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Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade received a lot of leeway from the gaming press when it was released, and as a result was met with a warm reception despite repetitive gameplay and a fairly generic fantasy-based design. This was due in large part to its unique status as perhaps the first true handheld hack and slash to really match up with its console counterparts. I was one such fan of the original, but also hoped that SOE corrected some of the shortcomings that game had in the inevitable sequel. That inevitable sequel has now arrived, but unfortunately it may actually be a step back for the franchise.

The original game’s main problem was presentation, with character creation in particular featuring a very limited amount of options. That area hasn’t been improved all that much this time around either. There are five different character classes to choose from, each with a different changeling form (more on that in a minute) and exclusive set of special abilities. The Guardian fights with a sword and shield, and can change into a Beast. The Mercenary fights with an axe and saw-blade launcher, and changes into a Fury. The Disciple carries a shotgun, and can change into a Behemoth. The Prowler fights with dual blades, martial kicks, and a cesta, and can change into a Dervish. Finally, the Scout fights with daggers and a crossbow, and changes into a Hellcat. Each class also favors certain attributes, with the Mercenary favoring strength and intelligence, the Scout favoring intelligence and dexterity, the Guardian favoring strength and stamina, and so forth.

Untold Legends: The Warrior's Code

This is actually a fair amount of diversity, but beyond that things are extremely limited. Each class is locked in to a particular sex, thus I was forced to play as a woman (not that there’s anything wrong with that – or reusing 90’s catch phrases for that matter) simply because I liked the Mercenary class the best. The only other customization that can be done is to skin tone, hairstyle, and hair color, and even these are unduly limited. There are only 48 different skin tones to choose from, which may not seem like a few until you realize the game supports millions of colors. There seems to be more variety in hair color (it isn’t set up in distinct units so it’s hard to tell how many different colors there are), but that just makes me wonder why they couldn’t do the same for skin. As for hairstyle, well, they certainly aren’t winning any design awards for giving me a mere five different styles to choose from.

Once you get into the game, you’ll find that things are much more linear this time too. Although there are times when you can visit more than one area, throughout the entire game you’re told where to go and what to do by one of several different commanders. Why you’re even cooperating with the people you’re fighting with in the first place is never fully explained. Oh sure, they trot out the old “you owe us because we saved your life” line, but it’s a tenuous reason at best when you never asked for the assistance. As you move on to fight bigger battles, you just kinda go with the flow (even after fulfilling your obligation) instead of ever asking why you’re still helping these people or simply running away. Not that the latter would’ve made for a good game of course, but still.

The production values have been improved this time out, but the game is still nowhere near the cinematic tour de force other RPGs on the system can be. Most of the storyline is advanced through in-game dialog and cutscenes, which is clumsily presented with a camera rotating over the head of the speaker and player. In between each chapter there is more exposition, but instead of FMV you get spoken dialog with the text over static pictures. On the whole the storyline is decent enough, but hardly riveting.

Of course, in an action/RPG such as this, one doesn’t expect the storyline to always carry things. The hacking and the slashing play major roles as well, and here is where the game shines…for a while. Like before there’s plenty to kill, with a good variety of monsters to keep you challenged. While many will simply run up to you and start wailing away, there are others that will plant mines, hurl projectiles, and move in unique patterns. Unfortunately, the boss characters are all pretty similar save for a couple of unique creatures (I’m looking at you Bokni Magus), and can be beaten by simply beating them down.

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Posted: 2006-07-02 10:00:07 PST