DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is not a normal video game sequel. Coming out just months after the original, both games were developed in unison, so Hothead didn’t have time for the usual refinement and iteration of gameplay that sequels usually have, and it shows. Thongs of Virtue plays just like the original DeathSpank. Instead it’s the story that propels this sequel along, expanding upon the world of DeathSpank by delving into the mythology of the Thongs.
The last game ended with our hero learning about the existence of the other Thongs of Power. He then ran into the middle of a battlefield, and begins this game as a captured P.O.W. in a (slightly) modern day human/orque war.
DeathSpank embraced its fantasy setting with such zeal that the idea of putting it in a more modern setting would seem to kill much of what made it funny, but it actually works. Since the war is between orques and humans, it still has that fantasy vibe. You’ll still get tons of side quests (in fact, after the first couple hours you might feel overwhelmed by the avalanche of quests) and many feel like they contribute to a larger cause in the war. They don’t, but the mere fact that a quest relates to the human/orque war gives it a greater sense of importance than just delivering packages for experience points. Though you still do that as well. The second half of the game leaves the battlefield and takes advantage of the new setting by parodying more modern genres like pirates and westerns. This change keeps everything about the game fresh with new weapons, armor, environments, and jokes.
There are a few more adventure-game-style puzzles this time around, the kind where you have to figure out how to use item X with object Y, but ironically the intuitive UI takes away a lot of the puzzling parts of these puzzles. When you walk up to an object, you can hit A, and the game will automatically use the right item with the object in front of you. In other words, there’s need for any serious thinking. It’s not a puzzle if it gets solved for me. The few moments when the game doesn’t do this for the player are jarring by comparison. The best puzzles are integrated with the boss fights, in which a bit of creative thinking can make the fights several times easier.
Thongs of Virtue does a much better job than its predecessor at introducing its basic mechanics. For example, in both games if you equip certain weapons, then you can augment your special attack with elemental properties. There was never really a need to do this in the first game, but it’s one of the first things that this game teaches you, so you’ll find yourself planning fights around this mechanic from the very beginning.
You do get to sail around on a boat, but this is a very late game feature and the ocean is rather small. The best part about getting the boat is hearing DeathSpank’s bizarre sea shanties as you sail. While the basic mechanics remain unchanged they’re also better explained, the story is epic, the loot is addictive, the quests are varied, the characters are funny, the bosses are creative, and the weapons are fun. The sheer scope of Thongs of Virtue makes the first game feel small; there’s more than enough here to warrant another $15.00.