Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Game title: Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release date: November 19, 2006
Overall rating: 7.5/10
The tail end of 2006 saw the release of the final two next gen systems, effectively making 'next gen' the current gen. However, games for these 3 consoles have retained the title of 'next gen,' which begs the question, "What truly makes a game next gen?" Is it just fantastic graphics rendered in high definition or is it something more complex. With the launch of the Playstation 3, there were a variety of games released for it. Many of them did have what it takes to earn the title of next gen. Others left us begging for answers to questions. One such game was Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom? Are great graphics rendered in 720p with a few minor advancements in the action RPG genre enough to push a video game over that next gen threshold? To answer this question properly, the order in which my reviews go needs to be shaken up a bit.
Graphics - 8.5/10
The most obvious difference between the PS2/X-Box and the PS3/360 is the graphical jump. Not only are consoles outputting much higher resolutions than ever before, but pretty much everything else graphically is vastly improved on as well. This is probably the biggest graphical jump from one console generation to the next that we have ever seen. If you look at last gen games, even upscaled to high def, and then look at next gen games, it is obvious to even the untrained eye that we are seeing graphical beauty of hte likes that we have never seen before (unless you are looking at the PS3 port of the Godfather, but that is beside the point). Speaking as a 14 year veteran of the game genre who has never believed that graphics matter, I must say that I am more than impressed. No graphics do not matter. Gameplay does, but it sure is nice.
Well, in this reguard, Untold Legends does not disappoint. Graphically, it is an excellent looking game with a few minor drawbacks that hamper it's score a bit. It was not the best looking PS3 launch title, but one look at it (especially in motion) and one cannot question that it is very much next gen, atleast in this aspect. Untold Legends displays in 720p, true high definition, though 1080 would have been nice. The game shines through with a level of detail that was just not possible on past gen consoles, or anything close to it. Everything is richly colored and highly detailed, and it looks fantastic in high def.
One of the best aspects of Dark Kingdom's graphics, and one that I, personally, have always felt that the series has done well, are it's particle effects. This is some of the better particle effects you will see on the system. they look fantastic, and are only aided by nice lighting and an excellent use of color. Character models look nice. They aren't at the amazing level of Resistance, but they are nothing to write off either. This game has solid animations as well that really helps the visual experience, even if they do get repetitive before the ride is over. There can also be alot of stuff going on on screen at any given time, and it is just something consoles of years past have not been able to do at this level.
I mentioned that the game has some graphical problems that hamper it and lower it's score. The primary one is the framerate. When you look at Resistance: Fall of Man and then look at this, you know that there is just no excuse for having any kind of frame rate issue at all, but this game has slowdown. It never slows down for very long, and it never has any major effect on the gameplay. It is not something that is going to kill your character or anything. Infact, it seems to appear most when you are attacking, which really makes it not that big of a deal. Even so, Resistance had just as much, if not more, going on on screen at any given time with no slowdown at all, and that game looks quite a bit better than this one does, so why is there slow down in the first place? The other one, and this is more of an opinion thing so you may not see it this way, is that some of the art direction seems uninspired and alot of the creature design, while looking good, seems rather repetitive. It's kind of a minor thing, but it is worth mentioning, I think.
Sound - 7/10
Untold Legends score is noteworthy, as it has a few very fitting songs that are actually decent, which probably makes you wonder why on earth I gave the sound a 7. Well, the music, while decent and fitting, is also repetitive. It is a vast improvement over the original PSP entry of the series, but even that games music was more varied than this one. At times this game seems like it just has a number of tracks that play on loop. They are great the first time, but they wear down on you over time, and you are likely to get sick of hearing them, at which point the loose their effect. Is it wrong to ask for more variety in my next gen soundtrack?
There is more than that, though. The voice work is just fine. Not the best, but certainly not the worst, though some of the dialogue that drives it is...well...not good. It isn't something that will stick with you, but that doesn't necessarily knock off any points. What really knocks off major points is the lack of variety in noises. It seems like ever explosion sounds the same and every enemy being tossed makes the same thud noise. Every time you swing your weapon, no matter what you swing it at, it makes the same exact noise. Why? Why is there no variety at all? Players are likely to get sick of hearing the same smashing noises and grunts for the entirety of the game. It is very repetitive and is a poor use of a great sound chip embedded into the PS3. It's the next gen. IT could have been done much, much better than this. Oh, and, on occasion, when things get really hectic, the weapon sounds will disappear entirely. Don't we have all these processors in the cell chip to avoid things like that? Very disappointing.
Story - 7.5/10
Anyone that plays action RPGs, especially hack n slash games, will tell you that they are not about story, and never have been. If you happen to get a good story in an action RPG, it is a nice bonus. This game is no different. Teh story here takes a back seat to the gameplay. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad, though it is fairly cliche. IT does have one or two interesting characters who are absolutely nothing like what you would expect them to be like, though. That is kind of a nice touch.
Anyway, you are a member of the Dragon's Shade, an elite group of warriors with the especial ability to absorb the essence of your fallen enemies. You have been sent on a mission to crush a barbarian uprising outside of your homeland of Dureth. The game starts at the end of this war. A barbarian leader tells the Dragon Shade of some seriously dark stuff going on in their home land, and even accuses the king of being at the center of it all. Shortly there after, you travel back to Dureth to try to find out just what is going on. There are some plot twists to try to keep you guessing, and a tower elder that will make you guess even harder, if he fails to make you laugh anyway. That being said, it all feels a bit under developed and cliche.
More than likely, to many the story will offer nothing more than a way to advance to the next area full of enemies to smash. Others might find it somewhat interesting, but rest assured that there is nothing truly new or unique to be found. It is just a story of the fall of a ruler and the Dragon Shade's attempts to redeem him. There are, however, minor variations in the story depending on which of the three playable characters you go with. This is a nice touch. Branching storylines are always appreciated, but this alone may not be enough to make people play through it a second time. It certainly doesn't hurt, though.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Untold Legends is a hack n slash role playing game. Anyone that has played games such as Diablo or Titans Quest knows exactly what to expect from this game, but, for those that haven't, allow me to recap what this branch of the ARPG genre is all about. In Untold Legends, you will kill tons of enemies to level up your character and make him more powerful. You loot corpses for items to improve your weaponry and armor. You then proceed to do it all over again as you progress through the story. When done right, the mutiplayer will always bee good and it will seem like alot of fun instead of incredibly repetitve. Rest assured. This is no Diablo. IT does, however, shake up this formula a bit. You have one weapon throughout the entire game. Instead of getting new ones, you simply collect jewels to place in it to upgrade it. It gets more powerful and grows as you do, though you are never given more jewel slots. That would have been nice. Furthermore, instead of money, you collect a yellow mist like substance called essence that your enemies leave behind after you dispose of them. You use this to purchase new items or restore your health at save points. Don't worry about running out of it, though. There is an over abundance of it throughout the game.
Although the game does try to improve on this formula in a few minor ways, this is where the game really runs into problems. This gameplay feels distinctly last gen, and that is not why people are buying this system. For the most part, it does nothing to seperate it self from the hordes of otehr hack n slahsers out there. The game follows the formula to a T, and it has everything it needs to be a fully functioning hack n slash RPG, including online multiplayer, but it does not do enough to set itself apart, and it does very little that is actually new. This is the answer to the question. Are high def graphics enough to make a game feel next gen? Not really. Untold Legends retains that last gen feel.
As I mentioned earlier, the game does do a few things to improve on the hack n slash formula. You can now pick things up and throw them. IF you throw them at enemies or at something else such as a wall, the object will break. This is also true for enemies. You can pick up some of the smaller enemies and throw them at breakable stuff, and they do just that, break. The game takes it one step further in that swinging your weapon can send an enemy or a group of enemies flying. This is a nice touch, but it feels like it us understated in the game. While this type of physics is nice to see in an ARPG, it does not feel well implemented. If this feature had been combined with a destructible enviroment, this, alone, might have been able to make the game feel next gen. Let me give you an example. You swing your weapon at an enemy. He goes flying and hits the wall. This impact he causes on the wall breaks pieces off of the wall, causing them to fly outward, possibly even hitting other enemies. They could also have had the enemy fly through walls as a result of you sending them flailing through the air. This would have fleshed out the physics alot more, and it would have been extremely cool, helping to solidify this games next gen-ness.
There are two other problems with the gameplay as well. The first is that the camera just plain sucks. It is a 3D camera that you have pretty much complete control over, but, when there is something inbetween your character and the camera, it doesn't become transparent so that you can see everything or anything like that. Nope. It just ensures that you cannot see a damn thing, and this is sure to anger alot of people. I know it got on my nerves. Furthermore, sometimes the camera gets stuck and, when it does, it fights with itself. It will shake back and forth for a short time, and this is very annoying. The other problem is with jumping. If you jump when you are against the wall, your character, more often than not, will be suspended in mid air for a short time before landing back on solid ground. This one is a bit of a minor gripe, but it does look stupid.
Replay value - 8/10
Replay value is what hack n slash RPGs do best and, for those that can look last the games faults and see that it is still an enjoyable game, Untold Legends does have plenty of it. This game features three playable characters, each with their own slightly varying storyline and style of play. It has multiple difficulty levels and co op play both online and offline. It is a game that can keep you busy for quite some time, despite it's rather short ten to fifteen hour length. There is are alot of thing to try out here and a variety of ways to play through this game, just as hack n slash fans have come to expect. It i=may not have the wonderful replay value of a game like Diablo II, but it certainly doesn't slack off in this aspect either. There is quite a bit to do here.
Final thoughts -
Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom asks the question, "Are good, high def graphics alone enough to make a game next gen?" In the opinion of this gamer, no. This game has a distinct last gen feel. Does this make it bad or something that you should skip all together? Not necessarily. There is enjoyment to be had here, if you can overlook the games faults. It is not the greatest role playing game of all time, but it has everything that is required if a fully functional hack n slash game. Renting it first might be a good idea, though, as it is certainly not for everyone. IT will seem very repetitive to alot of people, but the good news is that it is also short, so you are not doing the same thing over and over and over again for forty hours. Certainly give this game a second look before dismissing it. It is not a bad game. It just does not feel next gen. If the price drops to twenty to twenty-five bucks, it is almost definitely worth that cheap price.
Gameplay - 7.5
Everything needed to be a functioning hack n slash RPG with a few minor additions that are nice. Not enough to make it feel next gen, but not boring either
Graphics - 8.5
Great use of color. Good lighting. Awesome particle effects. Art design feels a little uninspired, though
Sound - 7
Good score that feels repetitive before it is all over. Decent voicework, but incredibly repetitive battle sounds
Story - 7.5/10
A great character in the tower elder. He is witty and can be funny. He is nothing like your typical elder at all. Some plot twists to try to keep you guessing, but it takes a back seat to the gameplay.
Replay value - 8
Three playable characters, multiple difficulty levels, varying stories and co op, both online and off. There are alot of ways to play through this one