GamingChampions of Norrath: Call to Arms

If you've played any of the Baldur's Gate series (I've beaten them all) or the previous installment of the EverQuest game for PS2, then you're now familiar with Snowblind Studios' game engine. So familiar, in fact, that you probably can't tell you're playing a different game.

We had already beaten Champions of Norrath and, hungry to use all the neat new powers and weapons we gained in the first game, purchased its sequel, Call to Arms. This time I played Quintus, a cleric, while my wife played Ilmare, an archer. We were back at it again, hacking and slashing our way to fame and fortune. But it all seemed so familiar…

That's because this is the same friggin' game! I'm not talking "inspired by the original Champions of Norrath." I don't mean, "It looks similar." I mean: the maps are the same, the dialogue is the same, the NPCs are the same. Yes, the same mermaid wants you to find her conch. And she grants the same ability to breathe underwater. Where you once again get to fight underwater pirates.

All these boards have been cleverly reshuffled to be "planes." So instead of any actual cohesive plot, it's all about traveling planes…the Plane of Islands. The Plane of Violence. The Plane of Why Did I Buy This Game Again?

Don't get me wrong; playing through Call to Arms gave us a reason to use our higher-level characters from the first game. The problem is that any dungeon hack worth his sword is a thorough sweep-and-loot kind of adventurer, which means he can pick a level clean. We get all the exp and cash and we don't stop until it's so cleaned out you can eat your iron rations off of the floor.

What that means is that our characters leveled. A lot. By the time we fought the idiot who I suppose qualifies as the "Avatar of Fear," we wasted him with little effort. The various minions up to that point fell just as easily.

And that's the problem with Call to Arms. Yes, it's got two new races (lizard people and tiger people). Sure, it has some new spells and powers. And there are a few new monsters. But fundamentally, this is the same game repackaged with the vain hope that you either didn't play the first game or won't notice that the repetition.

In a market chock full of online games, the Champions of Norrath line ends up competing with itself.