No one likes excess baggage. Like most people, when I go on a trip, I try to pack light. I’ll gladly pack a single outfit if it means I only have to take one piece of luggage with me. So what’s my ideal baggage for a week-long vacation? Nothing but what I’m already wearing and what’s in my pockets.
This may be where my love for role-playing games comes into, err..., play. RPGs fulfill a deeply repressed desire to pack every goddamn thing I can find into as many different bags, boxes, and sacks as I can find. They’re the exact opposite of packing light. They let me live out my innermost fantasies of over-preparing and over-planning. If you were to walk down to the corner store for a quart of milk in an RPG, you can be sure that you’d take along at least five swords and three sets of armor “just in case”.
Too Human is dedicated to this aspect of RPG gaming. Loot is everywhere. Enemies drop it; gems hide it; towers spill it; merchants pawn it. Not only are items everywhere, but they come in every shape and size imaginable. Weapon and armor sets come in varieties categorized by level, color, and name. You can also affix special abilities to your weapons and armor via an endless supply of similarly categorized runes, and you can build your own weapons and armor via blueprints. The streets of Too Human are virtually flooded with goodies of every description. As if that weren’t enough, after you beat the main storyline, you can replay any section of any of the game’s four levels to look for more and more (and more) loot.
Trouble is, there’s not much else to the game. Too Human appeals directly to those who have already devoted years of their lives to tracking down armor sets and rare weapon drops in the Diablo series or World of Warcraft. It is not an RPG for those looking for an epic storyline, interesting characters, or a lengthy campaign. Like the sketchy guy at a club, Too Human is all about down and dirty grinding.
Playing through a level—and replaying it, and replaying it—is only worth doing for the sake of collecting loot. There’s not much point to grinding for the sake of increasing your level, since enemies scale along with your character. Yes, the game does get more difficult at higher levels, but by the game’s final portions, it is equally as difficult at level 20 as at level 50. So killing mobs only gives you the benefit of finally finding that one ultra rare item drop you’ve been searching so desperately for.
In addition, dying carries little consequence. You respawn in real-time, so you don’t ever have to kill the same enemy twice, and any damage you dealt before you died remains. The only consequence to dying is that your equipment takes a slight status hit, but in my entire first play-through, this had no noticeable effect on my character until the final stage. However, even that status hit doesn’t really matter since you can still just keep whittling away at your enemies, dying, respawning, and continuing to hack away at them until you finally beat them.
Too Human’s single innovation—and the feature most likely either to ingratiate or alienate gamers—is its combat mechanics. It attempts to do for the action RPG genre what Fight Night did for boxing games or Skate did for skateboarding games: moving the majority of the action to the two control sticks. Combat is handled almost entirely by the right control stick, and if you combine your directional presses with the left control stick, you will discover a wide array of additional attack combos. It works surprisingly well, but it comes at the expense of functional camera controls.
For its few strengths, Too Human has some painful weaknesses. For example, the story is too complex for its own good. The combination of Norse mythology and ultra-futuristic science-fiction sounds cool on paper, but it all falls horribly flat. The main character, Baldur, is a cheap imitation of God of War’s Kratos, but without any of the qualities that make Kratos such a compelling and interesting character. None of the other characters get much development, and the high-school-drama-club caliber voice acting doesn’t help matters. Too Human tries too hard to be self-consciously “epic” and loses sight of what makes for compelling storytelling in the process.
Graphically, the game begins strongly with some stunning art design throughout the first level and into the hub city. However, by the time you’ve fought your way through the game’s other three levels, it all starts to look boringly familiar. Almost every environment is expansive—with large corridors and grand plazas—but this also means there’s absolutely no attention to artistic detail since everything’s scaled so massively. Character models look great from a distance, but once you get any kind of close-up—like in one of the game’s too-frequent cinematic sequences—the game starts to look like what it is: a poor imitation of depth.
All told, Too Human is amazingly short for an RPG, especially one that invites you to spend so much time collecting items and managing inventory. A first play-through will last you 10-12 hours, but those who enjoy the endless loot collection will probably go back through each of the levels many more times. You can also play as one of a handful of different character types, so that adds somewhat to the game’s replayability. Added co-op play works decently, and it comes with the added benefit of automatically skipping the game’s painfully bad cutscenes. But as with the single-player campaign, if you’re not into endless looting and pillaging, co-op won’t give you anything you can’t experience solo.
Too Human certainly will not change the way action RPGs are made in the future. It will simply tide us over until the next loot-fest hits. But if you’re seriously jonesing for a game that lets you play out your deepest fantasies of toting around a half-ton in bloodied steel, you could do much worse.