Throughout the yellowing pages of the proverbial book of history, are many documentations of great warriors and epic battles. War unfortunately has become a major component of humanity’s history, though sometimes it’s seemingly necessary. Some historians and fanatics love to talk about war, discussing strategies, dream scenarios and weapons. That is why Spike TV created Deadliest Warrior, a show that does in-depth research into some of history’s greatest warriors, comparing detailed statistics and scenarios to see which type of war god was best.
Last year, we saw the release of the first video game based on the show, which used the same name as its subject matter. It took the form of a downloadable three-dimensional fighting game, allowing players to create dream duels containing their favourite historical strategists and combatants. Of course, like the show and its violent material, there was no skimping in the blood and gore department. It was so popular (selling approximately 450,000 digital copies), that 345 Games and Pipeworks Software combined to create a sequel, Deadliest Warrior: Legends, for XBOX Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.
With this second release, the development team planned to improve upon the original’s violent duels by adding in new fighting options such as a limb-breaking grapple mechanic, new weapons and a roster of new dangerous warriors. This altered ensemble offers up nine fighters including Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Alexander The Great, Sun Tzu and my personal favourite, William Wallace. All come from different moments in history and bring their own backgrounds to the party. Their highlights are briefly mentioned during loading screens, providing a bit of a history lesson.
Each of these guys is a force to be reckoned with, all playing differently with unique animations, moves and skills. Some of it is based on presets, with different classes. Examples include those who are fast but lack armor, and others who have tons of armor and deadly arsenals, but lack speed. It’s a list of memorable names, but lacks the creativity the last game’s roster and finishers had. The list is too focused on basic warriors instead of including unique additions, such as the pirate and ninja.
Regardless of your personal play style, there will be a fighter for you. Though I must say that I found the shielded options to be the best, as they were the best rounded fighters who could deal out and take a lot of damage, unlike the unprotected couple. Balance isn’t a perfect quality of this title, but they did a decent job of trying to make things equal by trading attack speed for defense. The character select screen features statistics for each fighter, based on what they’re wearing, and what their three weapons (ranged, close and projectile) are. In order to be able to choose different options within this menu, you will need to play through arcade mode at least once with that character. New items are unlocked by completing challenges within that mode.
As you fight your way through the ranks, you’ll venture throughout the world to different arenas. There are a couple standouts like Vlad the Impaler’s home of Transylvania and a burning town square from the history of William Wallace. However, there’s not much of a difference in the way any of them play, without any arena-specific interactions, animations or unique factors. That means it’s all about the fighting – employing a system that has some variety and thought behind it, but falters in the execution department.
Deadliest Warrior: Legends features a combat system that is structured based on three different types of attacks: low, mid-range and high. It’s important to attack at the area most vulnerable, left open by your enemy’s defenses, though you can sometimes break a shielded attack by hitting enough times to stun him. Complementing this are specific combinations for each of the two main weapon classes, with pushes and grabs providing the up close and personal aspects. You can push someone away to make him stumble for a bit, or to even knock him out of the arena, but this latter option is only available in a few locations. Grabbing has you pressing specific buttons, which correlate to the attempt at fracturing your opponent’s different limbs. Fracture an arm and a leg, then do another grab to perform a fatal strike.
Like its predecessor, the fighting is quite traditional with a lack of inspiration. It really doesn’t have a whole bunch of flair inside its mechanics. That being said, it’s certainly nice to see that broken limbs factor into gameplay, decreasing attack potential and speed. Most of the implied wow factor comes from that, as well as the fact that you can deliver limb-severing strikes, with the potential opportunity for decapitation. However, gameplay is where it counts and Legends is quite sluggish in that department, delivering mediocre combat that unfortunately won’t wow anyone. Occasionally, there will also be lag delays during the single player combat, which can affect gameplay, sometimes causing your avatar to surrender a hit or two due to the interruption.
Those familiar with fighting games and their general structures will find the arcade mode to be quite standard. It pits you against all 9 combatants, with a couple challenges mixed in for good measure. The challenges include a final round battle to the victory and a slice-mode duel where every attack chops off a limb. Essentially, it’s the first hit that wins here, so you need to be smart and evasive. It’s quite predictable and doesn’t offer much flash, but its structure works alright for the type of game it is.
In order to entice people to play through this game mode nine times (once with each warrior), Pipeworks Software made the title’s challenge mode a bonus for completing that specific task. Whether you play it that much is dependent on how much you like these types of games and whether you’re one of those who love to get one hundred percent in every game you play. There aren’t many unlockables other than weaponry and armor, so it won’t take hours upon hours to collect everything.
Challenge mode is an alright reward, but really won’t keep most gamers coming back for more. Included within this part of the game are several different options: slice mode, survival slice mode against waves of foes, basic survival mode where you try to remain alive for as long as possible, and a race to see how fast you can slice several hanging pig carcasses. Nothing too amazing, but it’s nice that they’re there to add content. The average gamer will play them a couple of times, then move on.
What I was most interested in trying out is the title’s new Risk-like Generals mode. It alters the experience from a fighting game to more of a strategic experience, as two generals battle it out for control of a kingdom and its surrounding lands. Turn by turn, each one builds up his army, fortifies his positions and then has his soldiers take over adjoining pieces of land. Conquering employs a greater value system where the larger army usually wins the imaginary battle. Active battles only present themselves when you attempt to take over one of the few castles spread around the land, making the decisive battle a one on one fight between yourself and the controlling faction’s leader. It’s the same as a duel from single and multiplayer.
The goal isn’t to take over the most land – it’s actually to take over your opponent’s castle. Of course, in order to do that, you need to be smart and take over a strategically thought out path of land to get there. Spreading out your forces can be a bad idea because the computerized opponents can be pretty intelligent and will roll right through you. Unlockable strength and defense bonuses come into play and can be quite helpful, though they’re only available when you take over a faction’s castle along the way. These general bonuses are optional, as the chance to opt out and choose new units instead is also presented.
Fans of Risk may enjoy this separate mode, which offers its own ‘campaign’ with its match-ups coming out of the history books. Each warrior has its own level, which takes place on a selected map out of around eight available ones. Free-play is available as well, allowing you to choose those details. It’s certainly nice to have this added option on top of the core fighting experience, but there aren’t many ways in which it differs from the popular board game it’s obviously inspired by. Due to that and its lack of variety, this mode feels flat and uninspired. If it was more fleshed out, had battles lasting longer than just five to ten minutes and offered the support for online multiplayer rather than just local engagements, it would have been a much more grand addition.
Of course, online combat is available – just not with Generals, for some strange reason. It only allows you to take the series’ traditional one on one battles into cyberspace, with the option for one-offs and tournaments. What I got to play of this mode was okay. It was better than playing against the computer and seemed to have a good amount of online searchers. However, after the first one or two fights, I couldn’t get into any other matches.
This problem didn’t occur because the matchmaking system wasn’t able to find people. Instead, the game would freeze every single time it went to an online loading screen, locking up my console. Others were complaining of the same issue when I’d send them a message asking about it, so it’s imperative that the development team patches this issue sooner rather than later. With online being such a big component of today’s fighting games, it’s detrimental to let this issue prevail for long, as it will be a great deterrent to most potential consumers.
Despite there not being a shocking difference, Deadliest Warrior: Legends does look a bit better than its predecessor. This is due to the use of some added lighting effects and a bit more definition put into characters and environments, though the game is still too dark a lot of the time. Its engine feels very dated, but it must be taken into consideration that this is a downloadable title. Even then, it leaves some to be desired.
Duels feel a bit slower than they did in the series’ last outing, though that could be due to the added methodical elements. They tend to run relatively well, but the aforementioned lag does hamper the experience and immersion. If you’re left open for attacks due to that issue, it can be somewhat devastating, as your opponent may land a very powerful hit on an area left open. When this happens at any time during gameplay, there’s the opportunity for a very visceral reaction, of blood splattering or limbs flying. However, it was often noticeable that attacks were going through enemies as opposed to going into them, which is what should have happened based on reactionary animations.
Taunting is a big part of the head to head match-ups in the television show, and it carries over into this violent digital affair. All nine warriors have their own taunts and one-liners that they’ll say during introductory cinematics, with the occasional piece of dialogue uttered during combat when a deadly attack is completed. The voice acting is okay, but I found it to be muffled. The original soundtrack also wasn’t as vibrant as it could’ve been in terms of fidelity and quality, existing as a basic and uninspired score. It’s too bad that they wouldn’t have had announcers from the show describe combat, add in some colour or spice things up a bit.
Deadliest Warrior: Legends is a game with hints of quality, but they’re unfortunately overshadowed by sluggish gameplay, glitches and uninspired design. If you loved the series’ first digital outing, you’ll probably enjoy this one as it’s very similar to its predecessor. However, those who were unimpressed with the last outing will not find any reason to give this one a shot. The subject matter complements the gameplay styles utilized here, but the execution is underwhelming. It’s too bad because, in principle, this should have been a great game. I honestly wanted to like this one, but ended up feeling let down and a bit bored by its below-average offerings.