Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Legend: Hand of God Review

By Zeus Poplar, Official Out of Eight Adventure and RPG Correspondent

Legend: Hand of God, developed by Master Creating and published by ValuSoft on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Superb combat animations, a handy side-kick, decent hack’n’slash gameplay
The Not So Good: Buggy audio, a skills tree in desperate need of watering
What say you? A great looking game in the tradition of Diablo, if only it played as good as it looked: 5/8

Help guide Targon on his quest to retrieve the magical woozit and defeat the evil foozle before really bad stuff happens to the Kingdom of Kingdomia. What am I saying? It's an action RPG! You run around, whack stuff, and collect loot. Legend: Hand of God starts off deep in the wilderness, so there's hours of exploration before the first town. The maps are large and crawling with monsters, and there are also a handful of encounters. Don't get too comfortable sitting around the fire, as those fellow travelers might really be Highwaymen.

The locations offer a lot of variety, from sunny fields with swaying grass to dark and misty graveyards. The graphics are gory and unusually cheery for a game of this type (though never intentionally over the top). As I ran, sparkling, through a field of pink flowers, a talking fairy guiding my sword, hacking monsters limb from limb until my clothes were soaked in blood, I began to wonder if the art designer was off his meds. There's a good deal of audio glitches, with actors reading dialog from other characters found later in the game. Save a woman's son and the text thanks you while the voice actress suddenly turns Southern and wonders what will become of her daughter. Targon randomly alternates between Superman confidence and Clark Kent insecurity. The music is a traditional fantasy score with Celtic influences, and an especially awesome theme is played whenever you topple a boss. It's the best victory song this side of Final Fantasy's fanfare.

A talking fairy serves as your mouse pointer and lantern, dynamically lighting caverns and moonless nights. She gave me a Navi flashback at first, always nagging me when she thought I should upgrade my boots or change my underwear. But she has some well written comedic lines, and, in time, I came to depend on her advice (“Run!”). Combat is enjoyable, if somewhat numbing, but once you get in the Zone, you’re hooked. You can assign attacks to your left, right and middle mouse buttons, though the middle is best used to zoom and rotate the camera. Battle animations are amazing, with the hero ducking to attack goblins and leaping to reach minotaurs, as opposed to other games, where you swing over a shorty’s head and whack at a giant's feet. I officially apologize for that earlier joke, because the art designers clearly knew their stuff.

At the start of the game, you pick two character classes out of ten, each with its own skills tree. I decided to play a Battle-Monk, a combination of Faith (Cleric) and Villain (Thief). When I took a look at my upcoming skills, I was more than a little disappointed. Except for Invisibility and two power attacks, the Villain class only offered passive skills like Critical and Dodge. The penultimate skills are some of the dullest I've ever seen. Play long enough and you can unlock Enemy Knowledge, which slightly reduces the enemy's chance of getting a critical hit. I can think of a better end-game skill for a Villain in about ten seconds: Nefarious Laugh. He tweaks his mustache, cackles "Nyah hah hah!" and enemies are either baited to attack or frightened and run away. It's a gamble, but it sure beats Enemy Knowledge.

When I tried to load a save and select another class, the game wouldn't let me. I could “continue,” but only after a save/quit. There's no going back to an earlier point if the player makes a mistake. This is fine in theory (it keeps things HARDCORE, yo!) but in practice, it's annoying as heck. Another problem is that skills quickly become obsolete. In Diablo 2, you could pump so many points into a first level skill that it was still useful even after better skills became available. Not so in this game. Upgrading the first-level Healing spell twice restores 55 health for 25 mana. Soon after, you can cast Blessings of the Keeper, which completely restores your health and gives you a 60 second buff all for just 35 mana. Why would you ever go back to Healing after that? You wouldn't. After two points, it becomes useless: serious balance issues. Blessings of the Keeper should have been saved for the mid- or end-game.

“The items are dull,” is the usual complaint from players of action RPGs. But my problem wasn't with the drops (which were fine). It's not just about finding junk and selling junk so you can buy more junk, it's about making a custom made hero, plotting your course, peering at those last few skills and wondering if they'll be as good as they sound. Looking into your future and wondering, "Is that all?" doesn't exactly make for compelling gameplay. But if you can't wait to get that Diablo 3 fix, you might want to give Legend: Hand of God a try. It even looks a bit like Diablo 3, with its sunny fields and controversial use of colors other than brown. Once I got into the groove, the combat was fairly addictive. And for all my complaints about the skills tree, the Faith class was better than any Action/RPG Cleric I've ever played, thanks to the thoughtful addition of lighting magic. But if you make a mistake and need to load your game, don't say I didn't warn you.