Based on the equally absurd TV show of the same name, Deadliest Warriors snuck onto Xbox Live Arcade back in 2010 amidst little fanfare and on the back of some very middling reviews. It should have disappeared without a trace, but thanks to positive word of mouth, a unique concept and a whole lot of bloodshed, Pipeworks Software’s ultra violent ‘what if?’ beat-em-up somehow went on to become a best seller. Little more than a year after its release, Deadliest Warrior returns, only this time with real historical figures.
Unlike the original which, like the show, pitted vague historical archetypes against each other to see who would come out on top, Legends employs specific characters from history in an attempt to give the game a little more personality. So, instead of getting ninja vs. pirate (which is admittedly rather cool), you now get William Wallace vs. Attila the Hun or Alexander the Great vs. Sun Tzu.
While a great idea on paper, the problem, like in the first game, is that all of the characters feel far too similar for the names connected to have any kind of meaning. There are a few unique moves, but for the most part, each character shares a very similar set of attack and weaponry options. They all have a short-range melee weapon, a long-range melee weapon and a projectile attack with no specific weapon or style doing enough to truly differentiate one character from another.
Sure, it’s cool to see these guys squaring off, but the underlying idea for the show, and the game, was to see which historical fighting style would come out on top? The question is therefore made all but redundant by the fact that each style plays out in just about the same way, thus stealing the game of its major selling point and any chance of serious longevity.
Still, if you can get over the lack of diversity, Legends is a brutal, unique and strangely compelling experience. It has rough edges galore, some terrible glitches and generally poor visuals but somehow it rises above its underlying issues to become a gratifying if depth-free fighter.
Legends’ biggest draw and most unique feature is its speed and brutality. Fights can end in a matter of seconds thanks to the constant threat of insta-kills. Believe me, this isn’t the flashy weapons-based fighting fans of Soul Calibur will be used to; bones break and limbs severe, often after a single attack. Like Bushido Blade before it, Legends is all about getting that single, telling attack in. One strike might not kill your opponent but chances are it will leave them seriously impaired and open to further attack. Of course, that’s not to say that one strike won’t kill them either. Attack at the right time and you can end a fight immediately – if if sword finds head, head is coming off. It’s that simple.
Using a similar system to that of its predecessor, Legends adds a few strategic elements to the combat that, while not always successful, certainly make this the more tactical package. With feints, pushes and grapples added to the mix, Legends offers a greater selection of killing manoeuvres. These new moves sometimes add to the already glitchy combat (just wait until you see some of the contortionist-style acts some of these guys pull off), but for the most part they are a welcome addition.
Even with the added depth though, most fights are still over in a matter of seconds. Get into a rock-paper-scissor like grapple and the three potential outcomes are: broken arm, broken leg or off with their head. It’s harsh, often unfair, but thanks to the immediacy of it all, really rather enjoyable. Amazingly enough, it also feels strangely unbalanced despite the fact that all combatants play in such a similar fashion. Deadliest Warriors: Legends isn’t the kind of game that is going to have you too worried about balancing issues though. As fun as it can be, this is certainly a short lived fighter. There is little depth to the combat and little reason to master each character’s skill set due to their inherent similarities.
You may not put hundreds of hours into it, but like Mortal Kombat before it, this is a fighter that shines in the multiplayer arena. Thanks to the games interesting cast of characters, violent combat and easy to learn mechanics, Deadly Warrior: Legends can be a great deal of fun when played with friends. It’s still entertaining enough for short bursts of single player action but the dim-witted AI make completion on even the hardest difficulty something of a doddle.
Of course, being that fights often last less than sixty seconds, Legends’ single player mode could have been potentially done and dusted in just a few minutes, but thanks to the inclusion of Generals Mode, it has at least a modicum of depth. Playing like a Risk-style strategy game, this mode sees you building up an army by taking on territories before finally fighting off in the traditional one-on-one manner for complete supremacy. It’s not the most taxing or strategic battle systems out there, but the large scale warfare certainly works well with the more intimate single battles. It’s kind of like that film Troy in which two armies go to war before deciding to get their two best fighters to scrap it out in order to determine the ultimate victor.
Deadliest Warriors: Legends also has an online mode, but honestly, the less said about that the better. The connection is poor, the drop-out rate is high and there are signs of obvious lag far too often. It’s playable but it certainly doesn’t compare to enjoying the game with a friend locally. There is also no option to take on the game’s Generals Mode in online play, which considering how entertaining it can be is a real shame.
Deadliest Warrior: Legends is that strange mix of being a reasonably bad game but one that is home to a raft of great ideas. If the same concept had been given the time and polish it deserves, you could have been looking at a serious contender in the beat-em-up genre, but as it stands, this is a buggy, ugly game that is more entertaining than it should be thanks to the brutality of its combat and the intensity that the potential for one hit kills can bring.
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