When a developer would tell you that their game was historical, traditionally this meant the game was a World War 2 title. Today, thank in part to the success of a few risks by publishers, we’re seeing other time periods explored - one such is the early 12th and 13th centuries, the time of the Crusade. First explored in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed in 2007, this year we have a game set during the same period slated for the PC and Xbox 360 called The First Templar. We’ve gone hands on with a preview build of the two player co-op title and are ready to bring you some impressions.
The story begins with you in control of two Templar Knights, Roland and Celian. These characters play pretty similar, though Roland tends to have more powerful attacks - evident by his nasty scar of course. As with any good game, the story revolves around a conspiracy to uncover - and so - the knights are set off to rescue a French Noblewoman named Marie who has information.
These first few levels vary greatly in setting - starting the game in Cyprus you are greeted with an open air setting - lots of oranges, browns with specks of greens. Its bright and overly saturated and looks really pretty in a lot of ways. From there your adventure takes you into a dark and foggy forest, hot on the trail of a “monster.” So while the opening level of the game introduces you to the game’s combat mechanics, which we’ll go into more later, this level showcases some of the slower paced sections of the game. You’ll actually walk around, look for clues, and track targets (complete with footprints) to get to where you need to go next. All the while Roland and Celian play back and forth with light hearted banter - perfect for drawing co-op players in.
The action itself is pretty straight forward and feels a bit like a looser version of Assassin’s Creed’s combat system. Players can combo enemies earning multipliers (though I never was exactly sure what they were used for, I assume XP) - as well as utilizing blocking and countering mechanics. Successful attacks and blocks increase your zeal which is then used to perform special moves like block breakers, grabs and knife throws. These moves are unlocked as you level up your character and choose from a giant cross of abilities - health, combos, specials and more are all represented on it to build your characters however you choose. Health itself is restored by finding various plants, meats, and pots of water located throughout the game, and as far as I could tell, there’s no regenerative ability.
As I moved on from the forest I entered a monastery which presented the next gameplay element after the action and tracking - and that’s stealth. Small stealth sections which showcase Metal Gear Solid like enemy views have you sneaking without getting caught. Finally a battle culminated as the conspiracy was unveiled, finding our maiden in distress. Without spoiling to much, things flip around and Celian and Marie find themselves running for escape. Marie changes gameplay up by allowing the player to perform distance attacks as well as being much faster than either Templar knight.
In single player, you can assume the role of either character at any time, changing it up for the situation or perhaps changing it up just because you feel like it. Co-Op allows someone to drop in and out at any time either online or locally via split-screen. The good news is this is supported on both the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game! Sadly its been confirmed that only the host’s progress in a game will be saved - so you may want to keep the same co-op partner through the whole game to experience the story in whole.
The First Templar is shaping up to to be a fun action title that mixes up its gameplay pretty well. There’s a few rough edges in the build we played, but there were also a few standout features - namely the finishing move animations and dialogue. The game is slated to be released for the Xbox 360 and PC on March 29th - so there’s plenty of time to add the polish. It’s going to be a crowded spring for co-op games, but we still think this one might be worth keeping an eye on - especially at it’s $10 less than premium price.