Gauntlet: Dark Legacy for Xbox Review

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Just so everyone knows, I am the only one here who enjoys the Gauntlet series. As you may or may not be aware, the Gauntlet games are really designed for cooperative play but Jeremy absolutely despises the series so I always end up playing by myself. I’ll admit the series is repetitive, lacks depth, and the gameplay in each entry is basically the same with a different coat of paint. But there’s just something about these games that I find addictive. Developed and published by Midway Games, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy was released for the PlayStation 2 in May, 2001, GameCube in March, 2002, and Xbox in April of that same year and for this review I played the Xbox version. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is often considered one of, if not the best game in the series and it’s actually an expansion of Gauntlet Legends which released in arcades in 1998 and was then ported to the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Dreamcast.

I think the story is exactly the same as it was in Gauntlet Legends. The story goes that an evil mage named Garm used the power of the Runestones to release evil on the land. This evil being Skorne, a demon who broke free of Garm’s control and then imprisoned his soul in the underworld. Skorne then proceeds to release his minions upon the land and scatters the Runestones across eight different realms so they can’t be used against him. A king named Sumner presides in his tower and overlooks the realms and this is important because the tower is actually the hub world where you can access the realms. It should also be noted that Garm is Sumner’s younger brother. If you’re really into the story, the manual for the game goes into further detail about the plot and backstory. It’s your job to beat all of the levels, collect everything, and defeat Skorne. The little voice acting that’s in the game is generic but also expected if you’ve played Gauntlet Legends.

The game includes three difficulty modes and before you jump into the gameplay, you must first choose your character. The four iconic characters the series is known for make a return – the Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard, and Archer. The game also includes newcomers – the Dwarf, Knight, Sorceress, and Jester. Furthermore, each character possesses a Beast Within which is an alternate character form and these can be unlocked by completing the Treasure Rooms scattered throughout the levels. All of the Treasure Rooms require you to collect all of the treasure within a time limit. Some characters can also be unlocked via cheats. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy supports up to four players but the game can be enjoyed solo. Your characters’ stats and progression are saved and you can switch between characters at any time. Characters gain experience by slaying monsters and after earning enough experience, they level up. Each time they level up, points are automatically applied into four different attributes – magic, strength, speed, and armor. The starting values for each attribute are different for each character but they can all be maxed out over time and as far as I know, every character basically plays the same. However, each character does have special magic abilities that are unique, and these abilities are activated upon reaching levels twenty five and fifty. For example, when the Wizard reaches level twenty five, his magic potions will cleanse poisoned fruit, when the Archer reaches level twenty five, shcan use magic potions to reveal secret areas, and things like that. You can technically consider every character a ranged character since all attacks are projectile-based unless you’re in melee distance in which case your character will automatically punch or kick. But it’s always best to engage enemies from a distance. After your character reaches specific levels, they will receive a new title or rank and their appearance will slightly change but you won’t be able to customize them outside of choosing their outfit color when selecting them. You can jog, strafe, block, and charge which drains your turbo meter. You also block as you charge. As opposed to Gauntlet Legends, you now have more options when it comes to attacking enemies. You can perform a basic attack, slow attack which I think does slightly more damage, and you can also perform special attacks which drain your turbo meter. Apparently, if playing with others, you can perform a special combo attack but since I played through the entire game solo, I did not get a chance to try this. The game also employs this auto-aim mechanic, where you’ll always attack the nearest enemy without requiring you to aim manually. This can be toggled off if you so desire. The auto-aim works well most of the time unless you’re at a different elevation than the enemies you’re trying to attack in which case it seems to work sporadically. You can also perform magic attacks but in order to do so, you need to have potions equipped. The gameplay is viewed from the isometric perspective and you have no real control over the camera which just sucks. The camera isn’t exactly the best and you can’t really see that far ahead of you. Objects in the environment can obstruct your view and you’ll frequently be attacked by enemies launching projectiles from off-screen which becomes annoying.

You start the game in The Tower which is the hub world. From here you can access the realms and even talk to Sumner who will provide you hints. Each realm contains multiple levels and a boss battle and defeating the bosses rewards you with shards. Collecting all eight shards grants you access to the Desecrated Temple. All realms minus the starting one need to be unlocked and to unlock realms, you must collect crystals. All of the levels include a multitude of different colored crystals and collecting a specific amount of each unlocks different realms. However, you’ll also need to unlock different parts of The Tower to access the different realms. The West Wing, East Wing, and Underworld can all be unlocked by collecting the golden icons also found throughout the levels. The icons include fangs, feathers, and claws and these can be found in hidden areas or are dropped by specific enemies like Dragons. You’ll also need to collect the numerous Runestones which are hidden in specific levels. You will need these to actually complete the game. The other collectible items are the Legendary Weapons. These are not actually required but they do make boss battles slightly easier. Each boss is weak to a specific Legendary Weapon and it’s best to battle bosses only after you’ve acquired the weapons. I would recommend skipping a boss until you acquire the weapon, most of which are found in different realms. Throughout the levels are hint scrolls that provide you hints on how to locate collectibles, treasures, or health items and as long as you take your time and look around, you should be able to find everything. I guess you could say the game is a collectathon.

Throughout the levels are barrels, chests, and items. To unlock chests and doors you must have keys. Some levels include multiple paths to a destination so it’s very possible to use up all of your keys if you don’t pay attention and explore different routes. Whenever you take damage you lose health and to restore health you must eat food. Meats provide you with the most health. Sometimes you’ll come across poison which, if eaten, harms you and good food can actually become poisoned if exposed to the toxic gas after a poisonous barrel explodes. Items and food can also be destroyed if in the blast radius of an explosive barrel so you always need to pay attention. However, you can utilize these barrels to harm enemies. Now chests and barrels can contain treasure, items, potions, worthless junk, and even traps like bombs and even the Death enemy. Some items are actually offensive or defensive power-ups that will last for a limited time upon activation. You can acquire a super shot or hammer, both of which do massive damage, different weapon power-ups, different types of armor, invulnerability, levitation, a phoenix familiar, and other stuff like that. Any acquired power-ups are stored in your inventory and you can cycle between them and activate or deactivate them at any time during gameplay. I think the most useful item is the xray glasses. You can use these to see what’s in chests before opening them which can save you the hassle of wasting keys. It’s very important to collect treasure because after completing a level, you’re brought to a shop where you can buy items, including food, keys, and you can even buy more points to apply to your character’s attributes. Luckily, you can revisit any already unlocked levels, including boss levels, so you can always revisit them to obtain collectibles, items, and treasure. Defeating a boss normally rewards you with a crazy amount of treasure so farming bosses is the best way to accumulate a lot of treasure quickly.

Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is a very straightforward game. You enter a level through a portal and exit it the same way, albeit through the level’s exit portal. The levels seem to increase in size the further you progress and some can be quite intricate, even actual labyrinths, with multiple branching paths and secret areas, making it very easy to miss something on your first run through it. Some walls and objects can be broken, revealing a secret, which may be required in order to access specific areas. You’ll be pulling switches, pressing buttons, riding elevators, using teleporters, and even solving simplistic puzzles like switch or button puzzles, usually to reveal something. Some puzzles may require multiple players, like having one player step on a button to reveal a platform so the others can proceed. If playing solo, you normally have to take an alternate route in these scenarios. Collectables like the Runestones and Legendary Weapons normally require you to discover secrets or pull a series of switches. Some levels include points of no return as in you reach a point where if you proceed forward, you cannot backtrack to previous locations, forcing you to start the level over if you missed something. If you miss something important like a Runestone or Legendary Weapon, you can hear Skorne laughing at you as you exit the level. Most of the levels and realms in Gauntlet Legends are present here but have been changed in significant ways. Enemies and items are in different spots and the levels are laid out much differently. All of the levels are fairly linear and it’s basically impossible to get lost. You may have to backtrack every now and then but you shouldn’t have an issue figuring out where to go. You will have to watch out for environmental hazards like spikes, fire, blades, carts, and other things that just become a nuisance. The levels are usually littered with numerous hazards and they’re not really hard to avoid if you take your time but because the camera isn’t always positioned in the best possible spot, it’s very easy to take damage from a hazard because you simply didn’t see it coming.

Gauntlet games are known for throwing numerous amounts of enemies at you at once and Dark Legacy is no exception. You’ll always be outnumbered. Every level has multiple monster generators. The generators will continuously spawn monsters until they’re destroyed and it seems that they will spawn monsters faster in the later levels. Monster generators should always be your priority and if you do get overrun, it would be wise to use your special attack or a magic attack if you can spare a potion, to eliminate all enemies and generators nearby. Most enemies that spawn from the generators come charging at you and utilize melee attacks and others will shoot at you with ranged weapons or magic attacks. Some enemies are already placed in specific spots within the level like the ones that are strapped with or carry poisonous or explosive barrels and others that throw bombs. The tougher enemy types are always encountered in specific areas and in most cases, are basically an indication that something important is nearby. Generals are large damage sponges that usually come running straight for you upon detection and will rapidly slash you to death with their melee weapon but they usually drop decent items upon getting killed. Golems are basically the same as Generals except they move slower. Death is probably the most dangerous enemy in the game because he can’t be killed by normal attacks, only magic. Death can also cause you to drop a level so always be alert and always have a magic potion on hand. Most levels seem to include Dragons which are these large damage sponges that can breathe fire, lightning, even acid. They can also fire projectiles and their attacks can knock you down which becomes annoying, especially when they’re able to attack you from off-screen. Because they drop golden icons, it is best to kill them when encountered. The very nature of the Gauntlet gameplay has you fending off hordes of enemies and the enemies, themselves are not very bright. They don’t employ any form of intelligence and can often be exploited which is actually a good thing. For example, if you encounter a General, you can run away causing him to chase you and because the enemy path finding is so piss poor, you can cause them get stuck behind obstacles allowing you to pummel them with attacks from a distance. You can even attack enemies from behind doors if you’re at the right angle. The actual bosses in the game are large and can take a good beating before going down. Having the Legendary Weapons will either decrease their attack damage for a brief time or drain a portion of their health right at the start of the battle. But just like every other enemy in the game, they don’t really require any specific strategies to defeat. Just avoid their attacks and repeatedly attack them until they die. If you feel like the difficulty is spiking, that may be because you’re under leveled for the specific level, realm, or boss. If you’ve played any other game in this series, you should be no stranger to farming for experience and just grinding through levels over and over whether it be to acquire items or to just level up.

Gauntlet: Dark Legacy looks like shit. It looks like Gauntlet Legends with very little improvements. I do feel like the visual presentation has a charm to it but I’m not going to say it looks particularly good because it doesn’t. The resolution was increased, I think there’s some new graphical effects here and there but I wouldn’t be surprised if an outsider was to think this released a generation earlier at first glance. Character models are blocky and textures are blurry but on a positive note, the game is filled with plenty of color. Each realm also has its own theme going on which keeps the visual presentation from becoming repetitive. Now the sound effects are okay and get the job done but the music is one of the best aspects of the game. Dark Legacy continues the series tradition of excellent music. The soundtrack is full of orchestral fantasy-sounding songs, even some rock and metal tunes, all of which are catchy and memorable. Some of the music from Gauntlet Legends is present here, albeit remixed and there’s also new songs to accompany the new levels. On the performance side, Dark Legacy performs rather well on the Xbox. The gameplay speed is faster than that of Legends which is nice and even when there’s a lot of shit happening on-screen, the frame rate remains consistent. I did notice it drop once but only in the hub world. Outside of frequent clipping, I can’t say I experienced any significant bugs or issues.

I did have a lot of fun with Gauntlet: Dark Legacy but I’ll be the first to admit the gameplay is repetitive as fuck. You go through a level, slay all of the monsters, collect items, rinse and repeat. Most of the time, all you need to do is move and press the attack button. Calling this an RPG is a stretch because you have very little control over character development and all characters end up feeling the same after a while. But it does have RPG elements. I think this game and the others in the series are best enjoyed with friends but you can still have a great time solo if you can get past its repetitive nature. Despite the game’s issues, I really do love it. There’s just something about it. It may not require a lot of thinking but if it hooks you in, you can find yourself playing for hours which is what always happens to me. The gameplay can become addictive. I would say that any replay value comes from the multiple difficulty modes as well as leveling up and maxing out the multiple characters and I can tell you now that will be a grind. But there is a sense of satisfaction in slaying the hordes of enemies, collecting everything, and unlocking the numerous characters.

Gauntlet: Dark Legacy is an arcade game at heart and its simplistic nature makes it accessible to everyone. However, it doesn’t offer much in terms of depth and the repetitive gameplay may turn many people off or cause you to get bored after only a short while. Once you’ve seen the first realm, you’ve basically seen it all. Dark Legacy is an expanded version of Gauntlet Legends and I would say it is the best out of the two. It’s just a bigger and better version of Legends. Outside of nostalgia, I’m not sure why anyone would choose Legends over Dark Legacy. However, if you’ve played Legends before, I can’t say Dark Legacy really changes enough to warrant jumping back in unless you’re a fan of the series or Legends in particular. It’s literally more of the same. If you don’t like Legends then you should probably avoid this. If you’ve never played either game before and are interested, I would suggest jumping straight into this one. I would recommend Gauntlet: Dark Legacy to fans of the series and hack and slash games. And as of this review, I would say it’s the best game in the series. It’s a repetitive but addictive game if you can get into it, it’s best enjoyed with friends, and its easy to pick up and play. But most importantly, it can be a lot of fun. It’s just not going to appeal to everyone.

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