Clan of Champions first released in Japan this time last year under the name Gladiator Vs. It was met with enough popularity to justify a move to American consoles, following the trend of the series’ previous games Colosseum: Road to Freedom and Gladiator Begins. This one follows a slightly different storyline, taking place in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic environment in which humans, orcs, and elves are in a constant struggle to control land. Naturally, when the factions hear of an abandoned town with powerful artifacts, they can’t resist going to investigate. This is a fun idea in theory, but without solid gameplay to rest upon, it falls apart.
Combat is broken into three different styles: sword-and-shield, dual wielding, and close combat (hand-to-hand). Each of these styles contains attacks that land in high, medium or low hit zones. Mixing up the types of attacks is key to breaking through the opponents’ defenses and causing maximum damage. Different styles will work better in different missions, but any style will result in satisfyingly bloody carnage.
What makes this system work is that you’re never locked into one style; the option is always there to move to a different style, and it’s as easy as picking up or dropping a weapon. Each style has its own set of special attacks. Depth comes into play with the introduction of new attacks each time a style is leveled up. These special attacks can be interchanged between missions and switched out to better complement a play style, whether it’s focused on tactical speed or raw offense. The more a specific fighting style is used, the more it gets leveled up, unlocking points to be allocated to new special attacks.
There’s a loot system in place, and while it does enough to be mildly compelling, it hardly fosters a drive to dig through every piece. Part of this is due to the sheer volume of identical items, dulling the slog through each drop. At the end of every mission, a list of (generally useless) items pop up for purchase. Each item has the requisite stats such as damage and defense and so on. However, these are usually difficult to differentiate between, and it’s easier just to pick the items with the highest numbers. It works, but it robs some of the potential thrill of closely comparing items. I liked how players can scrap weaker items to improve the stats of other ones, but the loot system as a whole doesn’t really have any reason to exist.
Menu layout, and overall game presentation in general for that matter, is atrocious. Mechanically, the game feels like a very shoddy port. This is most noticeable within the Controls screen, which shows a PS3 controller layout. If you actually go into the configuration menu outside of the game, you’ll find a menu outlining “Buttons 1,2,3” and so on. The in-game menus themselves are only marginally better. It’s not always clear how to navigate them, and several screens are confusing, completely devoid of any identifying information, requiring (sometimes extensive) trial and error to decipher. To be fair, there is a tutorial, but even it only provides minimal advice.
Other mechanical issues abound, such as the clunky skill assignment and item equipment menus, which require many more steps than would seem necessary. There’s a lot of fat that needs to be trimmed from the interface, because what is here presently is bloated and frustrating. Once the disappointingly antagonistic learning curve is overcome, the game becomes much more entertaining, but it’s too high a barrier of entry for casual players. The experience is made more frustrating by the fact that this barrier has nothing to do with gameplay—it’s simply a matter of navigating the labyrinthine menus.
Clan of Champions is nothing special, nor does it hold anything offensively bad for those interested. Still, while I can’t warn anyone away from it, it’s difficult to recommend for any reason. There is a multiplayer element, but it either wasn’t working at the time of my review or no one was playing online. If you have an itch for cutting some dudes in an arena, I’d say it’s worth a look, but get it on sale.
Clan of Champions was developed by Acquire, and published by NIS America. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.