Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade has been one of the most contentious launch titles for PSP. On the one hand, in the fury to publish PSP reviews as soon as the games are available, reviewers cannot really devote much time to each game. Although the story of Untold Legends can be completed in 20 hours, the game's design and presentation clearly suggest that it should take longer to enjoy this game, and to play it doggedly as one might play a new PS2 title or one of the console system ports¯ like THUG 2 Remix or Twisted Metal: Head On, seems to miss the point a little bit.
Let's take a look at exactly what Untold Legends wants to be. It's got some really nice looking visuals, so it's supposed to be pretty. Success there. Most reviewers and gamers agree that it looks great. Dynamic lighting gives each area a nice ambiance, and makes dank dungeon crawls feel danker. This makes it something that is fun to look at. Cool spell effects and a very nice controllable camera make it a good game for showing off the PSP to your new friends, too.
It's obvious that Untold Legends is mostly trying to be like other great hack-and-slash, dungeon crawl focused, isometric perspective games like Diablo, Dungeon Siege, Champions of Norrath, and Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance. It does better at that than many of these games, owing mainly to a streamlined menu system, lots of variety in growing and developing your character, and a very nice control scheme that facilitates convenience in your monster-thrashing.
There are lots of different monsters to slay throughout the game, from requisite vermin to ent-like tree monsters and other giant beasts. Scale is conveyed effectively throughout the game, and different enemies approach you with varying levels of zeal. Kamikaze baddies rushing you from a doorway are always good times, but as you increase in ability, so do your foes, and before long you'll find them ganging up on you and forcing you to rely on a bit more tactical gameplay.
What we have so far bodes well for the game. Now we just need a good story to pull it all together, and, folks, we've seriously got ourselves a new contender here. But this is where Untold Legends falls flat. The story is uninspired, and there is just no arguing against it. It's the same old, Oh my! Some mysterious thing has taken over the formerly pleasant spiders! Now the formerly pleasant wild men are attacking! Now the formerly pleasant¦¯ It goes on like that. You perform various fetch and extermination missions for folks working on cures to diseases and piecing together mysteries, but there's never much of a plot point to compel you towards action.
So why go easy on Untold Legends? It's because when confronted with this lack of impetus to continue on, I searched for another reason to keep playing. And I found two. First was my character.
The level of complexity in configuring and embellishing armor and weapons keeps you excited to try new equipment, which changes and shimmers with each modification, making your avatar that much more aesthetically pleasing to view. There are lots of spells and abilities to earn, and each one can be leveled up to gain new abilities and modifiers. Although the initial character creation options are pretty limited, within those boundaries, customization and development are satisfyingly deep.
But to earn all of these character endowments, one must play a lot of Untold Legends, which creates a potential Catch 22 where we get so stymied by the crap-tastic storyline that we can't bear to work hard enough to level up and earn gold. So here is where the second reason to keep playing Untold Legends comes into play: Pacing.
Console games are often making mistakes of pacing. The old save point's too far apart¯ issue is indicative of this. If Untold Legends were a home console game, there's little doubt that it would suffer from forcing you to endure too much cruddy storyline before rewarding you with a level-up. However, SOE really took things a different direction here, and it makes all the difference.
The dungeon crawls are shorter than on regular consoles. Leveling up happens every 15-20 minutes of gameplay, meaning you can play this before and after work every day for a week and make it a good way through the story. In general, the game is portioned into bite-sized chunks a bit more fitting for the mobile audience.
The synergy of all these elements makes Untold Legends relatively difficult to put down. If you're fortunate enough to know some folks with PSPs to play with in Ad-Hoc multiplayer mode, then the game is bliss. Cooperative play is always one of my favorites, and with each player enjoying a whole screen and camera all of the frustration of playing these isometric multiplayer titles (remember Hunter: The Reckoning?) is eliminated. Items can be traded and are plentiful enough to reward both users.
Online multiplayer is possible through XBConnect (which supports PSP now) and Xlink/Kai. These systems can be a pain to set up, and require a pretty robust online network, but they work, and you can find online Untold Legends clans. The online multiplayer suffers from the lack of immediate communication with your partner, making it much preferable to pow-wow around a coffee table with three friends and get some serious dungeon crawling action going. It makes Gauntlet seem like cave paintings.
The only other flaw that bears mentioning are the excruciating load times. Because of the bite-size missions, the loading issue is made even worse. This will be a major annoyance, especially to those for whom load times are a pet peeve.
In conclusion, fans of the hack-and-slash dungeon-crawl RPG should love Untold Legends. If you're more of the Final Fantasy type, or if you are a casual gamer looking for a good story, then Untold Legends will probably fail to hold your attention. But the crafting of the gameplay and customization to the PSP platform is so well done that Untold Legends should be recognized as a quality addition to any library.