Holy crap (see what I did there?) I have so much to say about this game. Unfortunately, most of what I have to say about it isn’t too good. There are some things that this game gets right, but they are unfortunately buried under a large mound of things that it completely drops the ball on. Let’s dive right into this.
I’ll try to do this without spoilers because the game tries to take the Twist Route and be complex…
The First Templar is a game brought to us by Haemimont Games and Kaylpso Media, if you don’t recognize those names don’t feel bad. Aside from the surprisingly good Sins of a Solar Empire, Kaylpso’s name only really popped up with the release of Dungeons earlier this year, which flopped due to its incredible potential but horrible follow through. TFT follows the adventures of forgettable-protagonist-the-male (Celian or something) and forgettable-protagonist-the-female (Marie, after having to google it) as they travel across the world in a quest for the Holy Grail. Sound epic enough? Well the game itself is underwhelming in that you are on a seemingly impossible quest to acquire, arguably, the most important historical artifact yet you seem like you’re flailing all over the place and doing missions that have no actual bearing on the plot itself. For example in two conjoined missions you need to save a town. Why? Does the Grail reside there? No. Because you need to. Seriously, that’s all the justification the game gives you before you go spend an hour of mindlessly spamming the mouse buttons. There are twists and turns along the way, with people getting betrayed and what not, but the plot seems like they finally read a copy of the Di Vinci code and thought “Hey! That’s cool! We should do something like that!” but they are only a few years late to that party. On to the gameplay itself!
The game is advertised by Kalypso themselves as an Action/Adventure but it’s pretty much your generic hack-n-slash. What this entails is you having combos you can unlock in an RPG like character development system (which sadly turns into more health, more “zeal” which is essentially their form of energy, or new ways to do damage with little differentiation between the actual moves themselves). Whereas the earlier Dungeons had a good concept but the game fails to preform, this concept feels well-worn and stale. When hack-n-slashes like Diablo showed that there could be depth to character progression within your basic dungeon crawling-button mashing game, most games followed suit by adding some form of character dynamic. Even the sub-par Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series offered a form of leveling and gear upgrading. The only system that supports this kind of customization is choosing between either your health or zeal upgrades or if you want to burn exp on moves you’ll never use because it’s simply more effective to hit the mouse buttons repeatedly. Even in terms of gear gathering, the only difference between the armors and weapons you can get is cosmetic, making the time you spend in the frustrating levels even longer.
Speaking of the levels, let’s talk about those for a second. Collision detection, be it in combat, walking around, healing from the food scattered around missions, and, the most aggravating of all, traps is horribly inadequate. There are arbitrary invisible walls seemingly throw in just to annoy the player and the stark mini-map/compass doesn’t help the navigation problem. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the levels are fairly linear in that it’s truly hard to get off the path as the game pretty much holds your hand anytime you do anything. Even the “hidden treasure” has giant silver arrows on your compass pointing directly to them, making the actual “adventure” part of the game seem like a chore. It throws all sense of wonder out the window and makes you feel like a dog that has been told to fetch one too many times. In TFT there are essentially two levels with little exception, and then only small amount of variants between the ones that fall under those categories; there’s the “Town/Suburban” and then the “Dungeon/Underground.” In towns, the main way to tell the difference between the new town and the one you’ve already been to is the sand color. Dungeons don’t have this differentiation regrettably, they just look the same. Due to this the game feels shoddily made and makes it seem like copy and paste were used a lot.
But nothing reflects that as much as the animations in this game. No, I’m not a graphics stickler, I still play Baldur’s Gate and Morrowind thank you very much, but when the game has unblinking horrors that seem to be marionettes with human skin stretched over them that twitch spontaneously and move in a way that seems to mock your humanity, I tend to care about the graphics (not to mention develop nightmares from these ghoulish creepers). They move like robots, stiff and completely unnatural. Paired with voice acting that seems just out of sync with what they’re speaking about, they’re always dramatic when they need not be and passive when they should be more dynamic, the cut scenes become laughable at first, but then agitating when you realize how many are in the game. The models they use in the game are also relatively low in their poly count, but despite this they have surprisingly strong and crisp texture work resulting in something that seems like a demented version of its real life counterpart. There’s not much I can say about the character graphics but “HOLY S*** KILL IT WITH FIRE.”
The combat itself though is usually the backbone of any hack-n-slash game. However, the combat in this game is flat in that there really isn’t that much to it. Sure there are useless combos and the like but the combat never gets the same visceral feeling that most games do. Occasionally you’ll get a finisher every now and then, but the animation of them makes you feel like the sword your character is using is made out of bamboo or something similar and that you’re simply whacking the baddies with it. The pacing of the combat feels rushed and deprived of any tact. However this leads to the place where TFT got it right. It seems the crew at Haemimont understands that hitting the mouse key for 15 hours straight would be a thankless task so they decided to add in some puzzling and stealth parts to the game.
The puzzling, though, is childish and underdeveloped; they are often solved by just holding control (the search key) and looking for that shiny thing or footsteps and responding accordingly. The stealth though is far better in its development in that it feels similar to the Hitman series but instead of coins there are inexplicably placed stacks of jars that you can lob over your hiding spot to distract guards so that you sneak up and snap their squishy little necks. These, however, are all too few and lose out to the bleak repetitious button mashing.
So where does this leave TFT? This was a game that felt like a chore to play. Whenever you saw something decent in the game it would immediately break that with either brain-asploding over use of it, or the almost complete absence of said fun in the rest of the game. Now I won’t say this game is shovelware, but it’s most certainly not a good game, or even decent game for that matter. I have decided to give it a 7 on the d20 due to painfully boring combat, s*** inducing horror that the animation inspires and a bland plot, after being saved by a decent stealth system and occasional puzzles, albeit simplistic and easy, to help break the monotony.