The First Templar is the poor cousin of a poor knight to the Assassin’s Creed series
I apologize in advance if my game review fails to come off as a professional review of The First Templar, but as I didn’t see any other game reviews yet of this third-person action-adventure shooter–err slasher, I thought I would don my writer’s armour and hack off a few words.
To begin with, I have always been fascinated with the Knights Templar, the medieval organization that protected the roads to the Holy Land, not to mention their contribution to the banking system, and their popularization of Friday The 13th (not the movie series). So when it was announced that there would be a game based on the “first Templar”, likely referring to the original nine Knights Templars that created the organization in 1109, I was excited.
The story for The First Templar includes a tapestry of history describing the Knights Templars with introductions for each chapter telling aspects of the templars, along with a series of Templar tablets that the character discovers through his travels throughout medieval Europe in the early 14th Century. While these snippets of templar history bring an element of education regarding the poor knights of Christ, they don’t always seem to coordinate with the storyline, which is basically a quest (yes, for the Holy grail in fact) conducted by poor knight Celian, a French templar with a curious past (that is slowly revealed throughout the game), along with his knight-captain Roland, and Marie, a dagger-wielding wench who is faster with her knives than a hungry fat man on pork cutlet.
The game concept is very cool (knights, the Church, religious conspiracies, etc.), however the execution is somewhat flat, as are the graphics, the character animation, and the restricted gameplay areas.
While playing through the varying different levels of towns, keeps, crypts, tunnels, swamps, burning forests, and castles (some burning, some not), I was disappointed with the bushes, rocks, fences, and every other part of the environment restricting my movements; there were ladders that could not be climbed, rivers that could not be forged, doorways that could not be passed through, and areas that could not be accessed, blocked by invisible forces. Alas, there were several texture errors, where it seems that you could see through stone walls, or you character would be floating above the ground of some stone ramp, and while not a perfectionist myself, I would expect that programmers would better field-test these issues, as it is an instant mood-killer.
I also felt more like I was being corralled, guided along a specific path. In today’s game world, gamers want to feel like they’ve made the decision to go in a specific direction, not herded along like third-person cattle. While there were some vast landscapes, and diverse environmental settings, I still had restricted paths, and only in a few situations could I flank the opponents.
The gameplay system was somewhat frustrating for me on my PC, where I had to unbind keys in order to re-bind them, where in other games, the normal function is to allow you to change the bind and damned be the key that held that command before. It took me a good fifteen minutes just setting up the normal E-S-D-F keys for my direction controls (does ANYONE even use W-A-S-D?)
On my quad-xenon machine, I adjusted the video controls to 1920×1080, as it was chunky-monkey on the higher resolution. The detail levels were all set to the medium levels.
Your character starts out with a sword and a shield, and throughout the game he is able to discover other swords and shields, but the catch is that you have to find the complete set (usually just two items). I never really figured out if the better-seeming sword-shield sets actually gave me more power or a better defense, as the tactical system doesn’t really show you any difference. You have your standard health bar (have you been to a health bar lately?) and your additional health is represented by “health orbs”, glowing red balls that deplete as you get whacked and chopped by the various middle-age baddies, with their swords, axes, and their pikes. You also have Zeal, which is a like mana for the magic-less, and with the experience points you earn from defeating enemies and advancing through the game, or finding treasure (before today I didn’t know you could find experience in a treasure chest). Your zeal is represented by glowing blue orbs, and these can be restored by blocking attacks or killing enemies (of course). Experience points can help you advance your character’s skills, where the player can select items that allow for more health, more zeal, and make certain attacking and defending skills available. The skills tree (no, not the Skittles tree) is somewhat limited, but functional, and created some interesting choices. By the end of the game, however, I had maximized my character’s abilities, and felt like it never really mattered what paths I had selected throughout the game.
Most of your enemies are either Saracens, French, or other templars who for some reason think that you’ve betrayed the Order, and while the AI of these enemies is somewhat limited (except for the crossbowmen, they do sort of all just rush you, but without any other types of weapons other than the swinging types, what other tactics are there?). Later on in the game, you are introduced to some rather gruesome enemies who you will not find in the history books. Bigger, dummer, and slower, these enemies can pack a whallop, and they probably dined on roast peasant. The only challenging enemies are other knights, presumedly these were the boss enemies because only their health bar and orbs were represented on the screen, telling me somehow that these guys must be stronger and badder through that bit of extra information. In gameplay, this simply translated into more hacking and slashing, and where I played in “normal” mode, I could probably assume that the “casual” setting meant fewer hacks/slashes, and whereas the “expert” setting meant more hacks/slashes. Again, it got a little tiresome, and I was disappointed that my co-player, usually the computer, just stood around and let me duel it up, placing honour ahead of my health orbs.
Facing your enemies was an easy task, and really, despite the different moves available for attacking, I basically just clicked on both mouse buttons and my templar character swung and hit and cleaved no matter which way I clicked. I did notice that several direct hits led to a multiplier which provided some interesting animated death kills upon the poor soul whose neck or arm I had slashed.
Did I mention the puzzles? Oh yes, the game is filled with crazy puzzles that look they came out of a Lara Croft junk drawer (In fact I recall seeing similar floor spikes in Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light). There is only so much that one (or two) can do with pressure plates, levers, fires, swinging axes, and metal grates. The spewing flames, rotating axe blades, rotating spikes, and moving saw blades are all regurgitated from other older games, like Runescape or Rogue’s Den.
There was really little challenge to these puzzles, which seemed more like a nuisance than a test, and they paled in comparison to the clever, dynamic puzzles that were afforded in the various crypts and dungeons of Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. In fact, the whole game of The First Templar seemed very much like the poor cousin of the poor sons of that aforementioned game, with the exception of those health orbs, which reminded me more of an Ultima Underworld game.
The First Templar was released on May 12, for Xbox 360 and PC by Haemimont Games and being published by Kalypso Media for the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows.
I don’t have a rating system, as I’m not Gamespot, but I’d highly recommend that the money you would spend on this game would be better spent on any of the Assassin’s Creed games, and any leftover coin could go towards a copy of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, whose concept of the Knights Templar is about as accurate as The First Templar.