I’ve Been Playing DeathSpank

We spent quite some time expecting DeathSpank to come to PC, posting trailers, talking about it, and so on. Then it didn’t. Was it coming out on PC, or not? We didn’t know. We asked around. Did anyone know? We asked the developers. Hothead weren’t saying. We looked under a rock. There was nothing there. Finally, we stood around in Castle Shotgun, shrugging and looking puzzled. What was going on? It looked like we were never going to get DeathSpank. But then last month – lo! – it was finally confirmed for PC. A comedy loot-collect goblin basher from Mr Ron Gilbert seemed like a logical member of the PC club, and it has now put its name on the dotted line. But what does that mean for our game collections or our wallets? I descended into the binary bowel of my digitally downloaded Steam version of the game to find out.

DeathSpank is all about hitting stuff and collecting the loot. Many games are about that, of course, but this one is about doing that in a funny way. Actually the hitting and collecting is pretty much as you’d expect from any game that also contained magic axes and inventory systems, and consequently not all that funny, but it’s swathed in toilet humour, comedy characters, and lovely, silly enemies, from cardboard skeletons, to dragons, to swarms of vicious chickens. It’s beautifully presented in a cartoonish world that curves neatly over an exaggerated horizon, making everything look rather cute. It also bolts on some conversation trees and adventure-game puzzles. Not a bad recipe, eh?

It’s the main character, the macho, condescending DeathSpank, who makes all this work. He haughtily marches about, making quips and performing quests for “non-descript citizens” and other NPCs, all the while gathering weapons, potions and armour. There’s a pervasive theme of poo and underwear, and when DeathSpank dies he is respawns from a “scented latrine”, which also acts as a save point. You might think someone was pretentious and sophisticated as an RPS editor might not find all this nether-humour particularly funny but actually it is pretty funny. The jokes are unlikely to prompt a big league laugh from the balloon of your gut, but they still kept me chuckling and propped up in a state of mild amusement that meant I was happy to keep on playing even after I realised the game mechanisms were basically a bit rubbish.

Rubbish, eh? Well, that’s a bit harsh. They’re adequate. The work fine. JUST FINE. But not brilliantly. For example, while DeathSpank can be equipped with four weapons at any one time, often with different effects of their own, you quickly gravitate towards using the best melee weapon you have and ignoring everything else. Also he powers up his “justice” thinger the whole time, allowing you to let off special moves on particular weapons. A neat idea, except that you almost always end up using it by accident, and not really making the most of it.

The mouse/keyboard controls felt a bit odd, too. WASD doesn’t work as you’d expect for up/down/left/right, strafing you about instead, meaning that you are best off just using the mouse for everything. Left click is one weapon, while right click is another – useful for being equipped to take on ranged enemies. Fortunately, if you do have a 360 pad you can put it to work turning this into a co-op game, with a wizard chum joining up with DeathSpank on his adventures. This, given the Lady Rossignol’s obsession with Diablo-like games, could prove to be DeathSpank’s most important feature.

Ultimately DeathSpank just feels a bit lightweight. Pretty and witty, but starved. There is little to do aside from blast through the (generally easy) quests, and there is little penalty for dying. The adventure and RPG elements amount to a couple of puzzles and some conversation trees that seem to generally land you in the same place whatever you might do. There are some clever, and occasionally oh-too-obvious, jokes locked away in there, and they somehow, just about, make it all worthwhile.

DeathSpank is a decent little loot basher for a tenner. It’s going to be irresistible come the sale.


  1. TotalBiscuit says:

    That was pretty much my impression of it on PS3. Some good ideas, lacks substance, more often than not fairly funny although more Family Guy style humour than Monkey Island. Definitely a must-have sale item but dicey for the current price. Gameplay is not as good as Torchlight :/

    • jsdn says:

      Being able to perfect block and move while attacking makes DeathSpank’s combat quite a bit more interesting than Torchlight for me. It also doesn’t help that most of the abilities in Torchlight are basically fireworks shows that don’t actually do anything useful. Then there’s DeathSpank’s narrative and humor whereas Torchlight is purely killing with inventory management… The only thing Torchlight has on DeathSpank is replayability, and yet DeathSpank is the cheaper game.

  2. jalf says:

    Yeah, amusing dialog/story/voice acting/graphics, but the gameplay is pretty meh.

    • jalf says:

      Ok, that probably sounds too negative. Really, I’ve been enjoying playing the game for a couple of hours nearly every day for the last week. it’s entertaining enough, there just isn’t much depth in the gameplay. But it’s not annoying either. It does the job well enough to keep you hanging around for the jokes and the humor.

      I don’t regret buying it, I just don’t think it’s *awesome* either.

  3. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Yeah, I think I’d wait for the October/the early Christmas sale…looks solid, but not for a tenner..If there were a demo, however… *

    *) I was actually saying that about Shank…and after the demo the idea persists – 50% and I’m sold, coz’ I’ve always been kind of rubbish with most platformers. Ever since Another World :)

  4. zipdrive says:

    I with both Jim and TotalBiscuit, hacing played the demo on the xbox. It’s often charming, pretty witty, but definitely not the best of its ilk. Let’s just say that the about of things to do in the (competent) demo did not inspire me to buy the thing on XBLA.

  5. drewski says:

    I’ll definitely grab this in the sale.

  6. Dean says:

    That lack of penalty for dying is needed as often it’s nigh on impossible to avoid dying. Which is never a great mechanic.

    Plus I found the humour was kind of ruined by the fact that, on 360 at least, you couldn’t turn off the text captions, so you’d always end up involuntarily reading ahead of voice acting. Which really sucked as a lot of the humour comes from the silly, OTT voices.

    • jeremypeel says:

      I’ve started turning off subtitles generally now as I’m sick of this issue, really. Particulary in purportedly funny games, reading everything half a second beforehand has all the humour of, y’know, a voice casting.

    • Red Avatar says:

      I’m a believer of having either subtitles or voices for funny games OR having the words appear only when they’re spoken. Monkey Island didn’t need voices – are powerful imagination could imagine the best voice already. But when text runs ahead and isn’t properly timed to deliver jokes (which will often be the case for subtitles since there’s an after-thought and no effort will have been put in) then it does indeed make jokes fall very flat on their face.

  7. abhishek says:

    I enjoyed it well enough on the PS3. Lasted me about 10 hours and it was fun to play through, so to me it was worth the 15$ asking price.

  8. loGi says:

    There will probably be a sequel at least the game hinted so.

    • tomwaitsfornoman says:

      Sequel was already announced. It’s called Thongs of Virtue(or Justice or Something). Can’t wait to play as Steve the Ninja.

    • sneetch says:

      Yeah, the sequel has already been announced, coded and released on XBLA and PSN.

    • Vodka & Cookies says:

      The sequel is actually better for a couple of reasons
      * less armour suits (first game had way too many)
      * higher difficulty
      * more adventure/quests occasional puzzle
      * funnier
      * gives the game an actual ending + choice of ending
      * less grinding or at least felt that way

    • televizor says:

      @ tomwaitsfornoman

      Yeah, Steve the Ninja is a much better companion, as he rides a unicorn and shoots magical healing double rainbow all the way.

  9. Lobotomist says:

    I dont think you are being to fair towards the game….

    While I do agree its nothing close to Diablo or Torchlight or Titan Quest. But it is in its spirit a lightweight game, not a huge dungeon grind.

    What we have here is another HYBRID game that is real hard to review…

    Its a “point and click monkey island quest” + “diablo like grinder”

    And it surprisingly delivers on both aspects.

    1.As monkey islandish quest -It does deliver in great dialogues and funny puzzles ( Ron Gilbert style)

    2.As Diabloish game – It does deliver in multitude of random items and solid hack&slash experience.

    All combined its a very good and fun game.

    What I do think its missing is more content. Its quite short. And you do feel its a small game.

    I do think it was a design sucess. And it is sucess for Ron Gilbert. And I do hope they are making a sequel a larger and more serious game (i mean funny :P )

    • the wiseass says:

      Lobotomist is spot on. I LOVED the crap outta this game, despite it’s shallower gameplay. I mean seriously, if this were an indie game, RPS would be all over it, like a bear over a honeypot. But since it’s not, I guess it’s okay to stomp it into the ground.

      Sometimes I think, people are expecting too much instead for just taking a game for what it is. Deathspank is a funny, casual, diablo-like game without all the hardcore ingredients that would make the game non accessible otherwise. The art style is lovely, the voice work is charming, the humour is good, the gameplay is ok, so what more do you want? Seriously.

    • dingo says:

      Well here is my take on it:

      I was pretty soured by the virtual “spitting in my face” of Ron Gilbert as a PC gamer by not making clear whether there will be a PC version of that game or not.
      So now the game will have to live on its own merits and I don’t care if the Pope himself did code it (before I highly likely would have bought it day one because of Ron alone).
      Stripped from the fact that Ron was involved the game is pretty “meh” based on the reviews / experiences shared from console players.

      Which brings me to the 2nd important point:
      The industry showed us time and time again that virtually everything on Steam will be cheap in sale in a while.
      So if I’m patient (which I am) I will get everything for a relatively steal later.
      So now I wait and don’t spend money day one.
      This behaviour is triggered by the industry as it educated me to react like that.
      Is it good in the long run for the industry? I don’t know. Numerous people on this thread said that they wait for a sale. This is money the industry doesn’t get for a while. Not sure it’s a good deal for them but whatever we simply react to how the industry rolls these days.

  10. origo says:

    for like first 3 or so houurs i was bored, then it picked up and there were quite a few funny things going on. Though what didnt really sit with me, was that deathspank’s personality. Now that i look at my experience with him, he feels like a tired an uninterested actor performing a role of some goody hero, but doing it half-arsed way. Then again every other character felt that way.
    “Take a bag, put orphans in it. Oh, dont forget to make some holes”
    “Holes in bag or in orphans?”
    “You know better”
    Well, either way, none of talking charracters gives a damn.
    Its a bit funny, but at the same time, jokes where deahspank acts stupid dont feel funny, since it feels like a work of bad actor. Maybe thats why all you get is chuckles and not disarming laughter.

  11. Jim9137 says:

    Oh no

    All the walking

  12. subedii says:

    As the others have said, I think the biggest advantage that DeathSpank actually had was being an ARPG released on platforms that don’t really have Diablo style ARPG’s.

    On the PC it’s a question of “If Torchlight / Diablo / Whatever is more fun and cheaper, do I really want to get this?”

    • Lobotomist says:

      But Deathspank is not like game.

      If you want diablo like hack and slash go for Torchlight.

      But if you liked Monkey Island and want to play game in similar vein. With great gameplay and sord of a parody of hack and slash games.

      Thats Deathspank.

      You guys are killing me.

      Its like if Nobody Lives Forever would be released today. And people would say.
      “Nah…Its not a good shooter like Half Life 2”

    • Thirith says:

      @Lobotomist: NOLF was a good shooter in addition to being a parody. If it hadn’t been, people would have been fully justified in criticising it on that count.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Thirith is right, NOLF was a good game that stood up on it’s own two-feet, enhanced by it’s parody nature. Deathspank is an inferior ARPG that relies on it’s humour and parody, which more often than not, is not good enough to keep it afloat.

  13. scottossington says:

    I only missed that there was no magic, but I guess you can’t deathspank someone with a little wand.

  14. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    “For example, while DeathSpank can be equipped with four weapons at any one time, often with different effects of their own, you quickly gravitate towards using the best melee weapon you have and ignoring everything else.”

    Actually, the way to play is to never do this. If you alternate back and forth between all 4 weapons you build your justice meter extremely quickly which in turn allows you to kill more things dead. Enjoy.

    • Headwoünd says:

      After playing DeathSpank on PC with a gamepad, I can’t help but think that this section of did the game justice either. Bit of a blunder failing to mention/acknowledge/notice aspects like blocking and some other aspects of the combat.

      Keeping up the combo, gambling for perfect blocks, saving the special attacks by using my non-enchanted weapon, selecting the right special attack for the situation.. I greatly enjoy DeathSpank’s combat system.

    • Headwoünd says:

      * “[…] that this section of the article didn’t do the game justice

  15. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Hmm. Faintly humoristic shallow hack ‘n slasher? Seems fairly resistible to me. Shame they didn’t make it.. wait.. scrap that. Shame they didn’t make an entirely different game altogether.

  16. V says:

    “Also he powers up his “justice” thinger the whole time, allowing you to let off special moves on particular weapons. A neat idea, except that you almost always end up using it by accident, and not really making the most of it.”

    That never happens when my boyfriend and I play.

    Er…ah, …I mean… Yes. I hear that happens to lots of guys. With their justice thinger going off accidentally. Yes.

  17. Thirith says:

    While I agree with everything Jim says, I found Deathspank one of the best “I’ve got fifteen minutes while my girlfriend is having a shower before we’re off to work – let’s kill some leprechauns!” type of games. There are too many games on consoles where you never know whether the next save point is five minutes or fifty away, and on PC I tend to play games of the Dragon Age ilk, where playing for 10-15 minutes isn’t all that much fun.

  18. thebigJ_A says:

    Unfortunately, if you don’t find the game funny, it’s terrible.

    I didn’t find the game funny.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I pretty much agree with what most people have said. It’s pretty underwhelming, but at the same time I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s a bad game… just an under-developed one. Given Gilbert’s hasty exit from Hothead, I wonder if it ran into internal development problems and was quickly finished + shipped out once he left.

    And what happened to all the supposed graphic adventure elements? I’ve almost played it right through, and there has been a grand total of TWO screens where the camera flips to a SCUMM-style viewpoint and you get to interact with things. One screen involved using a single object on another, and on the other one you just have to keep clicking on an object until you win. Hardly the big genre crossover it was touted to be. It’s a pity too, because those two screens looked great, easily putting the Telltale stuff to shame.

    The ‘humour’ didn’t really bother me as much as the absence of any real characters or storyline (though it’s no different to Torchlight or Diablo in that respect).

    Still… probably worth a purchase at a Steam sale. It works well as a lightweight lootbasher, even if it falls flat at pretty much everything else.

    • Søren Welling says:

      Just to be a nit-picker, Diablo actually have a fairly well-rounded narrative. What it doesn’t have is an interactive storyline – there are no choices but killing things. But it establishes a chronotope, defines a context and background. It has a beginning, middle and end. The character doesn’t progress but skill-wise, as the character mainly is a stand in for the player – although there is a general background for the class.
      Actually Diablo II especially do have one of the better story-lines in pc-gaming in my opinion. As it is carefully kept integral to the gameplay and never tries to force itself necessary. You don’t need to follow it, you can skip the dialogue and videos. But you enrich your experience if you do.
      For me Diablo II does one of the best jobs of non-interactive storytelling in gaming history.

  20. LintMan says:

    Deathspank’s dialog and voice acting constantly reminded me of The Tick comic/cartoon, which was unfortunate, because The Tick is a lot funnier. All the “For Justice!” -type talk probably would have fit better in a superhero parody instead of a stock fantasy one.

    Some other thoughts:
    – The save system is pure low-grade console: save points with a single save slot. Forget going back to an earlier save or letting one of your kids play their own save when you’re not playing.

    – The ending was a bit of a letdown, without much explanation of what was going on. So much so I thought maybe I missed a conversation at the end.

    -The gameplay definitely doesn’t have Torchlight’s depth or addictiveness. There is a limited number of different items in the game, and only a handful at any given level

    – The quests, conversations and puzzles are sometimes cute or funny but are mostly fetch/deliver quests and definitely not Monkey Island class. MI would never be mentioned in conjunction with this game, except for the Ron Glibert connection.

    – All that said, I found it generally enjoyable for my $13. It’s just a bit disappointing because I had high hopes for this game. IMHO. it would have been better it it cost twice as much, but offered more depth to the action gameplay, RPG elements, and/or story.

    • Miko says:

      Huh? Torchlight had depth? I distinctly remember it being as shallow as the fog on a mirror.

    • Desi Quintans says:

      There actually are multiple save slots. I think there were at least six. The way you use them is that you start a new game (as you would expect a new player to do anyway).

  21. arik says:

    I really love comedic games
    anyone remembers
    Armed & Dangerous ?

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  22. Dean says:

    I don’t know how Lobotomist thinks that the game delivers in any way on the whole Monkey Island puzzle thing. It’s sorely lacking in that area, Gilbert even said as much:

    “n the original design, there was a lot more adventure game play, but what we found as we played the game and watched people playing it was once you let people beat on something with a sword, their mind disconnects and becomes more primal. Players were having a lot of fun with puzzles and combat, but found it hard to switch back to a 90s style adventure game. That’s one of the reasons the non-episodic version focused more on combat and less on the puzzles.
    In retrospect (and to answer the question above a little more), I do wish I had put in more adventure game puzzles.”
    link to mixnmojo.com

    Also some interesting stuff in there about how the combat was meant to be strategic.

  23. Desi Quintans says:

    I really enjoy DeathSpank, actually. I think it’s the best ARPG since Torchlight (and that’s not to say anything bad about Torchlight, mind you). Torchlight and Titan Quest are more serious, character-building type games while DeathSpank is a nice what-stuff-and-make-fun-of-hapless-citizens type game. I wish there were more puzzles in it though.

  24. kennycrown says:

    onversations and puzzles are sometimes cute or funny but are mostly fetch/deliver quests and definitely not Monkey Island class. MI would never be mentioned in conjunction with this game, except for the Ron Glibert connection