Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

April 24, 2005

Review: Untold Legends Brotherhood of the Blade (PSP) - Getting down with Diablo clones of lore...

When one imagines what the perfect Diablo clone would be like, they would never imagine it showing up on the PSP. Everything from the inventory system, to the stats building, the ability learning, quest journal, and even the multiplayer. Now, while it's safe to say that nothing about Untold Legends is wholely original, it does a damn good job at being the game everyone loved, but spinning it in a different way. By different I mean it's a little rough around the edges, and potential sequels could easily turn into sleeper hits. You're the hero of Aven, a city in peril, ransacked by the arachnid species called the Praetox. Your job is to rescue some important familiars, and become the one man army that everyone gladly asks to perform the impossible, while they huddle back in their warm and safe huts. Shame on you I say, shame on you who dare not send your army of thousands, but send man with giant axe into battle. Whatever gets you off I guess.

You begin by creating a character entirely characterized by you. While options are somewhat limited, only offering two or three hair colours, skin tones and hair styles, the options are still there; that still counts for something. You get to name your character, and you even get to chose between the four job classes. Again, four choices is somewhat limited, but they still accomplish the goal in the long run. Berserkers are the buff and burly strength oriented characters, who specialize in up front melee combat. Knights are in the same field except they can use some special magic abilities (apart from the standard fare partial stat increasing ability). Alchemists are probably the most well rounded job having a healthy upper hand in magic and physical attributes, but still overpowered by the specified job classes. Lastly, the Druids have supreme mystical prowess, but you'll often find that only a few of their magic spells are worth using. Your character is limited to only two macro presets for special abilities, which really blows. Meaning you have to wage war with hudreds of baddies with only two spells during each brawl. You can change them with the D-Pad, but it would be more economical if you could assign an ability macro to each direction on the D-pad, and set them in the main menu. While it's easy to take a glance and see why this wasn't so (prevention of too much menu browsing), it's easy to see that you'd be better equipped if you could program 6 macros rather than the paltry 2; seeing as the D-pad has no functional purpose anyway.

In terms of mechanical execution, Untold Legends tends to be on the shallow side. Slash slash, block. Slash, block, heal. Heal, block, block. It's very repetitive. The hack and slash nature is only digestible in small amounts, however those small amounts don't have too much delay in between since the entire game is a tad on the addicting side. The dungeons you explore are randomized, meaning no two experiences are ever the same. I find this to be the greatest attribute to Untold Legends. While this isn't anything new, it's something that all simple hack and slash games need to keep things fresh. Rather than include challenging enemies in these random dungeons however, SOE decided that simply placing more enemies in a given area would be all the challenge people need. While true, this is indeed more challenging, it's artificially so. The enemies are never tough to begin with, so ultimately you're just being attacked by more enemies, while you fend off each individually with the same skill and derring do as previous efforts. It isn't so much challenging as it is just cheap. Speaking of cheap, unblockable and unavoidable kamikaze enemies litter the streets...err, catacombs of some of the dungeons. Not only are they annoying, but no amount of blocking or running can stop them. There are ways to make them hit something else, however they attack before you even know they're there, defeating the purpose altogether. A highly unoriginal nomanclature system in place really doesn't make the enemies any more enjoyable. It would seem the developers ran out of actual names for the enemies and bosses, just decided throwing in the letter "X" would make them "X-treme!". It's common to run into an enemy of the name "Xxoaqxdexix" and then encounter another enemy dubbed "Xixgxufhx" (not really, but you get the idea).

With all that said, Untold Legends still manages to be an addicting game. The dungeons are surmountable, the enemies are never overly difficult, and you're given plenty of healing and restorative potions in the process. Despite it's simplicity and cheap challenge design, it's nothing you'll never get over (though some bosses offer some of the worst boss battles in recent memory with cheap and unavoidable attacks that render you paralyzed and motionless). This is coupled with the superb inventory system, akin to that of Diablo II, with separate item chests for weapons, armour and items. Equipping items is a snap, and a nifty compare feature lets you compare an item's statistical properities with ones you're already wearing, saving some time consuming menu switching and browsing. The obligatory "combine" system lets you upgrade and personalize armour with runes, relics and mystic gems that increase the properties of the armour/weapon by giving you stat, health or resistance boosts. Also giving weapons special elemental effects and status effect inducing abilities. Over and above the dungeon and combat design, the customization process is something that I'd like to see mirrored, and expanded upon more often. While not better than the Diablos of out time, Untold Legends offers great character creation.

Aurally and visually, Untold Legends is a tad on the average side. The music is crystal clear, and the graphics are pristinely sharp. Though nothing ever changes about them. You'll hear the same 4 or 5 melodies over and over, and the dungeons never really alter in appearance. If you've seen one underground cavern dungeon, you've seen them all. While not bad, the variety is missing. As a plus (lol, punnay) to counter this, Untold Legends supports the "plus" game feature, though it never really calls it that. You can restart the game at any point with the buffed up character you've managed to train through thick and thin in the 20+ hour journey. Doing so amounts to new items, stronger enemies (scaled to your power level), and the possibility of playing through with all different character classes, since each has unique offerings for each quest.

While it would be foolish to call Untold Legends some sort of superb launch title, it gets the job done nicely, and manages to fulfill the role of "RPG" for the time being. RPG fans will have no choice but to play this if their cravings must be satisfied, but again I don't think they'll be disappointed. All around, this game is a solid hack and slash, borrowing a lot from Diablo II and the Champions of Norrath games. It has well rounded character development, great dungeon randomization, and an okay (sometimes clunky) combat engine. Having no cut-scenes or story driven cinematics don't really help immerse the player at all(as all plot is portrayed through bland "word boxes"). Overall, I would recommend this game, if simplicity if stomachable.




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