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Legend: Hand of God Review

by Michael "txa1265" J. Anderson, 2008-09-24

 

It wasn't until well after the initial release that we got our kids the GameCube with the Legend of Zelda Collector's Edition and I played some of Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time and discovered why so many people hated characters such as Tingle and Navi in those otherwise great games. Enough so that IGN had a 'Die, Tingle, Die!' campaign in 2004 hoping to persuade Nintendo not to include him in Twilight Princess! Why do I mention this? Well, if you haven't guessed yet, there is a character introduced at the very beginning of Legend: Hand of God that reminds me of one of those characters. And that just isn't a very good way for a game to start off.

In my recent review of Space Siege, one of the first comments noted that it was a waste of words for such a lousy game...and I appreciate that feedback. So while I will dig into details for those who are interested, I am going to pull out a tool I regularly use in my professional like and present you with an 'Executive Summary' before the meat of the review.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Legend: Hand of God is a single-player game in the action-RPG genre created by developer Master Creating. Their prior entry was 2005's highly flawed but promising Restricted Area, an action-RPG in a post-apocalyptic setting. That game had many technical issues as well as an unremarkable overall feeling, and suffered from poor localization and terrible voice acting in the English translation. Legend: Hand of God features improved visuals, hand-crafted dungeons, a varied class system and skill tree. But the game is wrought with bugs and bad voice acting and a character that is annoying and won't ever be quiet. Whether you play for an hour, once through or with every class, you can rest assured that what you see is what you get: an average 'Diablo clone' that samples only the core features from the genre and adds nothing back.

And now ... for the Rest of the Story

Of course, there is more to the story than just dismissing this as an "average Diablo clone", because there have been good and bad games that could be dismissed that way, some of which have been very much worth playing. So let me spend a bit of time looking at the technical and role-playing aspects of Legend: Hand of God and equip you better to make your own choice.

The setup (or premise, or 'story' if you must have one) is that an old struggle between the demons of the Shadow and the warriors of the Flame resulted in the demons being defeated and kept at bay by an eternal 'Holy Flame'. The main character Targon is an orphan raised by the Keepers of the Flame, who eventually fail to protect the flame, and when it is extinguished demons again stalk the earth. Targon is tasked to find the Hand Of God, an ancient and powerful amulet that can destroy the demons but was sealed away because it was too powerful to leave in the hands of any mortal. So there you go - back-story, end game and motivation all wrapped up neatly in a couple of sentences with plenty of room to save kidnapped kids and fetch wheels (possibly your first two side-quests) along the way.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

As I mentioned in my review of Restricted Area "[the game] looks and sounds beautiful. The soundtrack perfectly captures the environment and adds excitement to the exploration and combat. Also, the combat and spell effects are well done, as are the character development and skill tree." Based on that my expectations for the technical side of the game were pretty high.

Fortunately the game delivers on all of the technical details, and does it without all of the problems Restricted Area had. The characters look realistic and well modeled, the environments are detailed and feature flowing and swaying grass and flowers and trees that rustle as you pass by. Perhaps the best thing is the animation of characters during battle. There was much discussion of the 'Cinematic Battle System' before release, and it lives up to the hype. Typically action-RPG's have a few static animations that are repeated thousands of times throughout the game. Legend: Hand of God take a page from the action game playbook and focuses on making the combat interesting to watch throughout. Enemies die with a seemingly fixed number of animations, but they are all better than the hyper-rag-doll flinging that happens in Space Siege. As in Restricted Area, the combat effects are very well done - when you hit or are hit with a critical the screen shudders; spell effects are wonderfully done; and when you manage a 'finishing move' (critical hit that kills an enemy) you are treated to a gruesome completion to the battle.

In terms of controls and camera the game doesn't stray from the standard click-click-click forumla for the genre - and in this game it works pretty well. The controls are intuitive and responsive, but the camera seems to have limits that are too small. You can't get close enough to the character to feel engaged with the action, nor can you get far enough away to have a truly strategic perspective. One complaint with the controls - the default controls had some keys 'overloaded'. For example, 'P' was both Pause and Screenshot, and 'A' rotates the camera to the left and also picks up all loot. I changed the first one after getting two screens of the same thing since I had to un-pause the game, and changed the second one after my annoyance level with hearing Targon complain about the full pack peaked.

"There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is NOT being talked about." (Oscar Wilde)

One thing that just about every reviewer mentioned in their reviews of Restricted Area was the terrible voice acting. Apparently they took all of this attention as a good thing because terrible voice acting is on the menu once again, serving as the absolute low point in an otherwise very nice technical accomplishment. The music is very well done, from rousing combat themes to slow and atmospheric themes as you explore - this isn't going to replace the stuff by Pokrovsky or KaiRo on my iPod, but it works pretty well. Most of the sound effects are pretty good as well, but some of the typical genre mistakes - using metal on metal sounds when my character is having a staff-to-staff battle with a shaman - trickle through to wreck the immersion.

"Hey!" "Listen" "Hey!" "Those Iron Boots look pretty heavy!" "Hey!" "Watch out!" "Hey!"

That quote comes from Zelda's Navi, but it might as well come from the equally annoying Luna. She is with you from the start of the game, and serves a few different purposes: she is your mouse pointer, she provides light in dungeons, she alerts you to when your health is getting critically low, she tells you when a dropped item is better than what you have equipped, and she seems to be singularly created to spend the entire game blathering and annoying the crap out of you. Worse still, most of the blathering becomes a set of repeats after a few hours in the game. Yet she is also the source of story progression, as she lets you know what is going on while you just run around killing everything in sight. And...no matter how many times I checked, there was no check box to shut her off, and the volume slider for voices controlled everyone else as well as her.

Without deviation, progress is not possible. (Frank Zappa)

In my Space Siege review I laid out my view of the action-RPG formula: waves of enemies to kill, level-up schemes that feed skill trees to give you new ways to kill waves of enemies, and picking up cool loot that will allow you to more efficiently kill waves of enemies and gold to buy more loot. While that game essentially took a clue from Staples and replaced all of those elements with a big honkin' Easy Button, Legend: Hand of God take a more traditional approach.

As you roam around you will certainly encounter plenty of enemies to battle; in fact if you wait a few minutes you can kill the same ones all over again as everything but bosses constantly respawns when you use the fast transport to teleport from area to area. Many of these enemies will die and stuff will come spewing out of them for you to pick up. Of course, some of what is dropped is junk, while others are powerful or rare items - which Luna will rattle on about endlessly. It might be the typical way of doing things, but it works - you gain more offense and defense as you proceed and get enough to tailor yourself to your chosen class setup and have enough left over to sell off to buy more potions and items.

When you start the game you choose classes from two sets of five: Warrior, Villain, Magic, Wilderness, and Faith. You pair up your primary and secondary classes and you end up with ten possible character classes. For example, I chose Magic and Warrior and my class was Battle Mage for my first character, and Warrior and Faith to make a Paladin for my second character. As you destroy enemies and complete quests you gain experience which allows you to gain levels; each level provides you with three attribute points and one skill point each for your primary and secondary class. The attributes are the standard Strength, Dexterity, Constitution and Intelligence, and the effect of raising each is shown in the character screen, as is any attribute that has been increased due to equipped items.

There are more than enough skills available to spend points on and each has levels associated with it, ensuring that you cannot fill out the skill tree. The skills themselves are somewhat limited in variety and reflect the most common choices for the genre. For example, your magic skills are limited to pretty much fire, ice and support spells. This is done to allow all classes to have significant offensive and defensive skills. It is very satisfying that adding points is immediately reflected in your abilities on the battlefield. Skills further down the tree require either certain minimum levels or a number of skill points invested in the overall tree.

Oh - another thing on skills...if you have the right gear equipped, Legend: Hand of God's skills are BETTER. Everyone else's skills just go to 10. Their's go to 11!

I'm Just Sitting Here Watching the Wheels Go Round and Round ...

One of the worst things about Legend: Hand of God is that the enemies are invariably stupid. When your field of view is at the widest, you will regularly see enemies standing around in place waiting for you to initiate combat so they can fight back. And if you revisit an area, every enemy will be in the same spot as the last time. And each battle is essentially the same: once you get the attention of an enemy, melee fighters (or beasts) will charge at you while ranged fighters will hang back a bit and pelt you with stuff.

This is fairly standard stuff, but the way in which the enemies make no attempt to evade or block or use cover is astounding at this point in action-game history. There was some 'intelligence' as occasionally enemies ran away when I had killed someone nearby, but there was never anything that suggested real thinking or group intelligence like in Gothic 3 where a camp would retreat when they saw you had overwhelmed them. This was more like a 'dice roll' to see if they flee - to put it in context, you could kill one enemy, have one next to him run and another just standing there waiting to be killed.

Random Stuff I Didn't Like

OK, so I failed with the title of this section, but the save system here reminds me very much of the terrible one in Restricted Area, only without all of the crashing and corruption. It is a checkpoint save system where you restart the game at the last teleporter you touched. You can gather teleport stones that are consumed as you place one to set as a teleport point. You can go anywhere with these, but if you quit and restart you will still start at an actual teleport stone - and all of the enemies in the area will have respawned.

I also don't like the way the multi-context left-mouse button works. In theory I like it - you left click to move, to go to a NPC or treasure chest, or to attack an enemy with a move-attack. But in order to open a chest you ned to click on it once to get 'close' and then a second time to open it - so much for 'smart context'. Shouldn't the game know that when I click on a chest I want to open it or when I click on a NPC I want to talk to him? Check out this screen to see how close I had to get to one NPC early on in order to start a dialog.

Multiplayer and Replayability

The multiplayer in Restricted Area was very limited and frustrating to get working, and the developers took care of that issue in Legend: Hand of God - there is no multiplayer.

Since there is no multiplayer and since the main game lasts only about fifteen to twenty hours, replayability is a key element of the value proposition. Once you finish the game you can restart at a higher difficulty level, which is always a nice challenge to see how well you have developed your abilities during the first time through. The core story provides little extra help with replayability, as you take on a specific role and play through the main quest to the same conclusion regardless. Since your character's name, appearance and gender are predetermined, you can't gain any replayability through altering those - not that there is any real difference you would see from those choices. The only way to get any different feel from replaying the game is to choose a different set of classes and have another go. Fortunately that works rather well. As I mentioned I played as a Battle Mage and as a Paladin. Within a few levels my Mage was using almost exclusively spells to take down enemies, while my Paladin used a nice combination of melee skills to plow through the crowd. If you enjoy the gameplay, this will keep you going for quite a while.

Conclusions

Despite the fact that Legend: Hand of God is quite generic and shallow, it isn't a bad game. But neither is it a good game. It is a decidedly average game that is like a marshmallow treat that is sugary and sweet and floods your mouth with flavor and is then gone in a matter of seconds. Within a week of playing there will be little trace left in your mind that you had ever played the game. You will remember Luna for being annoying, you might recall the bad voice acting, but there is not much else that is remarkable. I will always remember Restricted Area because NPC's started referring to my character by the wrong name about half-way through the game, but I will also remember the way that the developers made a real effort to integrate a post-apocalyptic sci-fi world with solid action-RPG gameplay. With Legend: Hand of God the developers have taken one step forward and two steps back: they have made the game much better technically but have lost any originality or passion that would have hooked fans into loving the game. As it stands, most gamers will give this a pass, and those who play will finish it and move on fairly quickly without looking back - except to think that the purchase wasn't a very good decision.

Box Art

Information about

Legend: Hand of God

Developer: Master Creating

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Action-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: 10-20 hours
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
Europe
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2007-09-28
· Publisher: dtp

North America
· Legend - Hand of God
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-08-01
· Publisher: THQ

More information


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • Great visuals and effects
  • Solid class structure
  • Nicely balanced skill trees
  • Good music and sound effects

Cons

  • Story could have been randomly generated
  • Really dumb enemies
  • No multiplayer
  • Horrible voice acting
  • Most annoying character of 2008.

Rating

Review version