Stop me if you've heard this one.
Did you love Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
and make out with its sequel
? Did you have an extended fling with Champions of Norrath
but only spend a tepid weekend with Champions: Return to Arms
? If familiarity breeds contempt, you may want to give Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade
a fake number and a good excuse
. While it delivers the same basic experience as its progenitors, that experience is slimmed down, worse for wear and has little kick left in its two-step.
Using a modified version of the same Snowblind engine that sustained multiple incarnations of the Baldur's Gate and Champions of Norrath franchises on the PS2, Sony Online Entertainment has bet the minimum on a tried-and-true, button-mashing formula. Back is the isometric camera, the gridded item menus and enough hacking and slashing to deforest the Amazon valley. The Snowblind engine has always provided solid controls and an imminently playable Gauntlet-like experience, and this installment is no exception.
In Untold Legends, you choose between four character classes: Knight, Alchemist, Druid, and Berserker. The Knight is a basic brute, the Alchemist is your standard Wizard, the Druid specializes in healing spells and basic melee offense, and the Berserker is a skill-heavy class employing small knives and throwing stars. Although each class plays differently, the character models themselves are not very customizable; while you can choose skin color and hair color, the gender of each class is predetermined. Considering the wireless capabilities of the game, it would have been nice to have larger palette to work with in creating a distinctive look.
The character classes may sound unusual, but their skill sets include all the basic moves seen in BG: DA and Norrath.
Unlike those games, however, Untold Legends eschews any established D&D system for its model, creating instead a hackneyed fantasy backdrop that doesn't have to pay any dues.
And the story is about as generic as a kobold in a cave. Your city of Aven is being terrorized by monsters, and its redemption can only be achieved by recovering a number of artifacts hidden in dungeons around the monster-infested countryside. The bland plot unfolds through humorless dialogue. The characters you meet have as much personality as cardboard; only through creative misreadings can you develop anything close to drama. Many of the missions are long affairs and all follow the same find the artifact/monster/distressed prisoner in the dungeon program.
Untold Legends' dungeons are randomly generated, which gives a nice, unpredictable feel to the mostly uninspired environments. Without the joy of randomly stumbling upon a +20 Fierce Great Mace of Justice, plowing through dead-end hallways and countless scattered chests would be unthinkable. But since the random dungeon design still tends toward complicated mazes containing loads of dead-ends, you will ultimately find yourself ignoring the chests and running straight for the end goal.
There are tons of missions and, perhaps due to the reusability of environments, innumerable areas to explore. You can save at any point in the game, which is absolutely essential for the PSP platform, and reliable mission information means you won't forget which artifact you were searching for and which dungeon it was in.
However, the game is saddled with long and frequent loading times. Whenever you leave an area you can expect at least a thirty second wait, so teleporting back to Aven to sell off your booty, which you'll do often, becomes a long digression from the plot and the action.
Then again, after a couple hours' worth of "action" at the expense of Untold Legends' predictable enemies, a long digression might be exactly what you need. Every enemy follows one of two programs: rush and melee-attack or run away and attack from afar. There is nearly zero tactical strategy, and there are no special combos to lend variety to the monster weeding. Your foes also seem to level up as you do, which means that on one hand you will never meet ridiculously weak monsters, but you won't meet any monsters that are impossibly strong, either. This removes the urgency of getting the best weapons and leveling up - not a good thing for a RPG.
The tedium is compounded by the fact that the game reuses many of its environments and creature models. Different colors and background music are all that distinguish the purple trees of, say, Splinterfull Forest from the yellow trees of the Riven Plains. Most of the environments are rendered clearly, but each one is entirely composed of right-angles and straight lines, making even the most beautifully illustrated Infernal Caverns squarer than a lawful good cleric.
The musical score might have had potential had it not been performed on a Casio keyboard, and the dialogue is delivered in boxes, not voices, though given the quality of the music, that might not be a bad thing.
At least it offers some multiplayer co-op support. Like Dark Alliance and Norrath, Untold Legends is a perfect cooperative experience. Character classes complement each other and rules governing the division of loot make the leveling up even. And, unlike the multiplayer versions on the consoles, the players do not have to remain on the same screen at the same time, just the same area.
But since Untold Legends only supports Ad Hoc (local) wireless connectivity, you cannot take the game online to meet up with players outside your immediate vicinity. Given the revolutionary Infrastructure wireless function of the PSP, this is an almost unforgivable omission. And whereas playing cooperatively on the console units only requires multiple controllers, playing with a friend on your respective PSPs requires each of you to have separate copies of the game, $40 a pop.
Given the unimaginative plot and lifeless gameplay, however, you may not want to be in the immediate vicinity of anyone you have convinced to buy Untold Legends. While not necessarily straying from the formula that made its predecessors great, this one seems unmotivated and underachieving, like something a dungeon master with a hangover might scrabble together to pay the overdue rent.