The First Templar has a lot going for it: unique setting for an RPG, limited party size (meaning that you’ll never pick up a character that you don’t use), well-defined levels with well-defined primary and secondary objectives and active combat skills that entrench you in the scenario rather than remove you from it. What brings it down is that, for all of its high points, The First Templar looks dated and controls like a PS2 game. Everything feels like it could and should have been pushed out just a bit further to take the experience from good to great.
The First Templar is marketed as an action-RPG. In reality, it feels more like an action game with light RPG elements. The distinction is subtle, but it’s clear. You won’t be relying on a pool of mana and downing health potions like there’s no tomorrow. Instead you’ll be dodging, blocking, and swinging swords to defeat your opponents. Occasionally you’ll use a special skill point to revive a party member or break an opponent’s block, but skills are used strategically instead of constantly, and that serves to make them feel special. You play as a knight, whose bread-and-butter attack is a swing of the sword, and that will remain true throughout the game.
Throughout the experience, The First Templar is a two-player game. Regardless of whether the second character is human or AI-controlled, your active party will only ever have two characters in it. I wish that more games were designed with cooperative play in mind, and that they all elegantly downgraded to a single-player mode. When The First Templar is played solo, you are able to switch between characters at will, and whichever character the AI controls will use the skills you’ve unlocked and is a competent ally in combat. The reduced party size of only two also serves to make the quest feel more personal. It matters more when an ally falls because you only have one, and you have tougher decisions to make regarding skill choice because you have fewer people to carry them.
Where The First Templar falls short is in its implementation. The graphics look dated, the voice work is abysmal, and the levels are often times too small to feel fully realized. Primary and secondary quest objectives are clearly marked and easy to find. Sometimes, though, everything is a bit too easy to find. The critical path is obvious, and any paths that lead to a chest or secondary objective are easy to identify because they are short enough that you can usually see the dead end from the fork. A complete lack of shops and loot also make the whole experience feel too shallow for its own good – there is a line between streamlined and barebones, and The First Templar usually feels like it lands squarely on the barebones side of it.
The First Templar has a lot going for it, and I look forward to seeing what Kalypso does with the concept in a sequel. If you’re looking for action combat, a complete inability to ever get lost and an easy game to play with a friend over Live, then you could certainly do worse than The First Templar. All others should patiently wait with me and hope for a sequel that better implements the title’s good ideas while leaving behind the too-small levels and last-gen presentation.
Pros: Fully cooperative gameplay, no guessing as to what your objective(s) is
Cons: No economy, very small levels with an obvious critical path