X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

X-Men Legends from Raven and Activision demonstrated how fun it was to be a mutant in Marvel’s universe. However, it wasn’t without its flaws, some of which proved to be more than annoying with suicidal AIs running blindly into pits and a camera that was not exactly fun to work with. A somewhat bland story and a weak end battle whittled some of the fun factor, but it was still a title chock full of the kind of extras and superpowered mayhem that X-Men and superhero fans in general could appreciate.

With X-Men Legends II, Raven returns to continue the “legend” of the X-Men in an entirely new adventure that pits them against one of the most powerful foes that they have ever faced in their extensive history.

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse was frozen, mentally thrown, and levitated on the X-Box for this review.

The Age of Apocalypse

Following their victory in the last adventure, Legends II picks up roughly where it had left off. I’m no expert in X-Men lore, so I’m not sure where exactly this new adventure falls in the grand scheme of things, but you really don’t need to have played the previous title or hold a degree in the lore of the X-Men to appreciate the action. Even if you don’t know much about the X-Men universe like me, don’t feel that you should skip trying it out.

So what’s happened since Legends? Legends II takes place some time after the defeat of Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants in the previous title, having saved the world from their plans. Unfortunately, another threat has surfaced since then. Professior Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, and another mutant by the name of Polaris were abducted while attending an international convention. Mutants storm through the stronghold where they are held, but only Xavier is found…and he looks up to see his enemy, Magneto, gazing over him. The Brotherhood of Mutants and the X-Men have joined forces and Xavier finds that he owes a part of his rescue to the leader of those who despise the X-Men and all that it stands for.

Only a grave threat could bring these two bitter rivals together and that threat is in the form of a powerful mutant known appropriately enough as Apocalypse. From what I’ve been able to gather, Apocalypse is as bad as they come. He doesn’t have a ‘side’ other than his own extreme vision of ‘survival of the fittest’. As the story unfolds, the Brotherhood unwillingly partners with the X-Men in a bid to stop him. This isn’t something that they want to do, but the fact that Magneto’s son is also one of those kidnapped and that Apocalypse doesn’t distinguish between the good guys and the “bad” in his quest to dominate the world didn’t leave them much of a choice.

Gameplay

Veterans of the first Legends won’t have much of a learning curve when it comes to the controls. Nothing’s really changed in that regard. Newcomers may find the controls a little daunting at first, especially the menu handling, but as the game proceeds the learning curve will eventually bottom out. Some practice is required, but the title throws enough action into your face often enough to keep you on your toes.

Legends II is an action RPG pitting the player against a large variety of foes across the world. From the sewers beneath New York to the forgotten halls of an ancient pyramid in Egypt, the missions that you will undertake to stop Apocalypse’s plan will keep you guessing as to where you’ll end up next or what you will be facing. There’s a lot to smash, blast, and fight through on your way to face off against Apocalypse giving action RPG fans a lot to like here from the start.

The player controls a party of four mutants chosen from a roster that grows as you fight the minions of Apocalypse across five acts, each act comprised of several missions in different areas. The game is certainly larger than the last one in terms of areas to explore, although the last two chapters felt a bit shorter given how close they were to the climax. It’s still pretty linear meaning that when you clear a particular chapter, you normally won’t be able to go back and visit those areas again so don’t expect too much globetrotting. The action is viewed onscreen thanks to a third party camera that shows you the action along with your team mates. The HUD is set up with everything that you need to know such as a minimap that you can adjust, counters showing how many health and energy aids you have left, and how many ‘tech bits’ you’ve collected.

With both the Brotherhood and the X-Men working together, your roster of characters will include famous villains and heroes alike. Magneto, the villain from the previous Legends, is now at your control along with the remodeling talents of Juggernaut, the tongue lashing Toad, and one or two new X-Men such as Bishop. Familiar favorites also return such as Iceman, Rogue, and Jean Grey, all of them with their own powers and unique abilities. Some powers will also unlock more powerful versions of themselves as your characters continue to improve, and each character has a special “X-treme” power that can blow through massed foes like a mental knife through brain butter or even summon helpers such as a metal minion that arrives at Magneto’s bidding. While the use of each character’s powers consumes some of their energy, “X-treme” powers are dictated by how many “X-treme” icons you can complete from pieces that you find. As your characters continue to grow in power, they will also earn more icons that they can activate allowing you to pull off a variety of “X-treme” attacks or buffs in battle.

While the roster does provide a wealth of characters to build your dream team from, some powers do tend to overlap making some characters seem to be the same one only with different faces and uniforms. Each character does have a few unique powers that make them stand out, but it was surprising how similar a lot of the other powers appeared to be under different names. Still, no matter who you choose, seeing any of these heroes in action is what this game is all about and it does it well.

When powers aren’t enough, they also have melee attacks that they can use to punch and kick their way through the game, some of which are powered by special “X” skills. Some enemies can only be defeated with some of these combination attacks forcing you to either trip them up, propel them in the air, or knock them back in order to make them vulnerable. Fortunately, the combinations aren’t overly complicated, but some might find this to be more gimmick than challenge.

What isn’t gimmicky is in how many of the bosses have to be dealt with. One or two may require a straightforward fight to the finish, but a majority of them…especially Apocalypse’s “Four Horsemen”…make use of their surroundings and create real-time puzzles for the player to figure out in order to defeat them, or be able to even hurt them. Some can call upon exceptional powers and can lay your team low in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful.

Saves are handled through ‘X-traction’ points scattered throughout the areas that you’ll be fighting through. You can also swap out members of your current party at X-traction points for others on the roster that you may want to level up faster or if you need the talents of one particular mutant to give you that small advantage. The members of your party will level up faster than they would if they were simply waiting back at base. This is something that you should remember if you want to be sure that your favorite characters are powerful enough to handle the challenges much later in the adventure. Although even if they wait, they’ll still gain experience but it will be at a slow crawl compared to those you continue to send into battle.

As you fight enemies and solve simple puzzles, you’ll earn experience that translates into levels that grant you points you can use to improve their stats and their special powers. Unlike some RPGs that marginally improve your stats while granting you some points to further focus on what you think they need, Legends II leaves all of this in the hands of players in the form of those points. In this way, you can fine tune your favorite team of Brotherhood and X-Men allies into a devastating machine of annihilation as they team up against enemies. Creating teams that emphasize damage, buffs, or a combination of the two is quite possible given the sheer number of abilities and skills available to the player through the characters that they have at their fingertips.

One thing that veterans will notice is that character development is vastly improved over Legends. Not only does the player have a larger roster of characters to choose from along with a much improved number of skills that they can dump points into, Raven has also improved the way that the points are distributed. You can also set all of this to automated through “Options” leaving you to continue raging your way through hordes of foes while the game manages their growth. Another welcome change is where you can also reassign skill points…for an appropriate price in tech bits, of course.

Tech bits constitute money in the world of Legends II with which you can trade for goodies such as healing aids or gear. They’ve even got a ‘Grab Bag’ that you can try your luck with in order to pick up a unique item or two. But apart from supplying your needs like any RPG store would, it also offers the opportunity to improve your characters for the right price such as redistributing those skills points. If you decide that you need Wolverine to focus all of his skill into Claw Frenzy, now you can. You’re no longer stuck at having to live with skills that you don’t use. But keep in mind that some skills are needed in order to learn more powerful variants of them later on. Or you can buy additional skill points, even going so far as buying an extra level if you’ve got pockets bulging with tech bits just waiting to be spent. Raven did a great job in giving the player a greater sense of freedom in choosing how best to build their team of mutant masters.

The Danger Room is also back, offering training challenges for your teams and for individual characters. Each challenge has different levels of reward for your success. Some offer experience while completing a particular challenge within a short amount of time may earn you a valuable piece of equipment or even an extra level. More challenges open up as you find ‘Danger Room Disks’, some of which you can also buy. The Danger Room is particularly useful for leveling up team members that you’ve let sit around for too long. You can also engage in special challenges, pitting your team against teams of villains that you can build from characters that you’ve unlocked with your progress. Want to see what happens when you mix it up with Lady Deathstrike and Legion…combined? Now you can.

Just as its predecessor was, Legends II is also chock full of fan service extras for X-Men enthusiasts. Scattered throughout the mission areas are a large number of bonuses that you can track down such as comic book covers and sketches that you can review in the game’s gallery section. You can even change your characters’ costumes in the team management screens for a really unique looking team. There’s even an extra character that you can unlock in time for the final battle if you manage to find all of the homing beacons that are hidden everywhere.

In addition to these extras, there are also tech stations that can give your heroes permanent boosts to their attributes along with tons of gear that your characters can equip themselves with. This time, you have access to a Hero Stash where you can store some of your more valuable gear if you want to conserve space in your limited ‘in the field’ inventory. The Hero Stash isn’t bottomless, though, so be sure to sell what you don’t need in order to be able to pick up and keep that ‘Orb of Chaos’ for when you can use it. Some equipment is also tied to certain characters and the Stash is a handy place for keeping them until they’re leveled up far enough to be able to use it.

Behind the Costumes

Not much has changed graphically from the first Legends title, although there are a lot more locales and a more special effects to gape at with all of the new powers that you’ve got to play with. The characters still sport that animation cel shading look along with the villains. The destructible environment is back with innocent objects lying around just waiting to be pummeled by your powers or by a well placed fist or clawed blade. It still does a great job showing your the results of tearing through even more walls and rooms in this chapter of the X-Men saga with debris, flying foes, and scattered gear and tech bits littering the screen. Blur Studios, responsible for the amazing cinematics as seen in titles such as iD/Grey Matter/Nerve Software’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Relic Entertainment’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Treyarch’s Spider Man 2, and the promotional E3 trailer for Flagship’s Hellgate: London, provide the same quality of work here to help drive the story. There are also in-game cinematics, such as during the briefings, that help keep things moving. These also help show off some of the character work, although its still hard not to notice the polys or some of the odd texture work such as tattooed shadows during these particular scenes.

The music is also well done, adding to the atmosphere of many of the places that you’ll be saving the world in with many of the pieces adding as much personality to their surroundings as the art assets do. Many of the pieces sound just right for the areas that you’ll be fighting through, from the strange beats of the New York sewers to the fighting music that rises in behind your team as they fight their foes and then quietly fades out when there’s nothing left.

The voice acting shows much of the same quality with many familiar names returning. Patrick Stewart’s patrician voice brings Professor X to life with professional flair, Armin Shimmerman returns to voice Toad’s sarcastic wit, and Lou Diamond Philips is back as the ever upbeat Forge. Tony Jay doesn’t return as Magneto, replaced by the less bass sinister acting of Richard Greene. Most of the voices were spot on, but some didn’t sound quite right. Rogue’s southern flavored vocal cords, for example, aren’t voiced by the same actress from the first Legends and didn’t sound as southerly as she had been before whether it was due to the actress’ unfamiliarity with the role, direction, whatever. It just didn’t sound right for some reason as she’d ‘lose’ her accent from time to time. The overall voice acting was very well done and the large variety of foes that you faced off against were also given a few more extra lines to say in order to keep from overusing the same lines over and over again as in Legends.

Perhaps the biggest technical change in Legends II is that the Xbox version is now Live! enabled allowing friends to join in on co-op fun across the service. You can cooperate in a campaign mode, or skirmish with friends and foes online (Skirmish is unlocked after you achieve level 16 in Story mode). Friends can also plug their controls into the Xbox and take control of any of the four team members and work through the story together if you choose with the game raising the difficulty appropriately enough. Even if the main story if finished, there’s still something to do after you’ve foiled Apocalypse’s plans.

X-Files

The story itself has a lot more exposition on explaining what’s going on, much of it delivered in linear fashion so don’t expect twisting trees of dialogue to wade through and change lives with. It’s very much into the X-Men universe, but it doesn’t make obscure references to some dark corner of the franchise’s history leaving the less knowledgeable in the lurch about what is going on. It does a good job in keeping the action flowing at a decent pace and offers the occasional opportunity to do something a little extra on the side if the player decides to pursue certain leads. One interesting thing about the dialogue is in how some of the characters react to talking to a Brotherhood character versus a goody two shoes X-Man in their greets and farewells. Unfortunately, the lines in between are delivered in pretty much the same way.

The characters come across as well as they can in an action RPG like this one, a lot of their personality developed through the excellent voice acting that accompanies most of them. You know who the bad guys are and definitely get the feeling some of the characters aren’t exactly on your side even though you have to work with them. The tension between both sides was played off pretty well as Brotherhood members found every opportunity to rib the straight laced X-Men during the briefings.

For the most part, though, the dialogue ‘choices’ are only there for you to push a button to keep moving ahead. Although it’s touted as “open ended”, it really isn’t the case. The focus is on the action and how much of it you can dish out while keeping you motivated to keep going to find out what happens next in comic book fashion. Most NPCs exist only to explain and re-explain what they already told the player once before. Most of the dialogue is also straightforward, with villains posturing for the player and NPCs trying to make sense of what is going on in providing what background info they can on what’s happening. The ending closes out the main quest pretty well leaving it open for a possible sequel just as its predecessor did. Overall, my adventure through this title had lasted a little over thirty hours.

Broken Helix

The gameplay is a definite improvement from Legends although it has inherited some of its flaws. The camera can still be a bit dodgy and can tend to lag behind the player creating a sort of rear pan as your team runs off into the distance until it suddenly snaps back right behind them. As for the AI driving your characters, it appeared to be a bit more improved but it wasn’t perfect. Unlike in the last game where I felt like the Mighty Wet Nurse, your team felt a lot smarter this time out. Your team members won’t find themselves simply leaping to their deaths in pits anymore unless they’re punched or thrown into one. They’ll follow you as closely as they can and do a pretty good job at not blocking the doors anymore. The enemy AI was guilty of a few gaffes, though, especially the bosses themselves who seem to home in on whatever character you may be controlling at the time if you’re in single player. At one point, I flew in circles around one of these bosses while ordering the other three to combo attack them at will. The boss focused on me and ignored everyone else making some of these fights cake walks.

Legends II gameplay is also largely unchanged from the first one which was both a good and a bad thing. You still basically go around with your superheroes and blast, beat, and throw the living crap out of anything that moves which is still as fun as it was in the first one. It can feel repetitive from time to time, but the more focused mission objectives and variety of enemies that you will face kept things from getting boring. But while the game has given the impression that there could be plethora of side quests and optional jobs that you can undertake in an “open ended” storyline, that isn’t entirely true. Sure, there are multiple missions, but the only choice you’ll have is in deciding which ones to tackle first. The maps, though, are filled with quite a few hidden areas and side paths rewarding explorers with tech bits, gear, or the rare hidden objective but the overall experience still felt very linear. For example, you might be asked to rescue someone and you might think that you may have to explore a bit to find them. But for the most part, the people that you’re supposed to rescue may be found on the way to another objective or just show up as soon as you start a mission.

The powers and the variety of characters help keep the action fresh and frenetic so it doesn’t feel like a massive level grind and the difficulty (which can be changed at the beginning to Easy, Normal, or Hard) scales well against your team. The characters in your party level up pretty evenly with the challenges ahead of them and some areas even repopulate themselves allowing you to grab even more experience to try and stay ahead of the curve. It didn’t feel too much like a button mashing chore in slogging through Apocalypse’s hordes since the powers that you can use and some of the well voiced quips your heroes make made every encounter feel like a new experience.

The only problem is that the characters you leave in the pool while you take your chosen four out on expeditions tend to be pretty much useless later on the in game if you’ve never touched them. If you wanted to change up your attacks for some reason and try a new combination of heroes, you’ll probably need to grind them out in the Danger Room or in repeated visits to areas where you hope they repopulate quickly enough to be useful in depopulating again. Otherwise, they won’t survive some of the more brutal encounters that they will face alongside your veterans.

This is especially true of the hidden character that you may unlock if you find all of those homing beacons lying around. I finally found the character only to see how useless they were stacked against my home team that were about twenty or so levels ahead. It was great to find the character, but utterly anti-climactic when I couldn’t use them immediately as an effective member of my team. I was already at the end of the game so what was I going to do? Break up a well oiled machine just to put in a shiny cog that doesn’t quite fit? I wanted to use the character, I really did, but their placement and the relative uselessness of their abilities’ effectiveness in comparison to my veterans made this ‘really important’ character disappointing. Had this been treated as a side quest early on, separate from the linear progression of the main story to grow them alongside your chosen team mates would have felt more satisfying. Otherwise, if you wanted to use them, a grinding you will go.

One other thing that I didn’t like and which found its way back into Legends II was the amount of level based equipment that you’ll eventually find. I’ve never been very comfortable with how simply not being at the right ‘level’ can keep a character from using a toothbrush. I’d rather see my statistics suffer than in being prevented from using something. At least then the effect of trying something my character isn’t capable of using effectively is reflected and balanced out in some way instead of simply being blocked by numbers that I have to rationalize in some way to make sense.

On a technical note, the engine’s physics are still capable of doing some wonky things onscreen with crates spinning in midair after crates below them are destroyed, enemies getting stuck in the air or bouncing against the ground repeatedly in the same spot as they richochet off of it for some reason before fading away. There’s also quite a bit of slowdown in the game that I’ve noticed, especially in busy scenes within complex areas. None of this really detracted from the overall gameplay, though it was somewhat unexpected to see this stuff especially after seeing some of the same things were in the first Legends.

Face the Apocalypse

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse continues to build on the gameplay strengths of Legends, adding a large number of improvements as well as expanding the quest and the number of locales that you will be visiting on your way to your final battle with the ultimate villain. Veterans shouldn’t expect anything radically different which is both good and bad, sometimes feeling as if it is offering much of the same with only a few polished tweaks. Fortunately, the changes, especially with the improved character development options, still manage to improve on what worked in the first one making it a fun game. Newcomers looking for a superhero styled action RPG may also find Legends II to be something they might want to try out as they crush, eviscerate, and blast their way to the end in a desperate effort to stave off the Rise of Apocalypse.

-World 1-1

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