Originally created 03/03/05

'Return to Arms' is all about the accessories



After hacking up dozens of crazed trident-wielding mermen and giant sea monsters that look like Alaskan King Crabs in a steroid rage, I get my reward: a chance to accessorize.

"Champions: Return to Arms" is all about the gear. Sharp dressers do better.

A dapper ensemble of Dragonscale Shield, Rugged Platemail, Purified Quilted Helmet and Blessed Quilted Boots leaves you looking spiffy and well protected from your enemies. Toss in some bling: a Choker of Dissolution, Earring of Embers and a Ring of Flame and a Rotbone Ring for protection from fire, disease and magic attacks.

Like "Champions of Norrath," this $50, T-rated sequel for the PlayStation 2 has a detailed inventory bar to model the various armor, jewelry and weaponry. The accumulation of material wealth is almost as much fun as battling a cast of thousands of monsters. Each battle holds the potential of yielding the one piece that will complete your wardrobe or arsenal.

Some battles can be a bit repetitive - especially when an adversary's weaknesses make his or her moves predictable. But many of the boss bad guys are a serious challenge.

Some familiar faces return from the first game - vampires, beasties with ultra-long tongues to attack from a distance and the typical undead warriors. New foes include robots that try to squash your head like a grape with their hammerlike arms.

The multiplayer option is one of the game's strengths. Up to four people can join forces. It's fun to pair a distance attacker like a wizard or ranger with a melee warrior who will wade into a pack of enemies, leaving a trail of carnage. One drawback? Players tend to make a beeline for the treasure dropped by slain enemies, leaving everyone else vulnerable to further attack.

At times during multiplayer mode, the PS2 struggled to deliver the graphics and can stutter. The game also allows online play.

There are two new character classes: shaman and berserker. The shaman is a lizard man with a tail and big teeth. It has a couple interesting spells, including summoning a spirit badger ally. When the shaman first gains this ability, the badger summoned is weak and isn't very useful, but he looks funny. A much better spell sends hordes of insects at multiple enemies to damage and distract them.

The berserker looks like a tiger crossed with a man and specializes in melee combat and heaving axes at opponents.

You can choose to fight for good or evil. The missions are much the same, but your handler on the evil team dresses like Mariah Carey and has Beyonce's hair. Your liaison if you join the good fight is a Britney Spears look-alike.

They both have ridiculous dialogue.

Three stars out of four.

On the Net:

http://returntoarms.station.sony.com



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