Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Launch games on any console, in my humble opinion, fall into two categories: those that give a brief glimpse of future expectations and gaming potential and those that are simply put out to bolster the launch line up offering nothing new but some slightly improved graphics. Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom definitely falls into the latter category, an early indication of this may have been that it has taken the slightly unusual step of being promoted from a PSP game to a PS3 one. Dark Kingdom does look decidedly last gen, apart from a few tweaks when using the magical abilities of the characters, and some nice rippling effects when in water to name a few of the wee sparks still present.
Dark Kingdom follows a familiar hack 'n' slash mythical recipe. Start with a choice of character, the strong warrior, feisty vixen or well seasoned mage (for those of you not familiar with what a mage is, think of a guy with a stick and white beard. Over-used character types? Never). Add a dash of turmoil in the homeland, in this case, the King has decided that he wants to take a walk on the dark side fuelling this ambition by sacrificing his obedient subjects. Stir in a bit of routine mythical fantasy language 'by the power of we three', etc. and you are set for 20 hours of fairly predictable fun. To give a better description, although the characters would seem to have different abilities when choosing, there is actually little to differentiate between them, whomever you chose you are still in for a lot of x and square bashing.
It's worth mentioning that Zala, our rather fetching scout, is described as defeating her enemies via a combination of stealth and deception, for me, slashing someone up close and personal is neither stealth-like or very high on the deception scale. As mentioned earlier, the story lies around the lovely King turning to evil ways, devastating the Kingdom of Dureth. Of course, our triumvirate of heroes decide that they must take action and rid the kingdom of the evil king and so they set out on a quest to save the land. Cut-scenes are limited and are just about keep the story moving along, which they do reasonably well.
There are three ways in which you can play the game, single player, multiplayer with a friend or online. All sound options, obviously a little easier with a little help from a friend. The online mode is okay but I found it lacks meaningful communication, Dark Kingdom allows gamers to chat using the already established Xfire system, which is nice, but should also give the user the ability to chat without using this facility.
You start the game with a training level explaining the attack modes and the enhancements you can achieve throughout the game. Attacks are limited to two buttons, x and square, which can be combined to unleash some more deadly damage which can be achieved without any planning. Through the vanquishing of enemies, orbs are sometimes dropped, these come in three forms: health, mana (magic) and essence. The first two are self explanatory restoring your life and magic power. Essence can be used for a couple of purposes, the main use being purchasing upgrades. At the numerous checkpoints in a level you are given the option to do a little shopping in which you can upgrade armour and weapon enhancements, these can also be found on the battlefield from time to time, defeated enemies dropping armour upgrades and enhancements located in treasures chests. Essence can also be spent at this time to replenish health and mana. As well as collecting these orbs players are rewarded with experience points which allow periodic level-ups for your character. When using a level-up, two points are given to improve areas such as maximum health, magic power, attack power, etc. The other advancement is to add a star to a particular magic attack. Beyond the training, the game's levels follow a similar pattern of large amounts of enemies with a sprinkling of bosses. At certain times there is a puzzle to solve but this is rare and very simple to resolve in any case.
There are three main issues with this game, the speed at which it becomes tedious, a characters' connection with the environment and the shocking camera angles. Throughout the game the player is allowed to change the camera view from up close to a top-down perspective, this in itself is not an issue but the view is, at key moments, painfully restricted. This can lead to some very frustrating moments. There were many times when I had to see off enemies from around a corner unable to move the camera to see what was actually happening, this is coupled with the fact that any object can obscure the view completely at time, from a leaf on a tree or a pillar/arch on a building. When the character is being barraged by the enemy the last thing you want is to completely lose sight of the foe. Another issue is the characters' connection with the environment that becomes increasing annoying, for some reason our brave soldiers only like to walk on the flat ground any slight alteration and they're done for - a more fluid, intuitive approach could have been taken allowing characters to step up onto smaller rocks without action being required from the gamer. Brushing up against rocks would stop our warrior in his tracks for example, surely he could take a little grazing? It has to be noted that the jumping mechanism is also sketchy at best, and trying to navigate directional jumps lays bare a system where leaping and movement occasionally seem entirely disconnected, which can lead to some fatal falls.
The major drawback of the game is how quickly it becomes tedious through repetitious bashing of the attack buttons. Throughout the game you will come across a variety of enemies to dispatch from golems, wolves, spiders, hordes of Skeletor's offspring and what can be described as The Thing from the Fantastic Four's distant cousin. No matter what approaches you though, the attack is always the same, agreed a good few hours into the game the use of the special powers are more keenly needed but by this time I had lost interest completely. The weapon upgrades are too small and unnoticeable; maybe a choice of weapons would have added some much needed variety. In the Warrior's case I'm sure he'd like a nice broadsword or mace to add a little spice.
Overall, Untold Legends seems a little rushed, perhaps due to tight deadlines ensuring a launch release, who knows? There is enjoyment to be had in the Dark Kingdom, albeit a rather one dimensional offering, the challenges do gradually increase as the levels go by from far too easy at the beginning to requiring a more thoughtful approach later on. Early bosses can be defeated by simply standing right in front of them and persistently pressing of the x button. The game could have been truly stunning in terms of graphics but is let down again, enemies are often thrown half way through walls and the level of detail is not what I expected of PS3 titles. A personal highlight for me was the introduction of a spirit into the game to aid our heroes, who must have been the spirit of John Inman due to his camp delivery and added some much needed humour. Conceivably, Sony's decision to leap from PSP to PS3 was too great, and this is certainly not an excellent title but a solid one; fans of the RPG genre are sure to find aspects enjoyable if rather repetitive ,too.