Wot I Think: Rise Of The Argonauts

Blessed by the gods, he is.

Action/RPG Rise of the Argonauts came out on all formats rather recently, and the PC version came out last week. Does Jason get the fleece, or just get fleeced? Here’s Wot I Think:

“What a view!” boomed Hercules. “You can see for miles from here!” Looking across at the horizon I could see the tiled sea, and a grey, looming fog. Moving the mouse to the right angle, I could just make out the shadowy shape of a distant hill. So I went to find the graphics options, of which there are none. Quit to the main menu, but they’re not there either. Quit to desktop, search through the Start menus, directories… nothing. There are some inis I could edit, but screw that, I don’t need to see the hill that badly. Oh, I love a good port.

I won't show Hercules' view just next to here, because it would be a bit of a boring screenshot.

However, the botched translation to PC is really the last of Rise of the Argonauts’ worries. Far more comfortably played on a 360 controller it may be, but switching out the rest of the PC for an Xbox isn’t going to save it. Oh, Rise of the Argonauts, what were you meant to be?

The most obvious thought would be a gaming rendition of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, what with Jason being the player’s character. However, mysteriously, this is not the case at all. The story of Jason’s attempts to rise to power as King of Iolcus through forming the Argonauts and searching for the Golden Fleece has been put through a shredder. Some poor soul took the resulting strips and attempted to stick them back together, creating the utterly non-canon story on offer here. Jason, already King of Iolcus, is getting married to Alceme (apparently a completely invented character). During the ceremony she is murdered, and Jason begins his quest to find the Golden Fleece in order to bring her back to life.

Somehow the witch Medea, more traditionally Jason’s only wife, appears, now a former member of the Black Tongues, an evil order hell-bent on the death of Jason and his family. Of the traditional heroes making up the Argonauts, only Hercules and Atalanta (who isn’t fast, and was raised by centaurs) survive, the others gathered as you play including Pan and Achilles. And the legendary journey taken in the mythology is also completely gone, replaced by visiting three islands, each home to an heir of one of four gods (the fourth heir being revealed toward the end), by whose blood access to the Fleece will be possible. And no, the Fleece isn’t guarded by a dragon, there’s no sowing teeth and fighting skeletons (of ALL the things to leave out!), and it’s not even on Colchis. Right. Got that? It’s nothing to do with Jason and the Argonauts.

KERCHOP

The next most likely idea of what was intended, at first glance, is a third-person action game. Jason comes equipped with three weapons, a sword, a spear and a mace. Each can be upgraded as the game goes on, offering new bonus powers, and enhanced versions of each weapon’s special moves. Combat involves attacks from multiple opponents, with no lock-on, meaning Jason can leap around swiping and slashing at all of them at once. It’s reminiscent of the combat in Sands of Time, but without the jumping, and a lot more slick. Along with two attacks for each weapon and the special move, there’s also a dodge and a shield bash, to fill all the 360 coloured buttons. There’s also special attacks achieved by switching weapon, but I’m buggered if I ever noticed or needed these, the weapon switch sometimes delaying up to five seconds after you pressed it.

There’s also the ‘god moves’. These are powers you purchase as you play by assigning achievements to each of the four main gods, Apollo, Ares, Hermes and Athena. It’s possibly the first smart in-game application of the achievement epidemic, making them relevant to you progress, using them as a replacement for XP. These go on the d-pad, and are used in combat. But despite all this, it’s not a third-person action game.

The fighting, the game’s strongest feature (to put that in context: you can get through almost every fight by randomly pressing the two attack buttons, and the occasional god power if you can get it to bloody trigger – it’s nothing spectacular), is astonishingly rarely used. Fights are few and far between, and in a cosmic reversal of most story-led games, they’re a moment of respite from the utter tedium that makes up the rest of the game.

Cris Angel makes a surprise guest appearance.

If anything, ROTA was meant to be a Bioware-inspired RPG. For the vast majority of the game you’re traipsing around the enormous, bland, empty locations occasionally dialogue-skipping your way through another ghastly conversation, until you, the king, are asked to deliver someone’s pie or something. Except you’re not really gathering quests, you’re just building up a list of destinations you have to lethargically jog toward, desperately hoping for a fight along the way. The lengthy opening, in Iolcus, defies previously known boundaries for tiresome time-wasting. After being forced to run back and forth through the castle, making moral decisions of no consequence whatsoever, you’re then charged with sauntering your kingly arse down to the docks were your new boat, the Argo, is waiting. Get there and a woman asks you if you can give a message to someone back in the castle, and an old man tells you his son is missing.

So in case any of it is critical to the main plot you slog all the way back up again, Hercules faffing around behind you, talk to people, and then all the way back down, getting spun around every step of the way. The map is available through the options menu, which after appearing takes an agonising couple of seconds before it will let you select anything. There’s no mini-map, nor any compass, which makes the constant 180 turns in the corridors each city is made up of incessantly confusing and disorientating. This is not helped by Jason’s companions apparently on a sponsored attempt to perform non-stop Marx Bros routines by wedging themselves into every doorway and corridor such that you can’t get past them. Because oh boy, does this game like clipping.

Don't bother going for his heel. Or trying to poison him.

Every object you see is a good foot wider than it appears. Every wall, every door frame, every rock and gatepost, is surrounded by an impenetrable force that Jason collides into. You start to see the world this way, aiming for the middle third of staircases, taking wide arcs around children in the street. However, there’s no manoeuvring around the idiots who accompany you, leaving you to scream at the screen until they eventually shuffle out the way. (A highlight was Hercules’ crazy spinning dance he performed with a nearby guard, during a conversation Jason was having about how much he missed his dead wife.)

There are a few traditional characters you meet along the way. Medusa appears, although appears to have been cured of being a gorgon and is instead a giant blue monster with giant eels for limbs. She has a brother, rather than two sisters, and you get to cure her and make her back into a regular human… Oh, okay, I’ll stop complaining about it not having anything to do with the mythology. But seriously, Medusa? Can you really change Medusa? There’s also Achilles (apparently in his Iliad form where he’s vulnerable, but that’s about it for matching any of his various histories), who you get to fight in battle, while he makes smug comments. Which is quite fun.

Ah, familiar old Medusa, and her snakes for...

As levels progress you get to take your choice of characters with you (although there’s only three occasions of this, the game being around 15 hours long), which again echoes Bioware’s approach. Who you have with you slightly alters the experience, in as much as the comments interjected by them during conversations. But not much more. This, and the occasional moral dilemmas, are poorly understood. Say what you like, really, because it’s not going to make any difference, beyond gathering slight favour with that choice’s god. And unlike Bioware games, there’s no attempt to disguise this. Various ideas are quite nice – restoring a village of inhabitants turned to stone, giving last rites to ghosts haunting an island – but they don’t really have weight. Once sequence which could have been great, where you are charged with a philosophical debate, is reduced to randomly guessing the ambiguous answer until you get them ‘right’, repeating the sequence after each failure until you reach the end. It’s all so watery-thin.

Naturally it climaxes with at least three false endings, then a boss fight utterly incongruous with the entire game, and then doesn’t give you any closure on any of the stories of the accompanying characters, other than to see them all standing together, laughing and waving goodbye. (They might not have been waving goodbye.)

The god of moss.

It’s all so frustrating not because of the shitty port, horrible staggering, laughable animations when going up and down steps, the slowest doors in gaming history (okay, it IS so frustrating because of these godforsaken doors – they’re not hiding loading, they’re simply the stupidest near-static animations you could ever imagine, especially after the game has forced you to run through them for a fourth time on your constant back-and-forth labouring), nor even the occasional crashing to desktop during conversations. It’s frustrating because it’s half a good game. You can see why it should have been good, what it could have been, and yet you’re always chugging along the boring corridors, rattling on about your dead wife. During the combat you’re happy, it’s fine. But wow, it needed more of that.

Oh, and missing out the fighting skeletons. Good grief.

84 Comments

  1. Steven says:

    Oh god, don’t remind me of how badly ROTA butchered greek mythology…

    The favor system is just a new paint over the old exp system. Of course, it allow you to put points into different areas, but in most *good* rpgs trying to put points into every class = a very gimped character. With ROTA it matters less because the god powers aren’t really that diverse or useful. And the trash enemies never got significantly harder.

    And don’t get me started on the boss fights that won’t let me use god powers. Why on earth would ROTA cripple me when I needed my powers the most?

  2. Cabley says:

    I really liked the game. Sure it’s far from perfect, but it’s also a long way from the terrible game everyone’s making out. I’ve played (and finished) a lot worse than this. A lot worse.

    I thought it had a few good ideas (the deeds and god power upgrade stuff), but failed to use it well enough. There was too much choice with not enough clear explanation to make it obvious what you had to do.

    The plot wasn’t bad (if you ignore previous stories of Jason, and really no-one cares!), there were some nice ideas mixed into a lot of running around, but then none of the quests were really any better than most of the Bioware games. I mean, Mass Effect’s world was empty too, and built on a sci-fi world and plot that’s been done to death elsewhere.

    Combat was throwaway in this game. I liked the feel of it and slicing people in two or crushing their heads felt satisfying, but I never felt like it required any skill.

    Regardless I found the game quite easy to play though and entertaining. Didn’t crash once for me and seemed remarkably polished for a game which obviously wasn’t built on a huge budget. Re: Unreal engine, someone needs to sort out their trees though, it seems all unreal engine trees look rubbish!

  3. Craymen Edge says:

    I’m not sure which dissuades me from playing this game more; John’s criticisms, or N’s reccomendation.

  4. Rice says:

    I read the title as “Rise of the Astronauts”

    Coupled with that first screenshot, I got pretty interested.

  5. MeestaNob! says:

    If you think this is a pointless use of a classic tale, just wait for Dante’s Inferno to appear.

    That will re-define missing the point. I cant wait for a Wot I Think on that. Actually, scratch that, I demand RPS unleash Optimus Thumb for that one, I imagine I’ll be telling my grandchildren about the review.

  6. Ian says:

    John, you cad. It’s only fair that you challenge N to a duel. Giant shields at dawn!

  7. Gap Gen says:

    “btw does this have any sex related quicktime events that get sprung on me during a family dinner?”

    Like what? Press X to lick your uncle?

  8. unique_identifier says:

    i quite enjoyed playing this through. it’s a tragic console port (the inconsistent keyboard-driven menus annoyed me the most – wsad navigate some, and the arrow keys inexplicably navigate others), although i don’t remember being annoyed by crashes, unlike some other folks here.

    i found the initial part of the game dull – blundering about the palace grounds lost and having inconsequential conversations with everyone wasn’t the most fun. however, i kept playing and found i did enjoy much of the later dialogue, especially the odd witticism chucked out by pan the satyr. having characters amuse me at times was a pleasant change after playing through far cry 2 and fallout 3.

    the combat is a bit of a joke – mash buttons and things die – but it’s good mindless fun in the same vein as diablo, say. i couldn’t figure out how to use god powers in combat until about half way through the game, but that didn’t really seem to matter.

    i wouldn’t recommend spending money on this, unless you can pick it up for the price of a cheap movie ticket, but i did actually have quite a bit of fun.

  9. N says:

    Well shit, I was busy in a Diablo matchup (yes, the first one) and look what happened here. I always love how people mention etiquette or other some such shit and expect to get it on-the-fucking-internet-of-all-places. Always gives me a good hearty LOL/facepalm moment.
    Now when it comes to greek mythos games I still believe this is one of the best examples out there, for the PC atleast. Titan Quest was a bit too Diablo and well… I’d rather play Diablo one or two instead honestly. I’m not that familiar with consolities except the GoW series which I played via someone else’s ps2, not to mention that such examples are pretty irrelevant on a pc gaming site anyway.

    Apart from Tartarus and Iolcus every place was neatly built. The fact that this game was, as far as texturing and lighting go, quite colorful, is something RARE for us ok? I mean check out the texture combos on the character’s armors, all the materials like leather bronze iron being mixed together with pretty good taste, very lovingly made stuff. And these days it’s pretty rare to see such shit made with such care.

    And the whole argo door thing, last I checked rps did not adhere to the actionbutton school of “one trivial matter I shall exploit into oblivion for maximum effect” ’cause it makes me look um… well honestly it does NOT make you look interesting it makes you look like something that starts with a big friggin’ R.

    All in all I found the game to be a good distraction from other heavier titles I played in the past month. And for some reason it was just… very refreshing, fuck If I can put my finger on the reason why.
    What I found displeasing above all else is the throng of zombies(without what I count to be about four exceptions) that came along nodding happily with their ears flapping, without actually looking into the DAMN SUBJECT MATTER or even TRYING to make and educated guess instead of throwing rocks like this was a GT/IGN comments section or some other moron infested zone you can pick at your leisure I’m sure. You see it just so happens I picked THIS feed as an example, because that’s a problem you can see in articles regarding any game here on RPS, not just this forsaken game we have here.

  10. jalf says:

    I think the admins of a blog have pretty god odds of getting etiquette in its comments if they want it.

    And so far, you’ve been a pretty good source of facepalm moments too. :)

  11. Rich_P says:

    These comments are probably more entertaining than the game itself :p

  12. TeeJay says:

    @N “…the throng of zombies that came along nodding happily with their ears flapping…”

    Is this in the game?

    /buys

  13. N says:

    Jalfie boy, since your [mindless insult] hasn’t yet fully grasped the intricacies of READING let me explain that I did not question the admin’s omnipotent ability to get etiquette; I simply am amused by the fact that, up to this day, people still EXPECT to get it in places like this from the beginning. And honestly I did mess up, you can’t GET etiquette, it’s not a fucking potato ([mindless insult]) you can learn etiquette or encourage it in others, and that’s about it. Alas I’m no native English speaker and such errors will be made now and then…

    And if the comments are more amusing than the game, the only thing more amusing than the comments is the way you completely fail to see a point and hang on to slurs or lame shit like “etiquette” to throw a wimpy punch.

    You see, my post BEFORE this one was quite normal, but as I even try to civilize myself some buckethead comes along and reverts me to desolater mode… tisk tisk tisk

  14. Oak says:

    This is cringeworthy.

  15. dhex says:

    “If you think this is a pointless use of a classic tale, just wait for Dante’s Inferno to appear.”

    yeah, but that has a guy stabbing a dude in the neck with a crucifix. is jason strangling people with the golden fleece or something? (that would be neat)

    on the other hand, if you found an elitist eugenicist obsessed with the inherent goodness of the western classical tradition in, like, 1911 or something, and transported him into the future just to show him this…well, it’d be monacle-snappin’ funny. it would also convince him that he’s completely right about sterilizing defectives, though.

  16. Tei says:

    Theres something evil here:
    – Pick something well know, names that everybody recognize.
    – Make your own history, with not respect to the original history.

    Is evil, and stupid. Stupid because existing history is a foundation to built into something bigger. Creating your own history you are creating something that is not advancing, it start from scratch.

    Theres another reason why is stupid:
    – If you have creativity to create something new, and chose not to, you are not using your potential.

    Most people take this “shortcut” because seems like a good idea, but is more like “leasing” than “buying” a IP. On the end, is not your IP, but the original IP owner. If you build your own IP,is your IP, and you can use that IP for future games.

    “Friends don’t let friends create games using existing IP.”

  17. unique_identifier says:

    @N, who said: “I always love how people mention etiquette or other some such shit and expect to get it on-the-fucking-internet-of-all-places.”

    If I may make a poor analogy, I left my bicycle overnight at university once, and someone stole my rear wheel. Yes, I’m an idiot, and I’ve avoided doing it since, but it doesn’t make the other guy any less of a wanker.

    I do agree with with many of your comments regarding the game itself though.

    @ dhex: that sounds like a refreshingly entertaining premise for a game. the eugenics one, i mean. maybe as a sandbox civilisation-like game, just with a heap of politically incorrect social policies to play with.

  18. unique_identifier says:

    @tei:

    immediate counterexample: Sid Meier’s Civilisation.

  19. Tei says:

    @unique_identifier: I don’t think I understand your counter-example. Is because Civilization is based on a tabletop game?. My comment was more about people making games about movies, books or tales. Civi is about.. history?.

  20. unique_identifier says:

    Yep, Civ is sort of like a mish-mashed remix of history itself. Mmm, I guess it doesn’t fit with your comments in the IP sense.

    Surely there can be some benefit to `borrowing’ parts of other people’s creative works and reworking them. Artists do this all the time across every medium…

  21. dhex says:

    “that sounds like a refreshingly entertaining premise for a game. the eugenics one, i mean. maybe as a sandbox civilisation-like game, just with a heap of politically incorrect social policies to play with.”

    or as a faux-jrpg, where the protagonist hates god, who is his dad. but he discovers god is black, which makes the protagonist a half-breed. he commits suicide.

    in many ways this is the ideal jrpg. perhaps in all ways.

    along these lines: a margaret sanger shoot em up (abort em up?) where you blast dysgenics and bluenosed ministers.

  22. Ian says:

    My favourite part was when N told us what not to expect on the gosh-darned-mother-frigging-internet-by-golly-gosh and then got angry at people for throwing their two-pennyworth in on a subject he feels they’re not in the know about.

    Somebody should have consulted their “Things I Fucking Know About The Fucking Internet (Fuck!)” a little more before wading into that one.

  23. phil says:

    @Dhex
    Wasn’t that the plot of a Shin Megami Tensei 36?

  24. danielcardigan says:

    Gap Gen says:”An Archimedes game would be great. ”

  25. Stenl says:

    Meh, I actually liked this game. Like somebody said, it is a relaxing game, just walk around, look at pretty things, kill some things sometimes. I consider the clipping things necessary, because the game is pretty much a rail-slasher, where you just need to move onwards all the time.

    BTW, I have noticed an odd trend. Both Wot I Thinks that I have disagreed with have been written by John. All the other ones I have agreed with completely.

  26. Alonzo Harris says:

    Well, Codemasters have managed to butcher one famous and originally excellent story this year, now its EA’s turn.

  27. Ian says:

    @ Stenl: Stop trying to make John sad inside.

  28. John Walker says:

    Well, I’ve written three of them, so the results are inconclusive.

  29. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I can only sigh at this.

  30. A Delicate Balance says:

    “that sounds like a refreshingly entertaining premise for a game. the eugenics one, i mean. maybe as a sandbox civilisation-like game, just with a heap of politically incorrect social policies to play with.”

    See Blood and Roses featured in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. You get to play off positive and negative historical events against another player. An actual game like that could be good!

  31. Fumarole says:

    What good is being king if you still end up working for FedEx?

  32. StenL says:

    I was talking about this one and the PoP one, I absolutely agreed with Saints Row 2, showed it to my friends who were convinced that GTA 4 was better because “the cars handled better”, and managed to convert one of them, so YAY !

  33. Bloodlust says:

    Clumsy interface, meaningless dialog requiring you to make inconsequential decisions, random crashes during those “conversations”, no HUD radar/map… 12 gig of rubbish.

  34. Animal says:

    I liked ROTA. Yes, I will admit, it can get extremely boring, with very long-winded conversations. I think Code Masters were trying to make a movie your could interact with by gaming. The story is a nice story. The game looks very beautiful, but yeah, the fighting isn’t good at all. I did find by looking at the constellations and trying to get those achievements, it made it more interesting. Of course, I think people expected a God of War type game, which I think hurt ROTA a lot more. It’s supposed to be a relaxing game, but if anything, they should have allowed you to explore more places, and would it hurt to be able to collect things? Obviously this Role Playing Game cannot compare to Fallout 3 or Oblivion, but they obviously weren’t trying to do that.

    So all in all, it’s a nice game, but lacks so much. Although not intended to be an action, God of War type game, it is still a nice game to play every now and then. I like the idea of Greek mythology (being from Greece myself) and yes, the game wasn’t intended to be accurate or even based on too much, but like I said, it was a very wonderful story. Perhaps people should look into games a bit more before running out any buying them, just to bitch about them online?? Do your research on games first, John Walker. Not every game is going to be like God of War or Dante’s Inferno.