Too Human Online Co-op Hands On: Does Double The Baldur Mean Double The Fun?

Stephen Totilo from MTV Multiplayer and I tag-teamed a Troll today. Multiple Trolls, actually, and dozens of Goblins, as we tackled Too Human's online multiplayer co-op mode. Having completed the core single player campaign last night - it took me about 11 hours and change, for the record - and whipping through the first chapter again with my Champion class Baldur, I was a pretty good candidate for a Totilo power-leveler.

We met up in an Aesir lobby this morning, my level 28 veteran named Shin rubbing elbows with his freshly created level 1 Berserker known as TotiloTheBold. After a few minutes of finagling - his main character, a Berzerker, couldn't join my game because of some DLC downloading snafu - we got into a game of my creation.

Setting up a Too Human co-op match was rather straightforward, choosing a chapter, a looting type and the number of private slots. I threw Stephen in the deep end, perhaps a bit unfairly, as we tackled the game's third chapter "The World Serpent." Looting was set to "Round Robin" so we each got our fair share, but greedy loot hoarders can set their games to "Free For All." The third Loot Distribution type, Random, should be self-explanatory.

We set off...

Our first task, before setting off to battle, was attempting to trade some of our items. Being the generous guy I am, I pored through my inventory in a vain attempt to find something for TotiloTheBold. Not much luck, as most of my stuff had level requirements in the 20s, but we found a couple of ludicrously named items that worked.

Trading was initially a bit awkward as the game won't display the HUD icon that permits a trade unless two Baldurs are in just the right proximity. You can't just drop items for others to pick up in Too Human, you have to agree to trade and use the Trade menu interface. I assume that's due to the game's magnetic loot that floats toward Baldur after it drops and to prevent the stealing or duplication of items.

To get Totilo up to a point where he could use some of this stuff, we had to slay some of Too Human's beasts.

Turns out the third chapter isn't the best place to start. Devoid of any story, narration or cut scenes, the beginning of that particular level can be a bit confusing. There's an anomalous Cyberspace transition here, something that was unsettling to both of us. It's designed that way single-player, but in co-op and for the uninitiated, it doesn't quite work. We soldiered on, whacking away at dozens of spawning robo-Goblins, robo-Trolls and robo-Elves, chatting about the game's quirks and our complaints.

Since we were both offensively geared classes, there wasn't much talk of strategy. Just lots of juggling, hacking and shooting. It wasn't long before TotiloTheBold was leveling up. That meant plenty of pausing, then waiting for my partner to spec out his skill tree, combing through his newly acquired armor and weapon drops while the menu screen was up. After some brief character management we'd head into the next room, dispatch a few more Goblins, rinse and repeat. All the way to level 8 for Totilo, up to 30 for me.

Two-player co-op can bog down during these moments, as one waits for the other to futz with the menu screen. The implementation of dealing with all these things isn't the speediest or most elegant, making me think it might not have been a bad idea to whittle down four player co-op to two. Add to that common frame rate chug and the lack of a radar, map or compass that would indicate where your teammate is, and we might sign a petition against four-player co-op in the inevitable sequel.

That absence of a mini-map or radar on your HUD can lead to some confusion about the location of your co-op buddy. It doesn't help that the environments are both somehow lackluster and overly busy. And that the camera ranges from awful to sometimes serviceable. After a handful of deaths and the following trip to Valhalla (read: the previous room), we had a hard time reconnecting. We had to talk it out.

Which wasn't the worst thing in the world, as Totilo pointed out in his impressions. It's "better than a phone call" he wrote, offering some mindless grinding fun and the chance to chat. Probably not a good pull quote for the box art, but it's a positive.

I think that Totilo enjoyed the reaping of loot more so than I did. I had already gone through dozens of pieces of armor, many more weapons and runes, salvaging all manner of sword, staff and shoulderpad. But the core concept of loot gathering and level grinding may just be enough for Xbox 360 gamers looking for such a thrill.

My particular issue with all that grinding, all that collecting is that little of it feels like it has any real impact on Baldur's performance. That may be due to this being the first in a planned trilogy and that the real good stuff is coming down the line. But Baldur doesn't start his Too Human adventure with anything simple or even identifiable. Equipment names are ridiculously flowery, resulting in everything sounding like a showpiece item. Are Proficient Shockplate Blast Shields of Reinforcement more covetable than Gallant Gunslinger's Blastshield of Urd? There might be just too much in the way of variety here, because I'm not sure if my Imperial Deathguard of Hypnosis with a +6 Annulment bonus is any good or not.

Baldur's skills don't pack much of a punch either, as my desire to allocate skill points to increasing my reload speed by 2.5% doesn't sound as thrilling as it might in print. Spider cool-down rates and higher juggle heights, similarly, just don't quite do it for me. This is where some of the game's urging to clear just one more room might sound a bit more muted.

That said, all of this stuff may just be right up your alley, if you're done with the game's somewhat brief single-player experience and are looking for more. If there's one thing Too Human definitely has, it's a well of depth. The well may be a bit too murky, perhaps a bit too deep, but it's there if you feel like diving in.