We wanted to make The X-Men of Greek mythology", quips Ed Del Castillo, president of developer Liquid and outspoken critic of seemingly every other action role-playing game out there. He's talking of course about the mutant-free Argonauts, the bunch of legendary warriors who set sail with Jason to find The Golden Fleece.
If your only knowledge of Jason is from boring Bank Holidays in front of the box watching the awesome 1963 film and its stop-motion creatures (a movie Del Castillo denounces as a "tech demo" and having "no relevant themes"), then here's a quick lesson.
Jason, King Of Lolcus (sounds happy), marries Princess Alceme of Mycenae. She's murdered by an assassin of the Blacktongues, a cult of the Dark Titan Hecate, but Jason manages to kill the assassin and vows to bring Alceme back from the dead by finding The Golden Fleece. With the backing of his patron gods Apollo, Ares, Athena and Hermes, Jason and his band of recruited Argonauts board his mighty ship the Argo and travel from island to island.
Del Castillo's lofty ambition is to reinvent role-playing games so they appeal to the masses without losing the depth and customisation options they're famous for. One of his (many) pet peeves about the genre is the way you often spend a few hours levelling up just so you're able to swing a sword properly.
Not so in Rise Of The Argonauts, where Jason struts around with a bloody huge sword, spear, mace and shield strapped to his body, and he knows how to use them all. Improving Jason's skills is carried out at special shrines where you dedicate completed Deeds to any of the four patron gods.
The Deeds are like PS3-style Accomplishments and can be anything from killing ten enemies without taking any damage or defeating 20 enemies with attacks from behind to offing five enemies in less than a minute and killing an enemy with a spear throw from maximum range.
Each god has their own skill tree, so there's plenty of room to create a balance character or a highly focused specialist depending on your preferred weapon. Broadly speaking, Apollo offers improved healing powers and shield resistance; Ares improves your skills with the mace and battling multiple enemies at once; Athena develops your spear combat and one-on-one fights; and Hermes advances Jason's speed and sword skills.
Eventually you'll earn special God powers, only four of which can be mapped to the D-pad at all times for instant access, so again there's lots of freedom as to what kind of warrior you want Jason to be. Del Castillo showed me only three: Storm of Spears brings forth a shower of deadly blades; Armour of Apollo makes Jason invincible; and my favourite, Gates of Tartarus, creates a black hole that sucks enemies into it once you knock them off their feet.
On the island of Mycenae, it isn't long before you get to put Jason's skills to the test. His father-in-law King Lycomedes and the people there blame Jason for Alceme's death, and as you wander through the streets into the buzzing marketplace you'll be verbally abused, threatened, spat at, feared and have things thrown at you.
There's even graffiti showing Jason being slaughtered by lions and decapitated! Charming. To prove your worth you must become a gladiator and fight in the local arena, eventually taking on reigning champion Achilles.
No health bars
Another of Del Castillo's pet hates is the hit-point system employed by other role-playing games, which he says leads to ridiculous scenes of two characters bitch-slapping each other without any effect until the last blow kills one of them.