The Holy Grail. Whether you consider it the most famous Macguffin in historical fiction, a legitimate holy artifact, or simply part of the most quotable movie of all time, there’s no denying that a good Grail story is something we all enjoy. That The First Templar manages to tell a fun little story using said grail, despite an inherent Eastern European-ness to the whole experience speaks to its power.
This game centers around the Knights Templar, an organization who are quite handy if you want to talk about ancient conspiracies (Thanks, Assassin’s Creed and Gabriel Knight 3!), and are explicitly tied to Holy Grail lore, depending on who you ask (Baigent, Leigh, Lincoln and Dan Brown will definitely be nodding the affirmative).
You play as Celian d'Arestide, a humble Templar who despite his name is most decidedly not French. Celian seeks the Grail, as all heroes in these sorts of stories do, and is joined on his quest by his more... blunt... compatriot Roland as well as Marie d'Ibelin, who has also eschewed her French name in favor of being the ever popular “modern woman with anachronistic sensibilities stuck in a period drama” character. She also fights like a ninja. Go figure.
Along the way, you’ll hack and slash your way through armies of mercenaries Saracens, fanatical members of the Spanish Inquisition (whom I never expected), Hashashins and even French soldiers. Combat plays out fairly simply. Enemies will circle up around you and you mash the attack button while mixing in blocks or evasive rolls whenever an enemy’s “I’m attacking you now!” icon appears above their head. Various special attacks exist that all drain your Zeal meter, but the basic moveset should suit you fine throughout the game’s entirety.
Mixing up the combat are enemies who carry shields, which must be broken before you’ll be able to damage their owner. Archers are also a constant nuisance, though the UI is particularly good at informing the player if they’re being sighted.
Some levels are puzzle and trap-based, though with a few exceptions they never require more than paying attention to a simple pattern or using your companion character to play leapfrog with a series of switches to get both characters through a hallway. As ill-advised as they usually are in an otherwise action-heavy title, the few stealth-based sequences in The First Templar are mercifully short and forgiving to the player. Remaining unseen is (usually) only a secondary objective.
A rudimentary tracking system is in place to help you find secrets or alternate paths (usually leading to treasure or a secondary objective). Activating this mode will allow you to see treasure markers, breakable walls, pressure plates or even the odd bear trap that might be tossed casually in your way.