Legend: Hand of God

This time, I have a tiny kitten in my lap, and a shiny new videogame to review!

Today we look at Legend: Hand of God. I know nothing about this game, but the kitty has already taken a nap on it, thus signifying it as good.

Having passed the Cat Scan, let’s take a look at Legend: Hand of God.

As mentioned, the box is shiny. Much like a bird of prey in the gaming aisle, I am attracted to shiny things. Seriously, you have no idea how many times I nearly bought the shiny box of EverQuest.

Legend is a PC DVDROM in a nice slim case. I like this trend, the game box is no bigger than an average movie, making it much easier to store, or display and appreciate for it’s shinyness. (NOTE TO GAME DEVELOPERS: SHINY BOXES = GOOD)

Now before I continue, I must make a statement. I am sure someone is going to complain at me for choosing a game based solely on its shinyness. This is not the reason I chose it. This is the reason I picked it out of the sea of not-shiny boxes. I chose it because much like my last review, it involved swords, and hitting things with them.

I will not lie, I am an avid RPG gamer, it is my favorite genre. You will be seeing a lot of them on this site. I chose games I’ve never heard of, directly off the rack. This site stands as a true testament to the power of proper marketing.

So, let’s pop the game in the drive, shall we?

Play Time:
Step 1: Open the box. This is simple, as it’s just a standard DVD case. A manual is contained inside(which I will not be reading) and of course the DVD. Into the drive with you!

Step 2: Installation! My computer does not autoexe, so I’ll just be opening My Computer. Opening screen looks nice and simple, all your basic options of install, close, install DirectX, and oh look! ‘Install PhysX™’. I have never seen that before. Let’s try it!

Ageia PhysX, I have no idea what this program does but if the name is any indicator it… might have to do with physics? I will also mention at this time that this game loudly proclaims to have been made by THQ. If you care. I don’t.

I should point out that after playing this game for a bit, I have determined that PhysX is a physics engine. It is utterly and completely wasted on this game. No, seriously, there were a few loose items scattered around the floor for me to kick around. Physics did not seem to be a factor in the characters or any part of the game I played, items you could pick up and drop did not use it. It appeared to exist for the soul purpose of kicking around some junk on the floor. Now, given that an engine like this probably cost a few million bucks to license, I have got to ask: what were these devs thinking?!

I first wrote a nice paragraph phrasing the installation of Legend, until I discovered that it had lured me into a false sense of security, before barfing one of those full-screen installers across all three of my monitors. In the background it’s busy showing me screenshots of the game, wasting valuable system resources on crap while it could be installing my game slightly faster. The reduced speed gave me time to write this paragraph all about how much I hate the installer!

Oh look, one final nail in the installer’s coffin: it wants me to reboot my computer. For a videogame.

This game is so loosing at least half a sticker for this…

Now, as I look over this review for posting, it is a few weeks later, I have played the game extensively, taken many screen shots, and written an exhaustive review. I still have not rebooted my computer.

Step 3: Play! Well before I begin, this game does have a feature I appreciate: the ability to configure the graphics OUTSIDE of the game. This can make life so much easier… Way way back in the misty depths of time, I was running a really bad computer. I was in 8th grade, had no money, and liked videogames a lot. There were so many games I can remember popping in, where it would launch with default settings, and my first mission after watching the opening videos creep by at approximately 1 frame every 3 seconds, was to shakily get the cursor over the ‘options’ button and crank everything down to minimum. So while I now have a high-end machine, I still really appreciate when games give me the option to set up everything outside the game. It’s also especially valuable since for some reason the developers simply ASSumed I was running at a 16:9 aspect ratio, instead of, you know, checking like So. Many. Other. Games.

But, it does look like Legend might support my wacky 3072x768 resolution after all, so that might be a plus. I play games exclusively at 1024x768 or 3072x768, none of that 16:9 stuff for me.

Pretty Environments! ...slightly warped UI.

So leaving the loverly graphics settings alone save for the screen res, we launch.

Well, this game has now officially impressed me. All the neat opening videos, including the opening FMV, adjusted themselves accordingly to support my wacky aspect ratio. To be clear, I never expect this from a game. I do find it very cool when developers go that extra mile, and deem it worthy of props.

So, let’s see how the game itself holds up to the Standard Rick Austinson RPG Rating Criteria. The clock has already started.

The fine jerks who made this game, decided to include an incredibly annoying feature. When you push ‘print screen’ instead of functioning like the inventors of the ‘print screen’ function and probably God intended, the game automatically saves your screenshot to some folder which took me 10 minutes to find, and offers you no visual indication that A)this has occurred, or B)where to find your screenshots. Feel free to take this up with the developers; I’ll just strike off another half-sticker.

Just like the words I use to describe the load screen...

Now I should mention I’ve already had to end-task this game once. It started out simply enough and had me alt-tabing without issue, then at one point I tabbed back into it and my little fairy companion(the game calls her a ‘light elf’ despite the fact that she is CLEARLY a fairy) was droning on about some nonsense I neither knew nor cared about, and despite my frantic clicking I could not seem to regain control of my character. We are off to a rocky start.

My second time in game found me back on the screen with my annoying fairy, with no sign of a way to return to the normal interface menu. Since the splash screen is annoying and slow, we will be giving this one more try.

The save-continue screen is extremely annoying. It’s a fun gimic the first time, after that it just gets old. Apparently THQ still thinks animated save/continue screens are a neat idea. (HINT: they’re not.)

Anyway, now that I’m actually IN the game, let’s move on.

In terms of how I rate my RPG experience, this one is ‘high’, as by the time I finally got in-game, I didn’t have to wait real long before I got to hit something with my sword. Oh yes, another bonus: actually started with a sword! Take that every game that ever started me off with a stick! In your face!!!

The opening is really good, you get in, have a brief conversation with your cursor, then go stab stuff. The cursor is a really neat innovative feature in this game, it’s a Light Elf/Fairy that acts as your companion and guide. It also doubles as a flashlight. She tells you useful things like reading signs, and when your health is low. I actually found this feature really neat, it was a good way to introduce a companion to the main character that doesn’t get involved in combat.

I am also happy to say that my character is fairly bad-ass from the get-go. I say this based on the notion that he did not die within the first five minutes of game play. Combat is intuitive; I didn’t need a manual to figure out how to attack. My fairy won’t shut up, but hey, she’s actually pretty good company.

I was absolutely delighted upon encountering my very first merchant and discovering that the cheapest item for sale cost 100 gold, and I had managed to obtain a total of 8. Nice work. However, this annoyance was short lived, as items drop like candy from piñatas, and sell for reasonable amounts. One good mark for this game, is it lacks the stupid ‘mercantile’ skill so prevalent in RPGs. Simply put, items have X value, a vender will give you X gold for the item. Why waste skill points on that?

RPGs generally tend to take 1 of 2 approaches to money and vender-sold items in-game. Either money is extraordinarily scarce and all venders carry extremely expensive but amazing items you will have to farm forever to get, OR money drops like candy from mob-shaped piñatas but the venders don’t sell any worth-while items. Honestly I prefer the later, since nearly every game makes spamming heal potions a major part of game-play, and I like being able to afford those.

And yet another unbelievably annoying feature presents itself: When you save and reload, all the mobs respawn! FUN! This came make clearing an area nigh impossible, unless you do it all in one sitting. Eventually I just alt-tabbed and left the game minimized. This worked better than I expected.

Death in-game: not so bad, initially. You do not appear to loose any items and only a little experience, just respawn at a rock your fairy spent a long time talking about. Thing is, you might respawn really really far from where you died. Just make sure you keep activating them runestones. The game is pretty much linear, so forward!

The game has a feature called Runestones where you respawn after death. Supposedly, these ‘runestones’ can be used to teleport around the map. Except you can’t teleport to one when enemies are nearby. Since there will ALWAYS be enemies near EVERY SINGLE RUENSTONE ON THE MAP, this feature is basically useless. Expect to spend a lot of time walking.

A LOT of time.

Hello Runestone, you are useless.

Just a quick note for all you playing along at home: the ‘tab’ key toggles your minimap on and off. This information is not mentioned anywhere in any of the game’s documentation or in the ‘keyboard’ options. -1/2 sticker for a stupid undocumented option that no one will use.

So like most games, Legend tries to have a neat, immersive plot. Fortunately, they started with a decent concept and built on that. Before I got to play the game, I was treated to around five minutes of cinematic. Beautiful CG, but have you noticed how little most cut scenes actually apparently have to do with the game?

This, my fellow gamer, is easily explainable: there are cutscene artists, who spent all day building cutscenes for a game that is still being made. They don’t’ necessarily work in the same building or for the same company as the level designers who built the levels to the game.

Now, atop 5 minutes of pretty video, I got another good 10 of listening to NPCs yammer on about the plot. Let me distill it all down for you: Kill Demons.

Well, that’s pretty much all you need.

This being said, I was just beyond delighted to discover that by taking on The Path of the Warrior and The Path of Faith, I was able to become a bonifide paladin! I appreciate any game that lets me become a paladin.

Legend actually scores some good points on the Story category. It’s simplistic enough, straight forward RPG fair, but it does actually draw you in from the get-go. It doesn’t try to be mysterious or suspenseful(trying is the first step to failing). Kill demons, find a magic amulet, destroy a demon-spewing portal. That’s the entire plot of Legend in a nutshell.

Three hours ago, I was on the other side of this tree. ****ing Tree.

I actually really enjoyed the banter between the main character(Targon), and his little fairy-friend. It was an amusing touch of humor.

This is one other neat aspect of Legend. I have seen a lot of games recently that try hard to deepen player immersion by allowing the player to customize every single aspect of their avatar. While it’s fun to play dress up, I actually find that this breaks player immersion, since the game has to be carefully constructed around whatever the player wants. For example, in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, it felt really odd the way no one EVER addressed me by name. They always spoke to me as ‘you there’ in the dialogue. In Legend, since you take on the roll of Targon, all the dialogue refers to you by name, and you even get to meet old friends who comment on things from your past. From a story-aspect, it makes the game feel more immersive.

Otherwise, the plot is extraordinarily straight-forward and linear. Now I have attended numerous seminars on none-linear storytelling, and it is a great way to do things. But linearity need not become a four-letter word in game design. No game should ever be faulted for being ‘to linear’. There are many different ways to tell a story, and the three act structure is not dead.

All that said, Legend’s plot can be summed up as simplistically as ‘kill demons’. I can’t say I actually need any more ‘plot’ out of my video game experience, can you?

Camera controls are a bit annoying. You can pan around by holding the scroll wheel, and zoom in and out with same, but you can only change the camera’s angle with the up and down arrow keys, and then you can only shift between 2 presets.

This is especially annoying when the engine demonstrates it ability to draw other view angles. When you enter the inventory screen, the camera actually zooms down and shows a more detailed picture of your character in the game world. That includes drawing objects in the game world. When the camera angle is changing, it draws you an almost first-person perspective all the way to the horizon. I guess the developers just didn’t feel like including a skybox.

Movement is click-to-move, but my lil’ avatar seems to be blessed with decent obstacle-avoidance, and the games collision detection is good. I wouldn’t have minded a nice WASD scheme, but nothing’s perfect.

The loading screen takes a hit for sheer annoyance. Every single time you want to play the game, expect to be treated to about 5 seconds of a camera slowly panning around a guy in a room full of arches. Expect to see this animation twice; once to load up the load screen, then again to load up the game. This animation is unskipable. It’s kinda cool the first time, it’s coolness half-life is very short, so by the time you’ve owned the game for three days and played it once or twice a day, you will loath this screen.

Lastly, there is the games fairly annoying in-game interface system. Your character has a wide variety of skills and abilities to play with, but instead of allowing you to just bind these different abilities to hot-keys, you have to create hot keys which move them to your left mouse button. So, let’s say you’ve got your default button set to attack, but you want to cast a healing spell. You first have to hit the hotkey to change attack to heal, then you click the mouse to heal, then you have to hotkey back to attack before you can attack again. Meanwhile, if they just let you assign heal directly to a hotkey, you could turn a 3-step process into one step.

This hotkeying issues essentially limits you to two buttons in combat. However, if those two buttons are attack and heal(Paladin hacks FTW), you really won’t have to much trouble.

Environments/Graphics: Graphics are good. My odd resolution kind of messes with the perspective, but someone playing this on a normal rig with one of those new-fangled 16:9 monitors shouldn’t have any trouble.

It is worth noting that Legend offers a feast of configuration options, allowing you to tweak the game to your setup. I had no problems making the game run well on my odd resolution. I also had no trouble making it run on a single monitor. Options available make all sorts of crazy configs viable.

Graphics are definitely better than Dawn of Magic, but the game is also newer. The perspective forced by the camera angles make it difficult to appreciate the graphical world.

Trees look a little awkward as you’re coming up on them. It looks like the engine is drawing them so they’ll look right to your character, but neglecting the fact that you are on a birds-eye camera. Hence, you see some kind of weird stuff.

The mobiles are really nice. Not overboard on the triangles, but smooth and well-textured. And, delightfully enough, they take visible damage when you hit them. And not just randomly, damage does actually appear where your weapon struck(roughly).

Animations are also good. They are fluid, well-thought out, and connected. When your character does an overhand swing, he follows through with an underhand on your next attack. It’s a minor detail, but it makes the combat a whole lot less repetitive to watch. Depending on your equipped weapon, your character has about three or four attack animations, with different possibilities following each attack. This makes the combat seem more realistic. Additionally, combat seems to vary according to the enemies! Whine I was fighting little goblins, by character would attack one way. Then, when I went up against a giant cave troll, he actually started leaping into the air to hit them on their chests(which were about 2 feet higher than his head). This is a particularly thrilling detail, as in most RPGs you would simply find yourself attacking the taller mob’s crotch.

The environments are a bit annoying. Pretty, but really limited. For example, there was a tree in the road at one point. Now, if I were on foot, I could very, very easily have walked around this tree or climbed over it. But not in legend, no, I had to walk halfway across the bloody continent to find a way around it. Basically, you are limited in your interactions with the terrain. But I get it, they weren’t trying to make a platformer, and I did not encounter any platform elements in game play(there isn’t even a jump button). And honestly, I would much rather play a game that simply avoids platformer elements, rather than one that tries halfheartedly to include them and fails(Curse you, Final Fantasy 8. Curse you!).

There is also one graphical feature which I feel the need to praise. Your in-game cursor is your little fairy companion(who is sometimes very amusing). Your companion also doubles as a very effective light source. Wait, let’s see if that’s clear: your fairy companion lights your way. A light? In a game? That lets you see stuff? Bestill my beating heart!

A major pet-peeve of mine has always been dark levels. I fail to understand why game designers would go through all the trouble of creating a detailed, immersive environment, then make it so dark you can’t see of gosh darn thing! This drives me insane, because I spend an awful lot of money on video cards and monitors, and I do not appreciate all that hardware being wasted to paint my screen black. I could put a broken monitor I found in the alley on my desk and get the exact same effect for free. Lights, people, lights!

I have had people tell me that the darkness is attempting to create a ‘mood’. I call these people idiots. Videogames are a highly visual art form, they should not be so dark you can’t see a darn thing!

But Legend: Hand of God turns your cursor into a flashlight! I am so enamored by this feature; I’m going to give back the half-sticker the game lost for having an annoying loading screen!

While I miss the ‘smash everything’ aspect of Dawn of Magic, the design appears solid and well-thought out. Gameplay is intuitive and enjoyable, and not particularly repetitive.

It is also eerily similar to World of Warcraft in a lot of aspects. As a recovering Wow addict, I have many problems with this. On the one hand, it simulates the 5 or 6 features of Wow I actually enjoyed, while spicing things up with about 80 or 90 other features I REALLY like; but then, on the other hand, it feels like WoW!

WoW similarities aside, Legend is a potion-spamming game. There are of course many factors that determine your victory in combat, but the number of healing potions you have on hand is a major one.

Fortunately, Legend does a potion-spamming game right. Healing potions are dirt-cheap(100 gold), and drop fairly plentifully in the world. They are not so common that you will be guzzling them like oxygen, but if you use your potions intelligently, you will have little trouble keeping enough on hand.

Mana potions, on the other hand, turned out to be just slightly less common than hydrogen. Despite guzzling them down like an alcoholic falling off the twelve-step plan into a bourbon factory, I still managed to have close to 50 around at all times.

Now, as a paladin, I found that by using the healing spell and mana potions, and knowing when to hit the heal button so it wouldn’t be interrupted, I was able to do most of my adventuring without needing TO many healing potions, and was able to save those for when I got into a lot of trouble. So even though I had to fill up nearly half my inventory with little blue and red bottles, it all worked out great.

It is an interesting facet of the genre, but in nearly every game, red is health and blue is mana/spell points. Some annoying developers who believe in being different for the sake of being different may find it necessary to change this, but I ask why? Electricians use red wires to signify charge and black wires to signify ground. If one electrician came along and decided ‘you know what? I’m gonna use green fore charge and blue for ground’, he would get beat up by all the other electricians. Now, I know changing colors of potions in games isn’t nearly as dangerous as changing standard wire colors, but the point is: being different for the sake of being different is pointless. If you have some reason, if you have some motivation, if you have some clear-cut explanation for why you are going to change the colors, great; but don’t deviate from established norms just because they are established and normal.

The End Result:
Legend: hand of God is a good game. However, it is a game of extremes. The things that are cool are REALLY COOL, while the things that are annoying are REALLY ANNOYING. So, I have to give this game a 4 out of 5:

Really, it is good. I had a pleasant game play experience, which despite being somewhat repetitive did not get old. I wasn’t reduced to tediously farming the same area over again to get enough money to buy health potions and progress to the next zone. I was able to advance fairly quickly.

On the whole, this game did a lot of things right, and if the handful of minor annoyances weren’t so insanely annoying, it would be a very clear 5.

However, I will find myself continuing to play Legend, even after I have completed this review, because it really is a good game.

Final Thoughts:
I recommend this one for the RPG gamer. It’s not the most awesomest game you’ll ever play, but if you pick it up you probably won’t be disappointed.

Armor, complete with skirt of +9 Sexyness