The original Untold Legends title, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, was both uniquely intriguing and, admittedly, rather imperfect. This is quite understandable, though; the developers worked on the game for a grand total of six months, four of which were spent on a PSP development kit. With a schedule like that, flaws are to be expected. Now, however, with more familiar hardware and an extended production cycle, Sony Online Entertainment is aiming to improve upon Brotherhood of the Blade's shortcomings and tell their legend the way it was meant to be told.
"With the Untold Legends franchise, we're pushing away from a lot of the fantasy stereotypes and exploring the potential of what fantasy can be away from just elves and dwarves," says lead designer Bill Trost. While this philosophy was mildly evident in the first title, Untold Legends: Warrior's Code is attempting to really take this ideal and run with it. A more in depth and compelling story -- which involves the player's existence as a member of a race that is being systematically exterminated by the insidious empire that rules the land -- will be played out through a number of rendered cutscenes, complete with voice acting.
The improvements for Warrior's Code come in more ways than through a deeper, more engaging story. Many of the mechanics of the game are being either completely redone or are receiving large tweaks. For example, the unwieldy mouse-interface used for Brotherhood of the Blade's menu screens has been replaced by a faster, more efficient grid system.
In addition, combat -- which placed a great deal of emphasis on mashing the X button in the previous title -- has been streamlined and upgraded with a deeper move set and an inclusion of animation sensitive special attacks. For clarification, when an ogre attempts an overhead crushing maneuver with its hammer and misses, the hammer will stick in the ground for a few seconds. By pressing the square button at a moment such as this, players can perform a cripplingly powerful attack. In the case of the ogre, one's avatar will perform a spinning crush attack on the monster that will send all nearby enemies flying. Also, being part of an ancient race and all, the player's character is privy to a certain "transformation." Once a number of glowing spirit orbs have been collected, the player may trigger a metamorphosis that changes their warrior into an extremely powerful, bestial manifestation. "We're trying to update what action RPG combat means without losing that fast and frantic feeling," says Trost, who believes these simple but interesting additions are, "...enough that it feels like you're doing something a little more than just pressing X, but not so much that you feel like, 'Oh crap, I have a bunch of combos to memorize'." Of course, no improved battle system would be complete without revamped enemy AI. While distinct details aren't yet know, Sony Online Entertainment has clarified that enemies will do much more than attack or retreat this time around.
Part of the first Untold Legends's appeal was its unique character classes, and this fact hasn't been disregarded in the sequel. New classes include the massively rotund Disciple, the lurking Prowler, and the nimble Scout.
Furthermore, the progression and enhancement of these characters has been drastically altered. Gone is the hackneyed 20-point tree system that has been passed down since the days of Diablo II. In its stead, Sony Online has implemented a tier system that prevents the unnecessary "waste" of skill points on prerequisite abilities that might never get used. For example, assume that a character starts the game with a lightning spell. Putting points into the first tier will increase its strength. When the second tier is unlocked, the points invested in that tier might work towards adding a chain effect to the spell. A third tier might even give the spell a paralyzing nature. A total of fifteen skills per class is planned. Moreover, passive effects, such as the opportunity to score a critical hit on every strike or a mana regeneration bonus, have been migrated from the skill tree to a number of runes. Each character in Warrior's Code has two inventory slots where these runes -- which are located in the world exactly like any other loot -- may be equipped or overwritten at any time. A character's runes level up proportionately to the character, so it is entirely feasible for a player to keep the same bonus throughout the entire game and have it's power in scale to their avatar's. Another change to character customization is through "weapon exclusivity," or the fact that each class may now wield only its exclusive style of weapon. While this might appear to hamper the customization that is so essential to action RPG's, the effect is the exact opposite, as there are a number of weapon models for each class, all of which look rather different. This weapon exclusivity, in turn, paves the way for a greatly improved attack-animation set, as the team isn't constricted by having to compensate for weapon designs of varying dimensions. For example, the Prowler will attack with swift, agile motions, while the Disciple will swing his polearms in wide, sweeping arcs.
Broader animations aren't the only difference in the art department, though. With the additional time, the art department took it upon themselves to ditch the "generic-western-fantasy" look that plagued the previous game. "We really wanted to say, 'Okay, let's really develop a style and make it unique'," said senior artist Todd Luallen. This desire is rather obvious in both the concept art and character renders, which showcase exaggerated proportions and flowing, organic shapes. The randomly generated dungeons of the preceding title have also been scrapped in favor of hand-crafted environments, which, with the new game engine, will allow for more varied and captivating settings, along with a decent number of scripted encounters and complex labyrinths.
The multiplayer mode in Warrior's Code has been magnificently upgraded as well. Full Internet co-op dungeon hacking is planned, along with a matchmaking system that will pair players with similarly leveled companions. Much like Diablo II or Phantasy Star Online, players will also be able to host a game, start it, and have other players arrive at any time. Furthermore, the development team is attempting to remedy the slowdown problem that hampered the first game.
A release of February, 2006 is currently planned for Untold Legends: Warrior's Code. RPGamer will report more on this title in the future should any new information arise.