I skipped over Deadliest Warrior: The Game and Deadliest Warrior: Legends when they originally came out on Xbox Live Arcade. Having now played both titles in this recent compilation, Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat, my original decision was apparently for the best. Both of these games are pretty awful, but at least the second one was a small step in the right direction.
Before I go into what saps the fun out of these two titles, I'd like to talk about the compilation. Both games are packaged on a single disc, with an additional disc of a handful of "Deadliest Warrior" episodes from the Spike TV show. The episode disc is fine and is easily the best thing about the set, but the actual game disc is a bit odd.
When you first try to boot up the game after putting it in your disc drive, it'll force you into your game directory on the dashboard for the Xbox 360, where you pick between the two games as if you had downloaded them from Xbox Live. It seems odd that they didn't just create a menu selection on the disc so you could choose between the two, and it's annoying because you have to back out to the system dashboard if you want to switch between the two games.
It's also worth mentioning that while this is a retail release with all of the DLC included, it still gives you the option of buying the DLC again if you go into the downloadable content menus. Now, I hope that no one does this, but it's odd that it doesn't mark that as purchased content. Finally, just because it's a retail release doesn't mean that they bumped the Achievement scores up to a full 1,000; instead, both games with all DLC add up to a total score of 510, so if you care for that sort of thing, it's worth taking note.
Now, let's talk about the actual games. If you grew up in the '90s, right when Mortal Kombat was hitting the peak of its popularity, you might remember a number of games that tried to cash in on that hardcore, violent fighting game craze. A number of titles spring to mind, like Eternal Champions, Primal Rage, and even the oft-mentioned Thrill Kill that was canceled at the tail end of its development. For the most part, these games were pretty awful (sorry, Primal Rage fans) and proved that Mortal Kombat's success wasn't just about letting you rip out a spine or two.
Both of the Deadliest Warrior titles feel like throwbacks to that awful period in fighting game history, when everyone wanted to make the next Mortal Kombat but didn't know a thing about making an enjoyable fighting game. Everything about Deadliest Warrior's combat system feels half-baked, flimsy, and prone to luck more than skill. Certain concepts are neat in a novelty sense, like if my opponent shoots an arrow into my skull to start the match, it's an instant kill, but actually aiming or getting that arrow to do it seems to require dumb luck, not skill.
Combat is frustratingly random for me. Playing against the AI isn't so bad on normal, as it's easy enough to cheese your way to a victory. Ratchet up that difficulty, and you're going to run into some issues that can't be ignored. Random limb dismemberment takes you out of the game quickly, and while the game offers up the advice to strike quickly once you lose an arm, it never seemed like I could mount a counteroffensive before my character dropped to the ground.
Ancient Combat features online play, but good luck getting a game started. I was able to experience two matches in the course of nearly two weeks. What I did experience seemed to work fine; no lag issues were present, and the search and connection speeds were fast. However, it's pretty obvious that the online community for both of these games is pretty dead, and it's no longer a valid selling point for the title.
There are some differences between the two included titles, and the second entry is more polished than the first. The second game, Deadliest Warrior: Legends, gives you a character roster consisting of historical figures like Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great, whereas the original title opts for more generic characters, like Roman Centurions, an Apache and so on.
However, while the character models are different, most of the characters boil down to specific roles. While you're looking at a different skin, you'll find a lot of characters from both rosters feel remarkably similar, with the exception of available weapons. Before a fight, you can choose the weapons you'll take into combat, and during a fight, you can typically switch between mid-, short- and long-range weapons.
Each of the three weapon types has different reaches and strengths. Some are slower than others, while a handful has special properties, like the Apache's poison arrow variant that damages your opponent over time. The concept of different weapons is one of the few good ideas in the game, but there's not enough of a selection to capitalize on the concept.
One of the biggest differences between the two games is Generals mode, which is found in Deadliest Warrior: Legends. It's like Risk in that you get an overworld map that allows you to fight for territory against another opponent, either online or offline. Each space on the map has a number value, and if your current number is higher than the adjacent space, you can attempt to invade. Virtual armies battle it out off-screen for control of the invaded space, with the goal of capturing all of your opponents' locations. If you end up landing on a castle or structure space, you'll go into a standard one-on-one fight against the opposing general.
Running through the basic arcade single-player mode for each game gains you unlocks for more weapons and armor types, but the armor seems to do little more than give you a different skin for the selected character. Ranged weapons are also present, like the bow and arrow for the Apache, but you'll have limited projectiles on hand.
Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat won't win any awards in the visual and audio fields. Neither entry looks particularly bad, but the character animations feel really stilted and jarring, especially when compared to other 3-D fighters on home consoles. This game may basically be budget priced, but it's not particularly pretty. There's nothing catchy about the music, and some of the sound effects sound off, especially when clashing a sword against shields.
If you're a major fan of the TV show, then Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat might be appealing as a novelty, but don't expect much in the way of serious action. If you really want to check it out, skip this release and buy the second game on Xbox Live Arcade. If I had to continue playing the game after writing this review, it's the only game of the two that'd be remotely interesting. I suppose the included DLC is a bit of a bonus, but beyond a handful of characters, you aren't missing much.
For everyone else, whether you're a hardcore fighting fan or just casually curious, avoid Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat like the plague. It's not fun to play, it's not fun to watch, and there are a lot of similarly priced fighting games on the market that are way better. I do not recommend picking up this title.
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