Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom Review
We always have a certain level of expectations when it comes to a new console, and those expectations are usually quite high. In fact, with the PS3, they probably couldn't be any higher, so when you play something like Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, you tend to be a tad crestfallen, especially when it was something you were anticipating. Following in the footsteps of the Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliances and Champions of Norraths, as well as the Untold Legends PSP installment, Dark Kingdom was supposed to be the next-gen version of those titles. Well, as it turns out, all those other games are actually much better.
The graphics seem reminiscent of Kameo, a launch title for the Xbox 360...except Kameo was prettier. There's a great deal of color and vibrancy in Untold Legends, but much of it appears washed out and even unrefined in certain areas, leaving us to wonder how exactly this is a "next-gen" title. Character and enemy detail aren't impressive at all, the animations are mostly standard and hardly awe-inspiring, and even the brilliance of autumn leaves can't save this game from visual mediocrity. If it were on the PS2 or Xbox, it'd be a solid accomplishment. On the PS3? It's barely average.
Dark Kingdom is also unfortunately plagued with several sound issues. It's of a slightly higher quality than the graphics, but the problem revolves around horrid voice acting and a significant imbalance of soundtrack and sound effects. There are a few great combat effects interspersed throughout the game, and you'll actually find yourself mildly satisfied with how your battles sound. But marring the experience is a soundtrack that lacks any real variety, and even though there's some urgency to those tracks during big battles, nothing ever stands out. In general, the sound is decent, but that's about it.
Dungeon crawlers like this hold most of their appeal in the gameplay, which is designed to focus on equipment and item-hording, powering up, and experimenting with different classes. At the very least, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom follows this formula to a "T," and even streamlines a few of those old mechanics. At the same time, though, it takes a step back from the likes of another SOE-published title, Champions of Norrath. The latter is more of a fully-realized hack ‘n slash action/RPG, with true and even in-depth role-playing aspects, while Dark Kingdom takes the other route by centering more on the action.
At the start, you get to choose between three characters; the Warrior, Scout, and Mage. Two are self-explanatory, and you may as well consider the Scout as a thief of sorts, or perhaps even a Monk. As you read through the brief character descriptions and ponder how you might approach the game, please remember one thing- your choice isn't quite as crucial as you might think. All three classes actually utilize very similar attacks and combos, and oddly enough, you'll find yourself getting involved in plenty of close-combat scraps with the Mage.
This is unfortunate, because all it means is that the game feels very similar regardless of which character you choose, and that's a cardinal sin in the world of action/RPG dungeon crawlers. Let's face it, the games are relatively straightforward in the first place; the primary bonus to a game like Champions involved one very simple fact: you would rarely tackle battle the same way with the Erudite Wizard as you would with the Dark Elf. And while the Mage certainly has spells the Warrior doesn't in Untold Legends, you're also forced to use melee combos very often. Heck, you can block and dodge the same way with every character.
That's because you're constantly rushed by fast-moving enemies throughout the game, so you don't normally have a lot of time to destroy them all with long-range attacks. Yes, those spells can be awfully useful, but you'll usually mop things up by hacking away with that supposedly frail Mage. Another non-RPG feature you wouldn't expect are the orbs that enemies drop; red orbs refill health, blue refill mana, and only occasionally will they drop armor or Essense, which is a form of money. Essence allows you to purchase new equipment at save points, and when leveling up, you can allocate points into a variety of skills (health, mana, attack power, magic power, melee defense, and spell defense). However, those skills are identical for all classes.
On the other hand, there are some intriguing gameplay elements. The weapons are slotted, which lets the player imbue that massive axe with several attributes. To add to the intricacy, some slots are shaped a certain way, meaning only certain gems will fit. And in order to increase the power of your spells, you gain a star upon leveling up that you can add to any one of your abilities. So obviously, Chain Lightning with three stars will probably be a lot more effective than your Fireball with one star. And lastly, as evidence of that aforementioned action focus, your character will have an assortment of combo attacks that utilize both short and wide-range attacks. Pretty entertaining.
But there's nothing even remotely entertaining about a God-awful camera and a couple serious control issues. You have two options with the camera; one sits close and the other is basically a top-down view. However, while you would think the top-down option might grant you more visibility, it actually limits your vision; there's no way to see beyond that perimeter. On the other hand, the up-close camera angle allows you to spin the camera around at will to see what's what, but there's an inherent problem here as well. You often have to whip the camera around to keep up with the action, and too many times does it erratically zoom in too close or find you caught behind a tree. Battling the camera can be immensely frustrating, especially during tough situations.
In regards to the control, your character can dash left to right and front to back, which allows you to dodge projectile attacks and close on your foes at lightning speed. However, it seems you can't quite dash and then instantly attack; there is a small recovery time that often just means you've given the enemy a free shot by dashing towards them. And much like the Dark Alliance games, you can also jump, but that's an extremely clunky mechanic that you'd rather avoid. Spell-casting, attacking and blocking is easy as pie - even those combo attacks don't take much effort - but that rotten camera and significant control problems definitely take away from the gameplay experience.
The game isn't long; you'll likely finish in about 10-12 hours, which is short by action/RPG standards. However, you likely won't finish the game because you'll rapidly grow tired of the repetitive and uninspired combat, and you'll probably get annoyed at the camera within the first fifteen minutes. The game is somewhat fun for a little while, mainly because hacking and slashing is a relatively entertaining activity, but there's so little to get excited about, the entire presentation just falls flat. After so many hours of fun - both single-player and multi-player - with the Dark Alliances and Champions, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is a bitter disappointment.
Apparently, SOE simply didn't bother putting much effort into this one, thinking the constant combat (at least the action never falters) and tried-and-true character advancement system would be enough. Maybe they should've found a way to retain Snowblind Studios (Champions developer), because if they're completely in charge, we get this. Yeah, everything in place functions okay, but there's not one single aspect of the game that excels in terms of quality, and there are just too many problems that ultimately cripple the overall package. It might be worth a rent if you're a huge fan of this type of game, but you'd have to be very bored; it's just not worthy of any serious consideration.
12/4/2006 Ben Dutka