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PS3 Preview - 'Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom'

by Hugh McHarg on May 15, 2006 @ 2:42 a.m. PDT

Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom will set the standard for next-gen action-RPGs by delivering an immersive fantasy experience through its breath-taking graphics, dramatic storyline, and action-packed battles filled with heart-pounding combat, magical spells and brilliant SFX.

Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: Fall 2006

Why Do Kings Always Listen to Really Bad Advice?

Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is an action role-playing game due out on launch day for the PS3. Dark Kingdom places a clear emphasis on the action half of that genre tag, though from what SOE revealed about the story at E3, it sounds like there will be no shortage of drama. You play as one of your king's elite soldiers who's been on a long journey at the kingdom's edge, conquering new lands for the glory of your sovereign, only to discover he's not so sovereign after all. See, the king has fallen under the spell of an evil force, Wormtongue style, and has begun to enslave the people of the inner provinces. It turns out that, as you've been helping expand the borders of the empire, the king has begun torturing his subjects to extract the dark energy he needs to transform his loyal soldiers into a fearsome demonic army. When you finally get wind of these goings on, you haul it back toward the seat of power to put things right.

Dark Kingdom will let you choose from three classes – warrior, mage or scout – as you set about taking back the realm for the forces of good. The SOE guy took me through an outdoor scenario as a warrior wielding a giant battle-ax-looking weapon that made quick work of several skeletons and skeleton archers. The combat promises more combo options than you might expect from a typical action RPG, and indeed our warrior did a decent amount of juggling the Corrupted Infantrymen standing between him and justice.

Magic and the unique, developing skills of each class will play an important role in combat, too, beyond the basic attacks and three-button combos. Even the warrior can pound the ground with his ax and let loose a stream of flaming magic in a ranged attack that explodes skeletons into buckets-full of bones. Mages will come with devastating magical attacks like a gravity manipulation spell that takes down a group of foes at once, and scouts will be able to use stealth and deception tactics, like projecting a mirror-image decoy, to help them complete their objectives in ways that are more true to their class characteristics.

The demo wasn't all about hacking and slashing, though, as Dark Kingdom makes serious use of its Havok physics for combat and for providing more than one way for you to approach obstacles. The demo warrior, being a strong sort, picked up several boulders and tossed them at Corrupted Infantrymen and a Pyromancer pegging him with flame spells from a distance. You'll be able to do the same with ignitable barrels and enemies themselves, using items in the environment as projectiles when it best suits the combat situation or your whim. The emphasis on integrating physics into gameplay also will give you choices you may not have had otherwise. To infiltrate an enemy fort, for example, you'll be able to scale the wall, plant some exploding barrels near the wall, or knock boulders down a nearby hill to crash through the gate. Such things as the boulder's path are completely determined by the physics engine, too; they don't play out in pre-scripted animations.

Dark Kingdom is about the action, not inventory management, so you won't have to worry about maintaining a stash of potions in your inventory slots. Instead, when you kill the king's corrupted minions, they drop orbs of mana, health and essence, the game's currency you can spend on armor and weapon upgrades at checkpoints scattered throughout the land. This also helps keep the focus on the combat, as before you challenge more deadly enemies, you'll need to slaughter a few underlings to fill up on mana and health to be prepared for the bigger battle. Further simplifying the health and magic system, fountains that dispense free resources rotate colors that indicate what type of resource is available at a given time. You'll be able to chill for a second and wait for whatever you need to roll around before you hit the button to fill up, and you won't have to run around looking for fountains of a specific type, as they all vend everything you need.

The visuals in the forest demo level were near complete, with a bright, hazy sunrise on the horizon, windblown leaves drifting across the screen from time to time, and detailed armor on the warrior that matched the intricacy of Oblivion's Daedric gear. The Corrupted Infantry enemies sported complex tattoos, while the warrior wore the wavy hair of the supremely just. Most impressive was the Slaver mini-boss, a chubby giant swinging a massive, scary meat cleaver. Dark Kingdom will feature at least six visual themes for the levels, including caverns, the ever-popular sewers, and the royal palace.

The single-player campaign is estimated at 15-20 hours in length. Four-player online co-op and two-player split-screen co-op will extend the experience as you take on the king's dark forces with a few of your friends. You'll get some versus action online, too, in the form of deathmatches that play out in arena settings, more of which will eventually be available to download. The devs also are experimenting with entertaining ways to work the physics integration of the single-player game into the multiplayer options – for example, an arena that spawns tons of monsters worth points to whoever kills them first, forcing you to fight for points, but also to keep your human opponents from scoring enough to reach the point limit before you do.

Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom has a certain Jade Empire vibe to it, though it promises to deliver a more fleshed-out battle system and to outdo that great-looking title with its next-gen sheen. The developers are genuinely interested in making all the tech work for the benefit of the action and for the player's sense of being a fully empowered participant in a world full of combat options. We'll get to see how that effort has paid off come this November when Dark Kingdom arrives in the first crop of titles for the PS3.

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