The First Templar is set during the latter stages of the Crusades. It is a co-operative third-person fighting game in which your character uses a combination of attacks, power attacks and blocks/parries alongside special moves and abilities that allow you to fight your way through the game.
Combat essentially revolves around getting good timing in your attacks, get it right and your attacks can take on a red glow indicating increased damage.
Just make sure you’re ready to block any incoming attacks, denoted by a pair of crossed swords (or another weapon) above an enemies head. You may need to change direction to face your attacker if he isn’t already in front of you.
Your available attacks will change depending on which of the three main characters you play and all have upgradeable abilities such as a wide circular sweeping of your sword, a shield bash or a healing prayer ability.
You’ll get to see a fantastic selection of killing moves, including one in which you throw an opponent to the ground and stab the pointed base of your shield through his neck.
You can also assemble weapons & clothing found in chests to change your appearance – though it’s not clear if equipping the clothing and weapon upgrades is merely cosmetic or not.
I’ve noticed that for the most part enemies will often use the ninja film shtick of patiently waiting for your current opponent to die before moving in, but this doesn’t apply just enough that you are kept on your toes.
Be particularly wary of enemy power attacks that can knock you on the ground (You can roll from side to side as well as simply getting up) and war dogs that might need countering as they charge you down.
There are a good variety of enemies available to fight including soldiers who wield swords, sword & shield combination, dual wielding sword users and others will attack you with axes, spears or pikes and archers (Who are particularly deft at interrupting your attacks unless you take them out first).
There are also war dogs as mentioned above which actually can be a little annoying to fight against, I found it was generally best to use the shield swipe move which was also conveniently the counter dog move. Lastly there are some large brutish beasts with charge attacks and really hefty knock down attacks.
I found I enjoyed most the occasional one-on-one duel with some of the games champion like characters, such as the general Muzaffar. Firstly the interplay between the timing of your attacks and defence against a single opponent stand out clearly – you can put your full concentration into this one opponent; as I timed my actions correctly I caught a smile appearing on my face.
Secondly, when you land a successful hit on standard enemies, you can see you’ve done some damage but it is not always clear how many more hits an opponent needs – with the boss fights you get a health bar which makes progress much more visible to the player.
When playing in single player mode you’ll be able to switch between the two characters, should one fall you’ll need to revive him/her with the surviving character, there is a time limit in which you can do this and you’ll need one zeal orb (used for special abilities, which can be gained by hitting enemies) to do this.
There are two brief escort the defenseless non-player-character missions, risky because they can be annoying (Enemies ignoring you to attack the NPC or can run ahead and get itself killed) but fortunately the relative shortness of these missions prevents them from becoming irritating.
The integration of the setting into the game is quite strong and it pulls a lot of enemy types and locations from the period and details some of the major events of the time. You’ll visit cities under siege, forests, coastal encampments, crypts and more as you fight your way through the game.
The central plot revolves around the grail and the search for this mystical artifact that grants long life and good health to the user. You’ll find many tablets that provide context and character to the setting (and make far more sense as records of history than your typical recorded audio-logs that make an appearance in some games).
Sadly, I was disappointed by the handling of the ending to the game, being asked to make a choice wasn’t a problem but once I made that choice I was presented with some text and a camera moving around a cathedral. As a reward for making your way through around 20 hours of play, it really felt lacking, especially when you compare it to the likes of Deus Ex which put action alongside words.
This is probably my greatest criticism of the game which otherwise, I really enjoyed beating. I’ve often struggled to enjoy many third person fighting games so it’s nice for me to say that I definitely enjoyed this.