Haemimont Games are more well known for their city management and strategy games like Tropico 3 and Grand Ages: Rome so I was surprised to see them having a go at an action RPG. The First Templar is set around the real historical events of the fall of the Knights Templar but adds a fantastical twist by throwing in the search for the Holy Grail. If this sounds a little like what you would get crossing Dan Brown’s work with Indiana Jones then good because that’s exactly what the game is like. Most of the game is combat heavy with your characters building up experience points to buy new abilities and increase their stats but this is mixed with a heavy dose of tomb raiding puzzles along the way. What makes The First Templar unique is it has been designed to be played as a two player co-op game. Even in single player the main character, Celian,is accompanied by a partner which you can switch to, to control yourself or have a friend join split-screen or online. The system works well and the AI of the partner when not human controlled is smart enough to know when to deal a killing blow or when not to walk into a fire pit.
The graphics are mixed bag. The main characters and protagonists are well defined and some of the lighting is beautiful especially underground in the crypts however the generic NPC’s all suffer from Oblivion syndrome with many looking identical with just the odd head swap here and there. I had an odd sense of deja vu when one knight I aided in a fight turned up later with just a different uniform as an enemy. The same can be said of the voice work with the main characters having generally good voices especially the gravelly and pious Celian but some of the NPC’s are downright hilarious. The animations it must be said are also lacking. In combat they do a good enough job with some fine sync-kill animations but the running and idle animations are downright weird. Either Celian has a rash on his hands or his gloves are way too big as he keeps rubbing them in conversations all the time.
The game is full of great ideas but they are never quite followed through properly. Â A good example of this is the levelling system which is presented as a Templar cross full of shields to unlock abilities using experience points. The trouble is you can only unlock the nearest shields on the grid to one you have already unlocked and you can’t see what further abilities are which makes it very hard to make a build on a first time play through. You may spend about 20,000 XP unlocking one arm of the cross only to find you could have spent half that to get what you wanted on another arm. Another great idea is tracking. By pressing a button Celian will examine the ground and trackmarks shown as footprints will highlight hidden areas where loot is stashed. The trouble is it’s all displayed on your mini-map anyway so finding the stuff is never hard, following the tracks simply makes the game needlessly long and when your tracking is interrupted by enemy soldiers it just becomes tedious.
The loot itself is uninspired. Often you find a temporary ability or even some experience, some times you will find part of a costume for one of your characters, but it gives you no actual bonus other than a change of clothes. The First Templar styles itself as an action RPG but in reality it’s firmly an action game. From the X, X+A combos like Devil May Cry to the fact the exploration only serves to pad out the game and as an action game it’s nothing really special to be honest. Combat becomes rather mundane after a while as most enemies can be beaten just by hammering X or Left Mouse button and then knowing when to block, roll or smash an enemies shield. Other than the occasional Ogre, all the opponents you face are humans with various medieval weapons so once you have the hang of smash, hit, block, hit, hit, hit each fight is really just a repeat of the last.
It’s a shame really because the story of The First Templar is a good one with the obligatory twist right near the end and to be honest I only persevered with it to see how the story would end. Haemimont had some great ideas, Â but it’s the execution of those ideas that ultimately let’s the game down. There is a good length game here and with a friend to play it through with you will definitely have a lot of fun. It’s certainly a decent first try at the genre by Haemimont and I look forward to what they produce in the future. As it stands the only crime The First Templar has truly committed is the crime of being average. 3/5