No health bar...no damage meters...just a man and his fellow heroes going toe to toe with fearsome enemies in one of the greatest stories ever told. This is Rise of the Argonauts, a game developed by Liquid Entertainment and to be published by Codemasters, and while it takes some liberties with the classic tale as Leigh explained in her impressions last month, it also takes liberties with the classic action RPG formula, creating an experience that could very well be the stuff of legends.
The main difference between Rise of the Argonauts and your standard action RPG is how you kill your enemies. As the devs on hand at the E3 2008 demo for the game pointed out, a spear through the chest isn't just going to take off a few hitpoints. Not many creatures mythological or not are going to survive that sort of thing, so they won't in this game either. Enemies will do their best to block your attacks, but a sword in the gut is a sword in the gut. They'll take slashes and show damage, but when it looks like you are landing a killing blow you WILL be landing a killing blow.
This sort of realism also applies to you, unfortunately. When fighting with a shield, you your blocking is limited to enemies attacking you on the side you hold your shield. There isn't any of this holding down the block button and becoming impervious to all attacks nonsense. You have to position yourself, and if enemies get behind you I'd highly suggest you get the hell out of the way.
Rise of the Argonauts also has a decision tree dialog system, much like that found in Mass Effect and similar titles. The whole game revolves around gaining favor with four different gods - Ares, Hermes, Apollo, and Athena - and the mechanic even extends to the dialog choices you make. Early on in the game you encounter the enchantress Medea, who offers you her services. Depending on which decision you make - trust her, be wary, etc. - you gain favor with one of the four gods your choices represent. The choice also effects whether Medea is locked up in your hold during the journey or free to wander the ship, so the replay value from the dialog tree alone should be immense.
Each of the four gods also represents one of Jason's weapons. Ares is the massive mace, Apollo the shield, Athena the spear, and Hermes the sword. Gaining their favor allows you to invest in new powers and attacks pertaining to each weapon, so if you favor the sword and board you might want to lean towards Apollo and Hermes, while spear fans can tailor their choices towards Athena. No one should put points into Ares. If Hercules: The Legendary Adventures taught me anything, it's that Ares is a dick.
The demo ended with Jason and two companions taking on Medusa, who in Rise of the Argonauts is a gigantic woman with vicious eels for hair, taking up an entire ruin. First you take out the eels coming in from the sides, and then...and then they stop the demo. What is it with the teases this year?
When I first heard about Rise of the Argonauts I was convinced it was a way to capitalize on the success of God of War, but after seeing it in action I know that this is something altogether different. With a different take on the action RPG genre and a story steeped in Greek mythology, Rise of the Argonauts is definitely a title I will be picking up.