The First Templar

Ever since way back in 2002, I have been waiting for developers to follow in the footsteps of Stormfront Studios and EA Redwood, in their successful Lord of the Rings, hack ‘n slash games.  Stormfront went on to develop Forgotten Realms : Demon Stone, released on all platforms in 2004, but since then, nothing seem to have offered a similar, engaging swordplay experience.  A mere 7 years later, The First Templar has emerged, and, if you get past the erroneous comparisons to Assassin’s Creed, looks to offer a rich, action-RPG experience, worthy of the traditions of EA Redwood and Stormfront.  I got some lengthy time with the game, post-release, and I’ll tell you if it’s a sword-fighting descendant, or if it’s a dagger to this fan’s heart.

The Storyline

You will never find a more wretched hive of villainy and scum.

As I mentioned, in my introduction, at first glance, many have made the grave mistake of taking First Templar for an Assassin’s Creed clone.  Let me say that The First Templar is no similar to Assassin’s Creed than any of the Need For Speed titles.  Yes, the game is set in Crusades of the 13th century, during the Inquisition, led by King Phillip of France.  Initially, you take on the role of Celian, a French Templar, and his Templar brother, Roland.  Before long, you rescue a valuable witness and woman persecuted by the Catholic Church, Marie d’Ibelin. Celian teams up with Marie, in a quest to find the Holy Grail, support the Templar Knights and turn the tide against the Inquisition, injustice, and the persecution of the Knights Templar.  If only things were that simple, the game would be but a cliche, but the plot takes some fantastic twists and turns, weaving in obvious fictional liberties with the already rich historical backdrop.  A total of twenty locations from the time period, are represented in the game, as well as various factions of rivals and combatants.  If you chose to purchase the game through Steam, the story will also be expanded with a DLC mission, playable in single and multiplayer, known as The Arena.

The Gameplay

Parry, parry, thrust, thrust, good!

The First Templar does a great job of tapping into the beautiful combat mechanics of the games previously mentioned, such as the Lord of the Rings Two Towers/Return of the King games and Demon Stone.  To call any of those games a button masher is a severe disservice, which is why I am such a fan of that particular style of combat.  Enjoying fantasy style gameplay, with swords and sorcery is one thing, but to meticulously craft a combat engine that forces the player to parry and dodge, counter-attacking with your own correct combos, is a much greater experience.  The result, within First Templar, not only captures what I loved from those previous games, it also seems to give the player the feel of using the dynamics of combat from Batman : Arkham Asylum, in it’s free-flowing, counter-heavy manner.  Celian and Roland have a very similar feel, with Roland being a bit more brutish and aggressive.  Marie, however, plays similar to your typical rogue character, wielding two daggers, and being much swifter than the Templars.  Each character has an upgrade system, allowing you to trade accrued experience for new or stronger combos, and health or zeal orbs.  Zeal orbs build up through successful  attacks and blocks, and are used, similar to mana, to perform special moves and combos, such as a shield breaker combo.

Are you Ali Baba, or just a thief?

The combat sections are mixed with platforming sections, full of traps and puzzles for the player to navigate and solve.  Now, you won’t find puzzles of the Tomb Raider persuasion, per se.  Rather, Celian, using his tracking skills, can pick up on tracks left by enemies, leading you to bonus objectives and collectibles, in the game.  In the few catacombs sections of the games, you must navigate various traps and overcome a few “you stand on that pressure plate while I find a lever” themed segments.  Personally, I enjoy the pacing that these various settings end up creating; rather than one long sword fight, across a sliding Flintstones style changing background, the pacing flows well from combat, to platforming, and back again.  Also, sprinkled throughout the various levels, are pieces of Templar inscriptions, fleshing out the backstory and history of the Templars.  Each, of the three characters, also has three piece costumes and two piece weapon sets, scattered among the hidden pathways of the levels.  All of the game’s levels, and the additional content, can be played through via co-op, either with a friend, or by opening your single player game up to a public drop-in/drop-out partner.  Amazing, a rarely found feature included, it the option to take drop-in/drop-op co-op gameplay into a cplit-screen setting.  The puzzles are quite a bit more fun in the multiplayer setting, where a friend takes on the role of the second character, and can easily be pushed into flaming traps. >:O)

The Verdict

Which one is Anakin?

In my opinion, the combat system, in First Templar, is a drastically underused game mechanic, that I would like to see more developers take a stab at(pun intended).  I like the setting, I like the combat, and the graphics are pretty sharp and detailed; all around, a really fun experience.  It’s rare to find an engaging game not littered with gore and foul language, and, thankfully, First Templar is that rare gem.  Granted, there are a couple, minor gripes, that I have with the game. While the story is interesting, and some of the plots twists are obvious, some of the more major plot turns were a good surprise.  The game, and it’s combat system, can seem to drag a bit, in the middle of the game.  While the upgrade system offers many options, each character has only one or two unique moves/abilities, and only two to three combo options.  It would have been nice to see a few more moves added, to be unlocked, maybe even a character specific or combo activated coup de grace.  All told, I had a great time brandishing swords with all variety of villains, across 13th century Europe, defending the honor of the helpless and fighting to avenge the wrongly tarnished name of the Templars.  The puzzles and the finale were a great way to cap off the game and the story.  Co-op is a blast, and a must experience for any fan or owner of the game.  First Templar takes a combat system near and dear to my heart, and uses it to craft a fun experience, stitched in an interesting time in history.  Thank you Haemimont and Kalypso.

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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