Thursday 29 June 2006
Even above the whirr and click of the UMD drive, you can hear the gears turning. It's the sound of Sony Online Entertainment's machinations moving tirelessly to turn what at first was a relatively impassive dungeon hack into a franchise.
Where Brotherhood of the Blade limply draped a narrative over its satisfyingly proficient mechanics, The Warrior's Code wants to elaborate; it wants you to know its lore; it wants you to flip through its bestiary and know its creature's individual quirks; it wants you to remember it by name.
Above: Still present from the first is Untold Legends' fantastic sense of weight and impact
Character is what separates this from the original and, while it still falls short of lending true purpose and pathos to your quest, even a small dose of personality goes a long way in engaging you with its world.
Functionally, though, Warrior's marked improvement is in its streamlining, which neatly nips and tucks away the frayed edges that marred the first. The palette on to which all equipment was previously scattered has now been stacked, sorted and compartmentalised by item, neatly stripping the chore out of stock-taking.
While still comprised of an interlocking set of overworld and dungeon pieces, gone too are the frequent memory-bending hunts to re-locate previously seen locations, thanks to scenario-specific maps that let players instantly warp to and from landmark points as you move through the game's tightly-woven story.
This frees up all remaining attention for the combat and, unfortunately, it's here that the light shines through the seams. In every instance that Brotherhood practised careful restraint in order to retain its single, driving focus, Warrior's Code shifts and itches to show off all its new tricks.
Above: Ranged weapons aren't always a feasible option with an ever-advancing opponent
From a simple but respectable selection of one ranged and one melee attack and two magic attacks, Warrior's Code has bullied its way on to every remaining free button on PSP's face with charged attacks, six concurrent selections of magic attacks, showy attacks of opportunity, shape-shifting attacks, all of which - as welcome as customisation and the freedom for varying play styles might be - in the end only muddle the experience.
And, what's worse, is that they rarely prove more effective or necessary in single play than the repetitive one-note mash that defines the genre.
Its renewed mission structure, too, comes off worse for the improvement. Whether dreaded escort missions pairing you with entirely useless partners, hunts to destroy specific unmarked camps, or timed escape-the-area dashes, for all the momentary and refreshing thrills the new introductions bring, they ultimately feel at odds with the game's underlying structure.
In its race to improve upon itself, The Warrior's Code essentially has forgotten when to say no. Pulling itself outward in every direction at once, it stretches thin where it should be richest: at its core.