Liquid Entertainment's Charley Price describes Rise of the Argonauts as an "RPG without the clutter." Menus and detailed statistics are absent from Jason's mythological quest to find the Golden Fleece, thrown overboard in the developer's attempt to focus on storytelling. Though Liquid's track record (featuring Battle Realms, some Dungeons, Dragons and, err, Desperate Housewives) is somewhat uneven, the proclaimed prioritization of plot is certainly commendable. When we ask if removing "clutter" from a role-playing game doesn't simply yield an action game, Price explains that an RPG is marked by a "depth of experience" and a player's ability to "impact story and character." We'll meet him halfway and call it an action RPG.
And there is action, just so you know. The combat is classically themed and has a sense of lethality, with swords clanging against shields and spears perforating enemy soldiers in notably unpleasant ways. "We're sick of games where you stab a guy ten times before he falls down," comes the corresponding quip. Jason's party, here comprised of Atalanta and a comically proportioned Hercules, will automatically join the fray, fending for themselves and even holding down enemies for Jason to skewer. It's hard to tell how much depth there is to the fights without playing, but they're presented in the same bold style that permeates much of the game's richly colored graphics. Once the argonauts defeat a gigantic wild boar, we're reminded again of the game's clutter-free ideals -- there's no summary screen displaying experience points and potions.
Interestingly, Jason's abilities and his leveling revolve around his standing with the Greek gods, none of whom are "old men in togas," assures Price. Performing well in battles will gain their favor and new skills, as will completing quests and responding in certain ways during conversation. Equipment and weapons are gained from defeated foes, though you shouldn't expect to pick up thousands of slightly different swords and shields. Gaining a new weapon is an important event in the overall journey, each one visible and fitting on Jason's attire. Price views equipment as a visual documentation of Jason's quest, a more coherent approach compared to the typical RPG's mix-and-matching. "You end up looking more like a clown than a hero."
Rise of the Argonauts promises to approach its "creative retelling" of Jason's quest in an "episodic" format, splitting the overall story into self-contained sequences taking place across the islands comprising the game's world. Sailing on the Argo (both a ship and a mobile base) to each new environment, Jason will become involved in a major story arc and, if things go well, add another argonaut to his crew. "Argonaut" as in the warrior, not the octopus. (Though the latter would certainly make an excellent throwing weapon. Make it happen, developers!)
Currently scheduled for a release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 during 2008, Rise of the Argonauts, much like Jason himself, still has a long and surely perilous road ahead of it. If the final product is as dedicated to storytelling as its developer seems to be, it'll be a journey worth taking.