Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue
by Diego Beltrami
Deathspank is probably a much better character than game. He’s doing what Duke Nukem has been trying to do for years. He’s the archetypal videogame hero. A sack of bones that can effectively kill everything in his path but is dumb as bricks. What sets him apart is how well written he is. That’s probably because of his creator, Ron Gilbert, the brain behind Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island and many others.
Deathspank is an idiot, and not someone like Guybrush Threepwood that’s just a clueless guy, I mean a real Idiot that can’t distinguish between an insult and a compliment. A dimwitted fool that is extremely good at hitting things with other things. Which is useful in a genre like the action RPG where dialogue is sparse and action is plentiful. But ironically, and because of his idiocy is in every single written word that Deathspank shines. From every single line of dialogue to all the item descriptions. Deathspank is not only the dispenser of justice but of humour as well.
He’s an incredibly well defined character. The hero to the downtrodden and dispenser of justice takes his role to the extreme. And in the extremes is where comedy is more comfortable at, and if it’s with an idiot as company much better. It can be evident now that I love Deathspank as a character. But the game now. First one was great. Nothing revolutionary but it has creativity poring from everywhere. Enemies, NPCs, quests, places, everything makes fun of the tropes and cliches of the fantasy genre and gaming in general. The second game tries to do the same but with everything, pirates, cowboys, christmas, sci fi, modern warfare and more. It tries to do so much that it loses focus. It becomes diluted. It’s still funny, but there aren’t as many chances to let the dialogue shine like in its previous iteration.
I think that Deathspank felt more at home in the fantasy universe. Perhaps if each game focused on one setting it could keep the same humour of the first one, without reusing characters and situations like Thongs of Virtue does.
The game, while being almost the same as the previous one, gets tiring. It’s too long, items come and go without time to actually use them properly, progression seems off. You might be throwing away a set of armour because you get a better one before you had the chance to use it. Weapons combinations aren’t as interesting nor useful as they might seem. It drags in the latter part. By the time you’re getting near the end you’ve already done everything at least twice, there is nothing new behind the corner and optional quests are mostly fetch or kill a ridiculous amount of something. The kind of stuff that gets old quickly. It’s still good. A fun simple game that doesn’t have any pretension of being revolutionary or genre-defining. It could’ve done with a lot more of focus. Perhaps it was too big for it’s own good. Too long for this kind of game. In the previous game humour kept the player going, here it’s there but it’s not as present as before. Jokes are more sparse and not as clever as it was.
I love Deathspank, but I don’t think he has anything left to offer, specially now that Gilbert left him with Hothead. Without him at the helm I don’t see a reason to try The Beaconing (the next entry in the series). Perhaps it’s better for him to let go lest he becomes a joke of himself, like Duke Nukem did.