Not living up to the legend.
Yet another example of a game becoming a genre, Arslan: Warriors of Legend is not so much a hack-and-slash game as it is a Dynasty Warriors game. Living in that shadow is hard enough, but even without the daunting legacy of a beloved series, Arslan has trouble standing up on its own.
Without even so much as an entry on Wikipedia (on Koei Wiki, yes), this relatively unknown release is based off an equally unfamiliar animé. Arslan’s DNA is easy to latch onto, introducing a well-to-do Crown Prince under constant threat of assassination with his domain in the throes of total war.
But I don’t play games to be told a story; I want to be a part of the story, and Koei Tecmo’s effort to put the player in the thick of the drama is not exactly, well, legendary. There’s an interesting dichotomy in Dynasty Warriors games where you can simply breeze through the game mindlessly mashing the light attack button and they would be none-the-wiser, but, as experienced Dynasty veterans will tell you, they always have a much more complex center. If you were to play the “How many licks does it take?” game with Arslan, you might chew clear through the stick before they find anything of the sort.
Here, you fight hordes of bad guys in expansive levels, occasionally pressing R2 to ram through a barrier with the sudden summoning of your entire army (the same army that, not five seconds before, was struggling to survive without you). After this, a long cut-scene plays, and you’re back to it.
Don’t get me wrong: these segments are fun, when looked at in vacuums. Not only are the combos fun to look at and execute, but Arslan also makes use of mounted steeds, allowing you to plunge into crowds, slashing your sword on either side, easily racking up combos of 200 or higher. These are such viscerally entertaining experiences, that you can’t declare them a complete wash.
This is like bouncing a rubber ball: It’s stimulating, but it gets old fast, especially when Arslan offers little in the way of scaling difficulty or complexity. The only curveball they throw you is the occasional (and, later in the game, frequent) boss fights. Bosses in Arslan are players a lot like Arslan himself. They have damage shields, they block, they combo, and they have special abilities. The first time this appears, it’s difficult and surprising.
Again, though, Arslan fails to up the stakes. Subsequent boss fights are also simply another person with shields, combos, and abilities. I think of a game like Arkham City, where the gameplay is one of two things: either sneak around and knock people out or punch the crap out of them to knock them out. But each encounter in these games offers up a new twist. Rocksteady says “okay, now you have to take them all out without detective vision” or “Now you can’t use gargoyles,” and these stipulations keep the game fresh and increase the challenge every time you load a save. Arslan’s most brilliant idea is “now you have to fight two bosses,” which isn’t so much upping the ante as it is calling “check” at every card turn.
To its credit, Arslan also allows you to play different characters as the story requires. This variety is a refreshing element to the game, as you get to play not just with a sword, but with a bow and arrow, a stringed instrument and even a paintbrush. While imaginative, some of these characters have more limited movesets that simply make me wish I was playing as Arslan again, which I’m certain was not Koei Tecmo’s desired effect.
Overall, what we have here is your standard mixed bag. While people with patience for repetition without innovation or increased challenge, such as the audience of Cookie Clicker or Assassin’s Creed, might see nothing wrong with Arslan, the truth is it could be a hell of a lot better, because the seeds of greatness are all here just waiting for something, anything, to help them sprout life.