
Ultimately, what I saw of The First Templar at E3 was an alpha build of the game. A release date for some time in 2011 gives Haemimont and Kalypso plenty of time to address the game's issues. It has some good things going for it: accessible combat and RPG systems, co-op, and a storyline that has the potential to be interesting. With some improvements, The First Templar could wind up being an action title worth trying.