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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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PlayStation 3
Sony Online Entertainment
Sony Online Entertainment
November 17, 2006

Untold Legends: The Warrior's Code

Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade

 Written by Adam Woolcott  on January 30, 2007

Review: A legend that should have been left untold

The Untold Legends franchise has proven to be a decent hack & slash RPG in its two outings on PSP ? not great, mind you, but certainly playable and worth checking out if you enjoy the genre. Now with two portable games out of the way, Sony Online Entertainment has moved the saga to the world of home consoles, namely the PlayStation 3, with Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom. Having an RPG at the launch of a console definitely fills a gap around the shooters, sports games and racers that occupy much of PS3's shelf space, and Dark Kingdom largely replicates the role the original Untold Legends had at the PSP launch of being the action RPG of choice, since it's the only option at the time. As for whether this 1st console entry is worth the magical $60 price...well...

Somehow the developers of Dark Kingdom forgot that even if the game is called Untold Legends, you still have to tell some sort of story. Of course, there is a plot ? one where the formerly fair and just king of Dureth becomes contaminated by evil and begins to make a move to dominate the world, leading his own warriors known as the Dragon's Shade to take up arms against their leader to put an end to the treachery, but it doesn't go much deeper than that. There are a couple plot twists here and there, but they're about as interesting as a see-through washing machine. Oddly the game tries to have some fun with a bizarre wizard-like character who opens portals for the heroes, a decidedly strange addition to a game that takes itself far too seriously otherwise what with its impossibly epic soundtrack and haughty tone in the voice acting.

Dark Kingdom is a highly streamlined take on the action RPG genre, for better or worse. From the start, you only have three character classes to use ? a Warrior, a Mage, and a Scout who has tendencies of the other two classes. Unlike the previous two games and every other game I've seen in this genre (Champions of Norrath, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, etc), there's no worry about being overencumbered, as you get to stock 5 of each armor part, and you only have your original weapons that can be tied in to a handful of spells. There's no accessories aside from orbs that produce various effects, and you don't have to worry about mana or health potions, since you recharge it from killing enemies instead. It's not even possible to stand around and regenerate anymore either. On one side of the coin, this is fine because it eliminates the excess and gets you right into the action...but on the other hand it sorely lacks the depth of its predecessors and every other game in the hack & slash mold.

Continuing on the dumbed-down path, Dark Kingdom suffers greatly from Linearity Syndrome. The original Untold Legends on PSP had tons of quests (even if they were mostly fetch quests) and you could take them in many different orders, giving it some notion of non-linearity. That's not the case here. Most quests take place within the main quest, but only in the location you're currently in. And even then, the game strictly follows a linear path ? there's usually only one way to go, and even if there's an alternate path it leads the same way, and there's no hidden areas to find either. All that's around is a constant stream of enemies and a save point seemingly around every corner. And thus, the game falls into repetition of killing hundreds of skeletons or necromancers or whatever they throw in your face, without a lick of variety. There's some puzzles here and there, but most are quite simple and even less imaginative ? most involve moving crates around or throwing something at another object, even pulling switches. It's like an RPG version of the old PS1 Tomb Raider games.

Admittedly, while the game is flawed from this standpoint, it's actually one of the more polished PS3 launch games. It's come a long way in the visuals department, and while it's no Resistance, it has its own feats, like nice water effects and the ability to display an uncountable numbers of enemies on the screen at once with little to no slowdown. The game itself plays quite well, with nimble controls and a combo-based melee setup where mixing and matching the X and Square buttons results in unique moves. There's also plenty of special magic attacks that grow in power as you level up, which are easily mapped to the face buttons to go along with a press of R1 to ready the spell. Unfortunately the game has no Sixaxis support, but it's doubtful anything useful could come out of using it anyway in a game like this. Sadly as well, sometimes the in-game camera can get out of control, spinning like mad until you take control of it. It's about the only thing that's not polished in the technical department though ? at least they got that right.

But it's impossible to deny that Dark Kingdom suffers greatly from repetition. There's just not much going on to break things up, and no side-quests to take a break from the main story quest. While it's impressive that the game gets tons of enemies on the screen at a time, all that's necessary is banging on the X button, since you'll constantly regenerate health off the dead, there's really no fear of death unless you bump the difficulty level up from the default, which isn't all that hard. It's nice that some enemies actually defend against attacks, but quickly enough their guard is broken and they go down like the dumb things they are. Obviously Dark Kingdom subscribes do the Drowning Theory ? if you throw enough enemies at a player at a single time, eventually they'll die out of being overwhelmed ? but that's not the case at all.

Online play is supported, but given the publisher is Sony Online Entertainment, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Offline play consists of two players cooperatively, but going onto the PlayStation Network lets you get up to 4 people going at once, which admittedly adds some extra entertainment, since even mediocre games like this have some added value when multiple humans get involved. The problem is, the game isn't really designed well for cooperative play ? that's not saying it's impossible, but the camera mechanics lead to mass frustration trying to get an angle for everyone to see what the hell is going on. It's no biggie in single player, but when playing with other people it can be a drag to not see what's going on. The other problem with online is actually finding three other people to play ? clearly the game isn't setting sales records or otherwise making a dent.

Bottom Line
Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is far more action than RPG, and along with a ridiculously linear path and almost no variety in gameplay, even lacking a decent story and highly dumbed-down mechanics, there's not a whole lot to recommend here unless you really, really love the genre and don't mind playing something that doesn't require as much micromanagement while waiting for some legitimate entries on PS3. It can be fun in doses, and if you can tolerate the quirks multiplayer is a good time, but it's not something you'll go back to on a daily basis unless, again, you really, really dig the genre. The game fills that aforementioned gap in the launch lineup, to be sure...but even then, it's difficult to recommend a game that while quite polished, clearly isn't ready for prime time... or even late-night.

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