Review written by Playstation4.net staff member Steve Goodwin
I don’t know about you but when I wander into my local videogames retailer, knowing fine well that the brand new next-gen title has been released and that’s why I am there, I always am a little apprehensive. That’s not because I am unsure at all whether I want the big, flashy brand new game or not; it’s more likely down to the fact that I know that there will be a massive fat £50 sticker slapped onto the box. Of course it’s going to be that price; it’s just been released and it’s for my Playstation 3. But there is always that little ray of hope that the shop has a special offer or some unwitting, mindless member of staff has missed priced it or something. Yeah, it never happens, I know.
But you know, when you sit back and think about the effort, money, man hours and resources that go into making these next generation games you kind of start to understand why we have to part with so much of our precious pennies to buy them. So when you do go to buy the latest release you have a fair challenge on your hands; it’s an expensive choice so you want to be sure that you’re getting you’re moneys worth. Well that’s something we’ve started to expect, especially when we’re considering titles for the PS3. We know there’s going to be the superbly detailed HD graphics paired with smooth animation, fantastic sound and unrivalled levels of interactivity. We expect this because we’ve coughed up the £400+ for the machine that can provide these wonders.
So that’s why Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom can be summed up using the word disappointing. That’s not to say that this is a poor game, not at all. It’s just that I’d expected more from it. Agreed, it was originally a PS2 title and we’ve also seen a PSP entry in the series both of which failed to really meet standards of similar titles. But this is developed by Sony Online Entertainment; whose catalogue contains past favourites such as EverQuest and StarWars: Galaxies.
Dark Kingdom is a self proclaimed hack ‘n’ slash RPG adventure which has you fighting to save the land of Dureth. A land of ruined cities and dark caverns that had fallen into darkness and is overtaken by hordes of evil creatures, a highly original story but one that still manages to surprise. The tale begins with your picking from a typical trio of available characters; the Warrior (slow but very strong), his physical opposite the Scout (faster but weaker) and the Mage (expert in spells). Once your choice has been made you’re stuck with that character throughout the approximately 25 hour campaign – a shame you cannot switch members as and when say, certain puzzles crop up. Although, for longevity purposes you can play the game again using each one of the team, which does actually add some variety.
So lets take a brief look at the three elements of Dark Kingdom; RPG, hack ’n’ slash and adventure. My initial thought was one of overwhelming. RPG’s that are not part of a series, like Final Fantasy for example whose role-playing elements become second nature from playing their predecessors, can have a daunting feeling. The knowledge that you’ll have to learn to understand all the new levelling up system, special weapons, upgrades and the like, can be somewhat off-putting. Let me inform you that the way that the RPG characteristics have been implemented in Dark Kingdom is brilliant. It’s not as vast or intricate as Square’s eponymous effigy is; but then it’s not as complicated neither. Here, there are set upgrades for your character and his/her weapons and armour and it’s a simple as picking them up from the battlefield as you progress through the game. There’s no spending hours strategically picking where is best to place my experience points; just “oh there’s the second of the five upgrades for my weapon!” and “only one more piece to attach to my armour before I’m totally kick-ass!”. There is still the obligatory Orbs that you pick up from fallen foes; these can be used to increase your health, magic, defence etc – all straight forward selections. Rather than being seen as basic and shallow I feel this eases the pressure off how to build up your character and lets you have more fun levelling up automatically with progression. Unfortunately you’re never given the option of a different weapon which would have been a nice addition; RPG’s are known for their vast arsenals.
The hack ‘n’ slash ingredient of Dark Kingdom, for me, is where the main disappointment lies. I feel the combat could’ve been made a lot more interesting. It works if you like your action like this; similar to God of War and maybe even Ninety-Nine Nights but to me a more structured system would’ve pleased more. To mix button-mashed combos into a role-playing game seems an odd decision and is maybe to blame for the previous incarnation’s failures, despite the PS3 version making these combos quite pretty and visually impressive. The constant ‘drop in’ of more and more and more enemies onto the battlefield just oozes monotony and detracts from the fun. Every now and again a bigger enemy with appear but is just as easily defeated with a steady run of X,X,Square combinations. With the exception of the aforementioned God of War games (in which this method of combat is perfectly suited) I feel we’re passed this combat system.
Controls are simple and intuitive as expected with the battle combos pulled of with alternating hits of the X and Square buttons for quick and wide attacks respectively. Triangle use is for interacting; such as opening chests and picking up objects, while the Circle button has you jump. A nice inclusion is the ability to dodge attacks (using R2) as this manoeuvre can be incorporated into attacking combos. Spells are cast with the pressing of a shoulder and face button in tandem; more often used with the Mage who has fire and ice spells.
One plus is that your buddies can pick up a controller and jump in and out of the action freely and help or hinder your adventure. This can be quite fun but will not be a purchase-making addition. Online, Dark Kingdom provides the opportunity for a few of you to mash your way through the campaign but offers nothing really new or different to the single player mode. Multiplayer seems almost like a tacked on, rushed addition.
Similarly, the adventure element of Dark Kingdom is a little lack lustre. The story, if predictable, still surprises and throws in a few twists too and is unfolded in more depth as you work your way through the 30 or so levels. A fair number you might think but they are a little on the short side, however a saving grace may lay in their variety. Little titbits of the tale are revealed to the player via the means of cut scenes, breaking up the action, but are interestingly current-gen in their style and quality.
Graphically this game fails to shine where it really should. Basically a jazzed up port of a current-gen game with some neat additions and graphical effects thrown in. Characters are fairly well detailed and animated, yet despite some nice textures the environments feel a little bland and uninteresting. There are some issues with clipping which occurs when your controlled warrior becomes snagged on anything from trees to rocks to cardboard boxes; an annoyance rather than a let down. Overall, you just can’t escape the feeling that you’re playing a PS2 game which is a let down. The quality of the sound effects is equally mediocre with some nice punch battle thumps and smashes but it’s the orchestral score that lifts this title up a fair bit. Musically, this could almost rival a certain Square franchise. Almost.
To summarise and to reflect on my first point; Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is a fun game despite repetitive combat. The levelling up system is just the right depth of the RPG element, keeping things simple but interesting. Players will have fun with this – if they can pick it up off the shelf, £50 may seem steep in comparison to it’s content. don’t forget though, this is no fully-fledged RPG or all-out button mashing game – it’s a nice mix. I would’ve liked to have seen more for the money.
Overall Score: 6/10