The “Get To Know” line of articles are built to get a better impression of what I love/hate, and why, through a more direct means. While my tastes have been quite unconventional to the “norm” we’ve seen, I feel as if it’d be beneficial to run a series of articles that go into what I adore, and deplore, about gaming, and why.
I alluded to a major project I was going to work on throughout 2018, but due to repeated illnesses, I was unable to produce a healthy enough queue to get it going. That project was going to be my top 100 games of all-time, in which I would go into a great bit of detail on each game, and why it has a position on said list.
With this miniseries I have going with Get To Know, it’s given me a renewed sense of urgency to try get and some portion of this project revealed and shared with everyone. Instead of being overly ambitious, I’ll truncate the list to a top 25; that’s more than enough to show the kinds of games I adore the most, and the genres that they represent.
17 – Champions of Norrath
- Developer: Snowblind Studios
- Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
- Platform: PS2
- Genre: action RPG
- Release date: 2/10/04
- Rating: 8.7
What is Champions of Norrath?
An action RPG spinoff to the famous MMORPG EverQuest, Champions of Norrath utilized the Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance engine, and molded a spinoff universe into it. Fans of the MMORPG will recognized the classes, races, names of towns, bosses, and so on. Champions of Norrath also had up to 4 player co-op gameplay via network adapter.
What warrants Champions of Norrath‘s inclusion on this list?
It’s ironic that I absolutely love these grindfest, action RPG loot fest Diablo-clones as much as I do, yet I’m not the biggest Diablo 2 fan out there, which is arguably one of the most widely beloved in the genre. When I heard that Sony Online Entertainment was releasing another spinoff title to its MMORPG EverQuest (the RTS Lords of EverQuest never took off, and seems to be extremely rare to track down) but this time an action RPG based off the Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance engine, I couldn’t stop salivating at the possibilities.
And to my surprise, Champions of Norrath exceeded those expectations, and then some.
The EverQuest lore does appear, though a number of aspects to the lore, characters and locations, have been altered, mostly to tailor to the brevity of the experience when compared to the MMORPG. Innoruuk, the God of Hate, looks absolutely nothing like he does in the MMORPG, with other areas tweaked here and there. The long and short of it is that fans of the MMORPG will find more than enough familiarity in Champions of Norrath, even through it’s deviation from what they’ve known; it’s kind of like EverQuest II having its own universe and lore, with intertwining themes and such, but in its own take.
A handful of classes were available with a set race delegated to them, with a male and female option each. The wood elf ranger excelled with bows, though had an upgrade path for dual wielding as well. Barbarian warriors had a high health pool and able to unleash some modest damage. Each class brought something special to the table, and the gameplay experience between them varied accordingly.
Throughout the game, players will find tons of items that hearken back to classic EQ days, such as the Blood Fire (which dropped from Innoruuk in this game, though it’s a Plane of Fear drop in the MMO, but that’s me nerd nitpicking), Culler, Efreeti War Bow, Sword of Skyfire, and so on. It was awesome as a fan of the MMORPG, to see how many aspects of the game showed up here in one form or another.
Champions of Norrath also had something I wish I spent a lot more time with – online co-op. Up to four adventurers could band together and take on the minions of Innoruuk. The one memory that sticks out in my mind with Champions of Norrath online was the time where I briefly teamed up with a Shadowknight player. I had lost my connection and had to reboot my PlayStation 2 as well for whatever reason. When I came back, my wood elf Ranger had a Shadowknight skeleton pet following him around the save hub area. Sadly I lost my new friend when I zoned out to play the game, but it was an odd bug that I wish I could have replicated, and brought with me into the actual game.
There was a sequel released called Champions: Return to Arms, which added a new class/race combo, inserted more EQ antagonists and items, as well as allowed players to carry over their save from the first game. Outside this franchise, Suikoden and Mass Effect, there weren’t many games that allowed players to carry over certain meaningful aspects of a previous game via saves, at least that I know of. By doing this, players can get a head start with their then max level toon being inserted into the new world, though if players wished to level from scratch in Champions: Return to Arms, they can do so. I never fell in love with the follow up as I did with the initial release, as there was a certain something that was just missing from Return to Arms. Maybe I didn’t give it as much time and dedication?
I recently made some streaming purchases, and began a playthrough of Champions: Return to Arms on my Twitch channel. Here’s part one, the first four hours, and then here is part two. Have enjoyed it so far, but not in the same ways as Champions of Norrath. You can follow my YouTube channel and Twitch channel to follow along with me!
Nonetheless, Champions of Norrath was, and remains, the best Diablo-clone I’ve ever played. It was a gorgeous game for its time (though hasn’t aged particularly well), had a variety of playstyles thanks to five different classes to choose from, the loot grind was immensely fun, and you could take your completed game, and restart at a higher difficulty level, while retaining every item, level and skill you earned on a previous playthrough. It’s an immensely rewarding experience, even for those who have not played or do not follow EverQuest lore. Probably one of the greatest hidden gems ever.
Champions of Norrath deserves another sequel.
With the success of Path of Exile and its free to play status, there’s more than enough reason to attempt a similar model with a Champions of Norrath reboot. Unfortunately, Daybreak Games has a small team overall, though I’m sure H1Z1 is bringing in more than enough profit to take a chance. Sadly, I understand that Champions of Norrath will ever see another sequel be made. I’d say I’m okay with that, but there’s some serious potential with reviving the franchise in a way that’s outlined above.