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Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom Review

Developer: Sony Online Entertainment Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: November 17, 2006 Also On: None

The PSP launched in March 2005 with only a few games that really took advantage of its hardware or unique features. One of the few that did was Sony Online Entertainment’s Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade. It was a game that had potential, and that potential has been brought to another Sony launch, that of the PlayStation 3. How does SOE’s Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom fare in the next-gen, non-handheld environment? To say it bluntly, fair. Very fair.

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The Dark Kingdom suffix refers to the storyline’s location of Dureth, a land victimized by dark magic, a demented king, and his legions of soldiers attacking defenseless, innocent civilians. Luckily for Dureth a group of gifted soldiers known as the Dragon Shade are there to save the day. From here one picks from three different Dragon Shade combatants: the brutish warrior, the swift scout, or the mystical mage. This begins a 20-hour adventure, as one of those characters sets out to discover what’s driven the dark king to his madness.

Untold Legends feels a whole lot like every other 3D dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash. For the most part combat consists of mashing different combinations of the X and Square buttons to perform direct or sweeping attacks that absolutely devastate a pack of enemies. It’s repetitive but that’s to be expected from the genre and design. It’s hard to grow tired of destroying a legion of skeleton swordsmen, to be entirely truthful. In fact, it’s only when combat is taken away from the player that the game starts to become frustrating. Between hacking and slashing creatures the player will often perform jumping and platforming puzzles as well as some that will have one’s head spinning for a moment before it is discovered what will allow one to move on. These puzzles go a long way towards making the game a little more than just a hack-and-slash, but at its core, that’s all it really is anyway.

Leveling up is always enjoyable in RPGs (or should be) and Untold Legends is no different. Defeating enemies earns the player experience points that allow the character to level up. When leveled up, the character’s stats can be increased (health, mana, melee damage, defense, etc.) and new magic attacks can be learned or strengthened. It is all too generous that Untold Legends allows the player to power up one of the nine magic skills at every level up; at level 45 one will have every single skill maxed out. Still, it’s quite fun to beef up the characters. The game allows one to customize a lot; for example, it is possible to focus on strengthening melee damage and health points to make an indestructible warrior or emphasize ranged magic attacks and mana points for mages.

Throughout the game the player will also absorb essence from fallen enemies and destroyed objects (similar to Devil May Cry). Yellow essences act as currency and allow the player to purchase new item enhancements as well as red essences (heals the character) or blue essences (restores mana). Red and blue orbs are also found on fallen enemies. The only problem with the essence system is that the purpose of yellow orbs is defeated when one has to purchase pricey red and blue ones from save checkpoints if health or mana dips too low.

It hasn’t yet been said but Untold Legends plays and looks a lot like Peter Molyneux’s Xbox blockbuster Fable. One could take that two different ways. The first is as a compliment, because Untold Legends plays like one of the best Xbox games ever created, and this reviewer’s personal favorite hack-and-slash game. The second is as a big insult, because a next-generation video game is being compared to a last-generation one. The combat system, essence-collecting, level-up system, and general gameplay mechanics are all remarkably similar.

Sadly, the visuals aren’t much better. Untold Legends has pretty environments, lots of particle effects, and an interesting art design but the animation is just terrible. The Havok engine is put to use here but only sparingly. The camera is the bane of the entire game; it very often gets snagged on trees, boxes, or anything protruding from a wall. This results in it spinning wildly and the player taking extra time to figure out which direction to continue battling. At the very least, the music is pretty darn good and fits the environments and storyline quite well. It’s just too bad that the sound effects don’t compliment this for a great audio score, because they’re very dull and powerless.

Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is a fun game. It is quite fun to play alone for 20 hours or online with three other friends (it’s even free, and one can use the experience earned here in the single-player game). Hacking and slashing might be mindless but it doesn’t feel too boring or old in Dark Kingdom. Still, a few problems like ho-hum effects and a bad camera keep it from being a truly great game. Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is worthy of purchase for those PlayStation 3 owners looking for something to keep them busy until bigger titles come out next year, but that’s all.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7.5
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 7
Written by Cliff Review Guide