DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue – Staff Review

Having moved from a fantasy to a more modern era, DeathSpank will find a number of new challenges in DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue as he tracks down and battles with the other corrupt Thong bearers. His travels will take him through modern battlefields, old westerns, pirate coves, alien encounters, and parodies of everything from Soylent Green to Indiana Jones, and he’ll be fighting everything that gets in the way of his quest.

Although the action RPG mechanics are basically the same as they were in the original, returning enemies have been rebalanced in order to make previously useless enemies more of a threat and once severely overpowered foes more tame. In addition to this, the change in eras from medieval to fairly modern puts DeathSpank up against foes carrying a wide range of guns and even the occasional flamethrower, grenade, and bazooka. While the original had a number of enemies with ranged weapons as well, they are far more prevalent and dangerous this time around, and DeathSpank’s shield will likely see far more use as a result. These two changes, though not especially major, help keep the battle system fairly fresh for returning players, and the use of the shield, items, and special justice abilities add enough tactics to keep Thongs of Virtue from becoming an average hack and slash title, though it isn’t especially amazing either.

One of the things that helps keeps battles flowing very well is the ability to customize shortcut keys. Thanks to this, it’s possible to smoothly switch between weapons without having to enter the menu. In fact, this is even encouraged and rewarded with bonus justice points that allow special abilities to be used more often. The camera is also typically perfect, with the sole exception being battles with ranged enemies that are far to the south of the player, and even that problem is fairly rare.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with DeathSpank is also present in Thongs of Virtue: cluttered inventory space. Not only is the space itself too small to carry even a small fraction of the loot DeathSpank will find in his quests, the inability to sell equipment deemed to be the best by the game — a useful feature in theory — becomes an annoyance as the game progresses and equipment with secondary properties become available. The game will always prioritize equipment with higher HP, even if it’s only a few points, and most special armor with good secondary effects, such as Nature resist +25%, offer less of a HP boost than their unenchanted counterparts, thus leaving players that care about more than simply having a lot of HP with an extra set of armor cluttering their already limited inventory. The good news is that excess items and equipment can be turned into cash at any time instead of having to find a shop in order to sell the junk. All the same, everyone will be seeing messages such as “inventory full” and “cannot carry any more of those” far too frequently, including players that simply throw caution to the wind along with all of their special equipment.

Speaking of equipment, each family of equipment and loot that DeathSpank finds has its own unique look. This level of detail can also be found in the world’s backgrounds which, though made of similar components, still manage to make a fairly varied terrain when taken as a whole. Buildings and such have a flat wooden prop style that works surprisingly well, and there’s rarely any lag thanks to the way the world turns as DeathSpank moves North and South. There are quite a few cutscenes thrown in here and there, which is a big plus. They may not be of the highest quality graphically, but they’re still pretty good for an Arcade title, and they fit the mood of the game too.

Thongs of Virtue‘s soundtrack is rather good for an Arcade title as well. The soundtrack is held together by a central theme that varies depending on which region DeathSpank is in and whether or not he’s in battle at the time, and one track blends into another seamlessly. Sadly, this results in a bit of a problem, as much of Thongs of Virtue‘s soundtrack is extremely similar if not identical to tracks present in DeathSpank, and much of the music sounds the same whether or not it actually is. To help balance this out, Thongs of Virtue is fully voiced by an excellent cast. Many of the characters are supposed to sound cliché, and the cast hits those dead on. Jokes are delivered well, dialogue flows smoothly, and the cast, especially the actor playing DeathSpank himself, seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves, which really helps to sell the comedy.

Comedy. That’s what DeathSpank titles are all about, and Thongs of Virtue does not fail to deliver. Sure there’s a story about the six Thongs of Virtue that builds on the world set up by the original, but even that is basically a Lord of the Rings parody. While the storyline is deeper than it was in the first game, and it may be possible to simply blast through in about eight hours, it’s by no means the main reason to play. In fact, just talking to random NPCs and taking care of miscellaneous sidequests is the real focus of the game, and it’s easy to spend hours doing so without advancing the plot. In many cases, sidequest conversations are every bit as valuable as any items or experience earned in the process. Casual gamers without much experience with RPGs might not get all of the jokes, but there are plenty of clichés, book and movie references, and just humor in general to keep things entertaining for just about everyone.

Although DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is basically more of the same, it’s by no means repetitive with the exception of some of the music. The new era opens up a plethora of targets for parody, and the tweaks to the battle system’s focus keep that fresh as well. All of that is backed up by good music, visuals, and an excellent cast. The problems that the original faced haven’t been addressed, but they are few and not that big of a deal. All in all, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is likely to live up to the expectations of fans of the original, though newcomers will also have plenty to enjoy, and is quite a solid title overall.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a copy purchased by the reviewer.

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