Deathspank was sold on a promise. The promise was a blending of the game mechanics of Diablo with the tone of Monkey Island, something that, alone, was enough to sell most people on Hothead's latest title. The game sets players in the lead role as the titular Deathspank, a typical RPG warrior who travels from town to town completing heroic deeds for the downtrodden. He's sort of a buffoon, but means well, and uses his powers for good, all the while attempting to hunt down the mysterious "Artifact."
Deathspank could technically be categorized as an action RPG, though most gamers will immediately group it with the likes of Diablo, Torchlight, and Titan's Quest. Players control Deathspank as he hacks, slashes, and unleashes heroic might on a wide variety of creatures, all the while keeping his tongue pressed firmly in his cheek. While smashing apart foes, Deathspank earns experience to level up, and collects items to use both offensively and defensively. Sadly, these elements end up feeling weaker than they should, and the negative effects ripple throughout the entire game.
Leveling amounts to choosing a single ability to upgrade at each level, leaving very little room for customization or growth. The changes are barely noticeable, something that makes leveling, which is usually a moment of excitement, somewhat dull. Looting, which feels like it should be a high point in a dungeon crawler, falls drastically short, and there's very little excitement in finding new items. Because the inventory management system is a bit sloppy, the game offers the ability to automatically equip the best armor, meaning anything picked up will either immediately show up on Deathspank, or it simply wasn't worth picking up in the first place. It negates the thrill of seeing enemies drop items, which is a major part of the genre that was simply left out. Chests and NPCs will occasionally reward the player with other items, too, such as potions and projectile attacks, but it's usually easier to just sell everything in favor of health potions, since the other items only really become necessary during boss fights.
Thankfully, the combat itself is still fairly entertaining, even if it, too, falls short. Different weapons are mapped to the face buttons, and can be dual wielded at any time, with any combination. Combining different weapons in chains of attacks empowers Deathspank, and allows him to unleash powerful, weapon-specific moves. This forces players to change up their tactics, and switch between attacks on the fly instead of just bashing enemies with the same weapon over and over again. It's fun, plain and simple, and only falters when it comes to the fact that the special attacks cannot be stored, and are immediately expelled as soon as a weapon is used after the meter is full. It's possible to save the attack for a little while, but the gameplay would have benefited from the added variety. Deathspank has no spells or powers to speak of, and his only attacks beyond smacking foes with weapons come in the form of items, which, as mentioned earlier, simply aren't all that entertaining to use.
While it might sound like the game's faults are overpowering, they're really not all that detrimental. Most of the flaws are simply disappointments, and there's a good game in Deathspank, even if it isn't as good of a game as it should have been. The humor, thankfully, manages to hold strong, with non-stop jokes and constant fourth wall breaking. The quests and dialogue are constantly referencing other games, movies, and television shows while lampooning its own style, and poking fun at other games in the genre. Hearing Deathspank refer to an orphan as a "future criminal" or tell an NPC that he needs to wait, because he's only a "side quest" is flat out funny, and should make anyone who has ever enjoyed an action RPG laugh out loud on a number of occasions.
Despite its faults, Deathspank does manage to stay consistently entertaining throughout the game. The inclusion of cooperative play, albeit secondary to the core of the game, adds a good amount of replayability. A second player can jump in at any time and play as Fizzle, a Wizard, who shares a health bar with Deathspank and lacks an inventory. It adds another element to the game, and one that improves the experience. All in all, there's very little like it on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, making it a must buy for fans of the genre. Hopefully with sequels the problems are cleaned up, since there's definitely more room in the industry for games with a sense of humor.