Untold Legends: The Warrior's Code
There's a reason they call it 'hack and slash'.
"Slay everyone in the palace, apart from the harem girls."
Damn straight - that's our kind of tyrant.
Unfortunately, slaughtering the men-folk in order to get your grind on with belly dancers isn't one of the playable objectives, but a command from the villain of Warrior's Code. But fear not, there's plenty of slaying to be done. That's pretty much all there is to the second chapter of the Untold Legends story.
Following Brotherhood of the Blade (which Eurogamer previously stabbed through the heart before chopping its head off for good measure), Warrior's Code thrusts players into a generic fantasy setting and challenges them to kill everything that moves. Gone are the random dungeons to be replaced by an emphasis on story, an extra playable character and a bigger online offering.
Built with all the staple action RPG ingredients, players' butcher and violate enemies in return for gold and experience. These can be spent on new attacks, increasing stats such as strength and speed, weapons and other such goodies. The five playable characters are made up of the familiar brutish, mysterious, heroic, dubious and minxy adventurers, and although there's not a sharp contrast between playing styles, there's a little variety for anyone wanting to specialise in smashing faces from a distance or smashing faces up close.
Although new attack methods have been added for this sequel, the fighting mechanic is still underwhelming. Characters can morph into a beastly alter-ego for a limited time providing a more powerful damage, and there are opportunity attacks and special moves to add variety. The problem is that the best form of destruction is to recklessly hammer a single button; something which quickly gets tiresome.
The enemy AI doesn't help itself, as it basically falls back on a mentality of ‘see good guy, charge at good guy'. Getting a clean shot with a ranged attack is possible, but it's easier to stand your ground and charge up an attack by holding down the X button, simply waiting for the fool to get within your swinging arc before letting him have it right in the chops. Attacks of opportunity - where an enemy lets his guard down in order for the player to take advantage of a weak spot - don't really add much to the mix either. Again, hammer the X button until he drops his guard, and then hammer it some more for good measure. There's also a worrying pause when being attacked by multiple enemies which causes the action to stutter.
Character upgrades initially seem exciting but on the battlefield it doesn't feel like you're growing or improving, just that enemies can take more damage as they grow in numbers. On the surface it seems that there's more to Warrior's Code than there was to Brotherhood of the Blade, but in practise, the streamlined inventory, the wider multiplayer options and tweaks to gameplay don't actually make much of a difference at all.
There are impressive, or at least entertaining, elements to Warrior's Code. The orchestral score is rousing and with its military drums, choral voices and haunting chimes it certainly sets the scene nicely. Especially once you've replaced the weak PSP headphones in favour of some bad-ass ear-goggles. In reality, I might be on the train to miserable Nuneaton, but it's nice to know I've got my own faux Hyborian Age or Middle-Earth in my palms with plenty of atmosphere to shut out the outside world. That the sharp sound effects of brutal man slaying foul villain is blighted by the drama-school screech of hideous voice acting is just something we have, in all honesty, come to expect from a video game.
The sense of scale is impressive too, and visually Warrior's Code does a good job of the environment - architecture, depth of terrain, chasms, foliage and a use of lighting and shade add a lot to the package. Unfortunately, the lack of detail elsewhere covers the diamond in too much dirt.
Where top down games such as X-Men: Legends or Baldur's Gate relish graphical intricacy and endlessly neat touches - detail and flourishes in character and items - Warrior's Code suffers from the fact that the majority of such things are just too small. It's mainly a practical problem of the PSP. A home TV with a big fat display is a great canvas to paint multiple lovely little details, but on the PSPs screen anything smaller than a playable character has a tendency to look like a colourful blob. On-screen prompts tell me I can pick up a discarded Faulty Bronze Wrist Blade (get used to the convoluted names), but in reality it just looks like any old shape. Potions and poisons are pin pricks of colour, other items are merely sparkly things. Big things look good, small thing look rubbish (although not as rubbish as ‘history'). Character design is quite intriguing, mixing the classic fantasy spikes and armour with primitive shotguns and flamethrowers, but on close inspection this also suffers from a lack of detail and definition.
The addition of a two-player co-op online mode is a bonus, and with communication through prompts on the D-pad it's perhaps more fun that trundling through the single player campaign on your lonesome. The other modes - standard four-player arse kicking - pass the time, but the game isn't really built with any kind of deep or tactical deathmatch play.
We wouldn't be too heartbroken if we woke to find one morning that a cheeky magpie had swooped down and pinched the shiny UMD from our modest collection of PSP titles. And it is a modest collection isn't it? Where are all the handheld-centric games? In comparison, if the feathered scamp had pilfered a copy of LocoRoco we'd most likely catch it, bake it in a pie and feed it to a stray cat.
Untold Legends: Warriors Code is an average entry-level action RPG. If you're a heavy user of wizards and orcs, you'll have probably played something very similar only last week. For those that don't often sniff their way around a dungeon, it's a time-killing stomp across barren plains, stinky sewers and drafty mountain ranges. See those bad guys? Go kill ‘em. And keep going and killin' until you run out of game. If you can handle the repetition.