"I must travel through the Shattercove West in Tornwood Forest. Once I make my way through Shattercove West and East, I will reach Splinterfull Woods. I must then make my way through the Dreadwind Moor to the Waning Wastes where the Whispering Chasm resides. There, I will find the siren known as Alyssia the Hateful. It is from her that I will obtain the Containment Shard."
It was upon reading the above new entry in our in-game journal that we realised we'd had quite enough of Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade. Such a thought had crossed our minds before, but we'd ignored it and pressed on, hopeful that perhaps this latest mission would in fact be in some way different to those that had come before.
Perhaps, we'd thought, this time we won't just have to wander through yet another forest grove or dingy catacomb that looks remarkably similar to all the forest groves and dingy catacombs we've seen before. Perhaps the enemies we confront won't just look different, but will actually fight differently, and perhaps we'll find some more interesting items to pick up than yet another Dependable Bronze Assault Axe that's too heavy and unwieldy to be of much use when faced with more than one opponent at a time.
And maybe - just maybe - the inevitable boss will be quite hard to defeat, and we won't just end up hacking and slashing away and necking health potions until they're dead. At the first attempt.
Same old story
But our hopes had always been dashed before, and now we didn't care any more. We couldn't be bothered to track through the Tornwood Forest yet again. We doubted very much that Shattercove East would be much different from Shattercove West, nor from the Dreadwind Moor nor the Waning Wastes nor the Whispering Chasm, for that matter.
As for the boss, we make it a general policy to avoid anyone with the words "The Hateful" after their name. And whatever the Containment Shard might be, whatever magical powers it might have or glorious salvation it might offer, we realised we couldn't give a flying Fine Wrapped Baculus.
As you might have guessed by now, there are some the fundamental problems with Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Sony Online Entertainment's first game for the PSP. You might think, what with its EverQuest heritage and all, that SOE could come up with something that's at least somewhat engrossing and entertaining - but instead, it has turned out a generic hack-and-slasher with RPG elements that have been so stripped down that you might as well just buy a pencil, a set of dice and a fighting fantasy gamebook.
Let's begin at the beginning, because that's where you first start to wonder if this game is somewhat lacking in depth. There are no cutscenes to be seen - the prologue is just scrolling text over a nice drawing, which informs you that a new Crown of Aven has been selected.
As has a new city Guardian, i.e. you. You're told that you did jolly well to earn the title, and had to fight off loads of competitors to do it, and you think how that must have been quite exciting actually, and might have been a good training level or something, but never mind.
There are only four characters to choose from - Alchemist, Druid, Knight and Beserker - and you can't even change their genders, which is a bit annoying.
But you can change, er, their hairstyle, hair colour and skin tone, and then you get 10 attribute points to distribute amongs the categories of Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity and Stamina. And choose their name, which seems a bit pointless since everyone just calls you Guardian anyway.
Then it's on with the game, or rather on with the first of many loading screens that lasts a bit longer than is really acceptable, and then on with the game. You're in an Inn, and you're about to be attacked by an evil spider.
"To move, use the analog stick. To attack, press X," read the on-screen instructions. Congratulations, you have just learned the basic principle of combat in Untold Legends: BotB. Unfortunately, it is pretty much the only principle of combat in Untold Legends: BotB.
Course, you do get different weapons to collect as you progress through the game, along with new pieces of armour, which seem to have increasingly silly names - our favourite being the Ruined Stitch Leggings of Justice. You can acquire new stuff by buying it off the local trader, or by picking it up after defeated enemies have dropped it - and you'll find yourself taking the second option most of the time, since it's free and there's loads of it about.
The trader rarely has any kind of special item that makes you go, "Ooh, wicked!" and even if he does, and you buy it, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference between the various weapon types. A decent sword is a decent sword, a bow shoots arrows with pretty much the same degree of accuracy no matter how much you paid for it, and two-handed weapons are generally less effective than two weapons you can carry in each hand.
There's a similar problem with the levelling up system. Each time you fill up your experience meter, you go up a level and get three new attribute points to distribute, and you can give your character additional skills such as melee attacks or improved archery prowess.
Problem is, there's no real feeling that you are actually stronger or healthier or whatever once you've assigned the extra points, and you can only assign additional skills to the triangle and circle buttons. If you want to swap them round you have to take your thumb off the analog stick and use the D-pad - not too easy when you're right in the middle of a battle.
In short, there's no real feeling of accomplishment when you level up, which means there's no real incentive to do anything other than belt through levels in a bid to get them over with quickly and move on.
This problem is compounded by the fact that there's no decent storyline to keep you playing, either. The plot revolves around some vague, clichéd nonsense about unknown forces threatening the centuries old peace and an ancient evil being resurrected etc. etc., and it's all told through a series of on-screen messages from a series of deeply boring characters.
They endlessly bang on about how the city faces imminent destruction from yet another band of evil attackers, and yet rather than, say, arm themselves or do a runner, they just stand around all day, in the same spot, waiting for you to bring them the Mystical Iron Goblet of Boon or whatever just so they can then pack you off to pick up something else.
That's basically all there is to the game - someone in Aven tells you to go and get something or kill someone because the city faces a terrible threat. You go off and do it, killing some enemies and gaining a bit of experience along the way. Then you go back to Aven and they say thanks, and tell you to go and see someone else, who tells you to go and get something or kill someone. There are side quests, but these always involve going to get something or kill someone in an area you've already been through already, and there are no great rewards on offer, so what's the point?
There is a multiplayer mode, where a maximum of four players can team up to go and get things and kill people, but we weren't able to try this out since Activision only sent us one copy of the game (which it has asked for back, interestingly...). Judging by the monotony of the single player game, we doubt that playing with friends adds much to the mix.
If there's anything good to be said about Untold Legends: BotB, it's that it does offer hours of gameplay, with loads of locations to visit and quests to go on. And the graphics aren't bad.
But since it's all so repetitive, you probably won't want to spend that many hours playing - we certainly didn't. As for that Containment Shard, Alyssia the Hateful is welcome to it, frankly. And she can have our copy of Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, too.
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