Review: Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code

UntoldLegendsWarriorsCode.jpg

Sony Online Entertainment sure has proven great know-how in the creation of sublime dungeon crawling hack-and-slash action-RPGs over the years. The Champions of Norrath EverQuest spin-offs remain two of my all-time favorite PS2 games, and the subsequent offshoot series, Untold Legends, has carried the torch nicely. Despite mostly lackluster press recognition and some obvious flaws, the first game in the series and PSP launch title, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, has become one of the most popular and best selling games for the handheld, and since then the series has grown by two more games. Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom came out as a PS3 launch title with a lot of promise, but didn’t quite live up to what it could have been. And then there is Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code, the much-improved sequel to Brotherhood of the Blade.

Though this is the follow-up to Brotherhood of the Blade, The Warrior’s Code doesn’t tie directly into its predecessor, but instead introduces an epic new storyline to dig into. While Brotherhood was a solid all-around hack-and-slash, there’s no denying that its story and presentation were severely lacking, as the developers mainly dedicated their time and efforts in other areas of the game. However, with The Warrior’s Code SOE has changed all that by instilling a far greater focus on storytelling, and that’s nothing but grand news for fans and newcomers alike. Although the story still doesn’t break the mold of typical fantasy RPG plot conventions, telling the tale of a Changeling hero (played by you) going up against an evil warlord who has invaded the city of Koryn Thal and enslaved the kingdom with his army of dark minions, it is actually quite compelling for a hack-and-slash title, on a portable platform no less. What has improved, and monumentally so at that, is the story’s presentation. Featuring animated, hand-drawn cinematics, beautiful artwork, in-game cut-scenes, solid voice acting for all dialogue and an orchestral musical score (no more crummy MIDI-sounding tunes here, folks), The Warrior’s Code takes on even more of a console action-RPG style and quality.

Also improved are the game’s graphics and audio – both of which have aged fairly well since launch in early 2006. A colorful and unique new art direction distinguishes The Warrior’s Code from the usual hack-n-slash RPG fodder (including the fairly bland and lacking-in-personality original), bringing along more detailed and better animated character models, boosted particle and lighting effects, and more distinctive environments thanks to the elimination of the first game’s random level generator. Along with the jazzed up visuals, fans of the original game should be happy to know that the long load times are now a thing of the past, as The Warrior’s Code features substantially speedier level and menu transitions. On a slight downside, there are still noticeable smidges of frame rate dips in the game’s most visually active moments, but thankfully these occurrences are few and far between.

In addition to the audio improvements I mentioned earlier (the included voice acting and orchestral score), the game’s sound effects, as far as dungeon ambiance and the plethora of combat clinks and clangs go, are exceptionally satisfying, as is needed in any good hack-and-slash. What’s alarming is how much better the game sounds when using headphones. I’m not sure what it is, but when played with headphones you are able to pick up subtle audio effects and ambient background sounds that really round out the experience.

Before beginning the long trek through the game’s hefty five-chapter, 20-hour single-player campaign, you’ll first need to choose your champion, and in The Warrior’s Code the class choice has been bumped from four up to five, all of which are completely new. The selection consists of the Guardian, Mercenary, Disciple, Scout and Prowler, but despite the fancier monikers you’re still just choosing whether you want to be a melee fighter, ranged specialist or magic user. From there you get to pick out skin tones and hairstyles, but unfortunately the character customization options are extremely limited. I know the game is more about customizing your hero based on the countless weapon and armor pieces there are to buy and collect, but I still think it’d be a huge benefit if more character personalization options were available.

If you’ve played Brotherhood of the Blade, or any other hack-and-slash title of this ilk (Champions of Norrath, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, X-Men Legends, Diablo, etc.), you’ll know exactly what to expect from The Warrior’s Code. Gameplay is all about long, labyrinthine dungeon crawls, lots and lots of monster slaying, and compulsive looting, and in these areas the Untold Legends formula still excels. Controls are more intuitive than ever before, with expanded skill hot-keying, a better mini-map, and streamlined quest, journal and inventory systems. About the only thing requiring any acclamation process whatsoever is the Left shoulder shift system which makes up for the fewer buttons of the PSP — it’s still a little tricky to adapt to if you’re used to console controls.

Combat in the game hasn’t strayed away from the addictive mold from which it was cut, but SOE has spruced up the combat engine with some intriguing new features that generally do make for a more compelling monster-slaying romp. Newly introduced this time around are powerful Charge Attacks, special Attacks of Opportunity that enable you to take advantage of vulnerable enemies in three different ways, and the ability for each character to transform into their own unique Changeling form for a short duration after absorbing enough essence from dead foes. The developers also went a step further by incorporating more quest variety on top of the usual item fetching and boss slaying. This time out you’ll work with AI teammates quite a bit and solve environmental puzzles, both of which are commendable upgrades (although some of the escort missions can be nagging).

While these additions make for a deeper offering of battle tactics, the game still boils down to copious amounts of X-button mashing, because honestly, this game really isn’t ever as challenging as I would’ve liked, and that’s my only serious gripe with The Warrior’s Code. The last few chapters ramp up nicely to keep you on your toes, and the bosses are normally a good test of endurance. However, most of the time there’s not much necessity in using any of the game’s special attacks or skills unless you feel like doing so. Simply storming through stages tapping the X button and nothing else will get you by without any sizeable threat, as the enemy AI, although improved, never really does anything more than charge at you full steam or run around you to avoid damage. When you go through the entire game only blocking five times total like I did (the game keeps track of stats like that), you know something’s amiss. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun nonetheless, but a more prominent test of skill would’ve vaulted this game much higher on my list of PSP favorites.

Lastly and what is assuredly the most important of all of the game’s strides to improvement in fans’ minds is the upgraded multiplayer package. Now featuring Infrastructure support for full-fledged online play along with Ad Hoc and LAN play, The Warrior’s Code is one of the more compelling multiplayer experiences on the PSP if you can still find other heroes to go dungeon crawling with (lately I’ve been getting a lot of network connection errors as well, so the server upkeep doesn’t seem that reliable these days). Players can take their created character online to pair with one other person in co-op play through the game’s story campaign, or join three others in a deep selection of competitive player-versus-player bouts, including modes like Hunter, Frenzy, Gold Rush, Survive!, Robber, Miser and Capture the Flag, which run the gamut from typical deathmatches and last man standing challenges to games of keep away and treasure hunting (many of these molds feature team-based variants as well). Needless to say, if you have a wireless connection and a copy of The Warrior’s Code, you’ll be in portable chase-and-chop heaven whenever you log on.

And that about wraps things up. Untold Legends: The Warrior’s Code is a superior game to the original in every regard, impressively evolving the series forward in every possible area of game design. There are a couple of flaws to point out and the game doesn’t take any groundbreaking strides forward in terms of innovation, but in remaining true to the addictive simplicity of the genre and providing just enough new tweaks and additions to the time-tested formula, The Warrior’s Code stands tall amongst the PSP’s many action-RPGs.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Familiar hack-and-slash gameplay is loads of fun
+ Immersive audio, especially with headphones on
+ Sizeable campaign and multiplayer modes a great value at $15 on PSN (or even cheaper if you can find it on UMD)

Cons:
– A bit too easy overall
– Online servers don’t always seem to be working

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: UMD – 3/27/2006, PSN – 10/1/2008
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1508]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!