The world of the X-Men is such a great universe for an RPG to take place in. For starters, it’s believable; Second, there are so many unique characters to choose from and you never know who you’ll run into next. This is why I enjoyed the original X-Men Legends so much. Not only was it a blast to play, but it was worth the price of admission alone just to hear my favorite X-Men with voices. The second X-Men Legends game, The Rise of Apocalypse, goes above and beyond the call of duty, and fixes almost everything that was wrong with the original. In fact, X-Men Legends 2 is one of the best multiplayer action-RPGs of this generation, and possibly the best comic-based game around.
XML2 takes place where the first game left off, with the appearance of the most powerful mutant in the world, Apocalypse. He’s hatched a plan for world domination and abducted two mutants — Quicksilver and Polaris — for unknown reasons. The X-Men and the Brotherhood both try to fight Apocalypse on their own, but he proves too powerful for them to take down divided, so they join forces. This means that you get to play with members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, such as Magneto, Scarlet Witch, and Juggernaut in addition to new X-Men such as Bishop and Sunfire. What ensues is an epic battle that spans the entire globe.
The story manages to keep a good pace, and it follows the comics loosely. You’ll fight the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse and have a showdown with the dastardly Mister Sinister, as well as hunt down Apocalypse. The story is good enough to keep you interested, but not very deep. The story wasn’t very important as I romped through the sewers of Manhattan or through the jungles of the Savage Lands. Considering that XML2 is an action-RPG much like Champions of Norrath, the lack of story isn’t surprising, but that’s no excuse, especially for X-Men. The story itself just isn’t as dynamic as it was in the comics.
The graphics in XML2 are cel-shaded. It can be argued that cel-shading has become something of a fad among developers these days, but it works extremely well for the X-Men. The characters are rendered in great detail and remind me of the comic book. There are a plethora of unlockable character skins as well, giving you tons of customisation options, with anywhere from four to seven alternates that you can unlock for each mutant.
The environments you’ll visit are much more varied than in the last game, and include the deep jungle of the Savage Lands, the vast Church of the Madri, and the streets of New York City. The environments look great, and they feel like a part of the X-Men universe. Very few comic book games have managed to do this.
The game also features CG cut scenes that show the X-Men in their 3D glory. It’s unfortunate that they just aren’t very good. The characters look great, but the frame rates are choppy. The scenes also look muddled and there’s a lot of grain. Luckily, these scenes are scarce and they don’t mar the overall presentation.
The gameplay in XML2 takes the cake. It’s so addictive and fun that I found it difficult to turn the game off. There are 16 characters to choose from, and each has a unique mutant ability. Jean Grey can move objects with her mind, Bishop can absorb and re-channel energy, Nightcrawler can teleport, Magneto is a human magnet, and Juggernaut is… well, a juggernaut. In the field, each character can use 4 different mutant powers, with over 20 abilities to choose from. Some of the abilities are attacks (such as Storm’s Lightning or Wolverine’s claws), others are “boost” abilities that temporarily affect the stats of your party, and others are “passive” abilities which permanently increase the stats of the character. There are also Xtreme Powers, which completely devastate every thing on screen.
The mutant powers aren’t free to use, however. They drain your Mutant Power gauge, and once it is gone, you can’t use any powers. Luckily, the Mutant Power gauge regenerates slowly after a few seconds, and you can equip abilities to speed up the process. In the meantime, you can use melee attacks such as kicks and punches, which can be just as powerful. There are different combinations of melee attacks you can use, too, providing for some great variety. There is a combo that allows you to knock an enemy into the air or into a wall, and some enemies that cannot be damaged until you destroy their shields with certain melee combinations.
Characters can also perform Combos if they attack an enemy at the same time with their mutant powers. Combos cause more damage and increase the experience given by enemies. There are hundreds of combos that can be performed in the game, and all of them are extremely effective. The trick to winning is to use combos as much as you can. It requires precise timing and a keen eye, but once you master it, it will make the game much easier. Characters can also perform Xtreme Combos by using their Xtreme attacks in tandem with each other. There are so many possibilities that it is unlikely that you’ll see every combo in the game.
The fighting can get pretty intense, so in order to prepare for the impending dangers, you can practice your skills in the virtual reality Danger Room. Each Danger Room challenge tests your skills and abilities, and rewards you generously for completing it. The rewards can be anywhere from a skill point bonus to a level up for all of your characters. You can unlock new challenges by finding Danger Room Discs, which are scattered across the game. I enjoyed searching every nook and cranny trying to find them.
There are some problems with the gameplay, however. As the characters level up, they will gain stat points and skill points. Stat points can be added to increase the Health, Mutant Power gauge, Strike, and Speed of each mutant. Skill points can be added to increase the power of Mutant Skills. This system works well, but has its flaws. The stat points are lumped together unwisely: By increasing a character’s attack points, you also increase his defence, which also increases a variety of other stats. While this sounds like a good idea, it makes everything confusing and forces you to make some tough choices later in the game.
It also doesn’t help that the menus are confusing and complicated. It takes a while to get used to the system, even if you’ve played the original XML. There are so many abilities and choices to make that the skill system is overwhelming, even until the very end.
I also have to mention the item system, which is godforsakingly horrible. Most of the armor and weapons you pick up during the game are unusable until you’ve reached higher levels. For example, it is not unusual to pick up armor for Wolverine early in the game that he cannot use until he has reached level 46. When I cleared the game, I still couldn’t use half of the armor that I picked up. What makes this worse is that you can only carry a limited amount of armor and weapons. You can use a Hero Stash to store your weapons, but it only stores a finite amount. This forces you to sell off great equipment that you’ll never get to use, even near the end of the game.
To top off the complicated menus and item system, the loading times are awful as well. I’ve never played a game that loads so much. Not only does it load between stages (which is acceptable), it loads when you pull up your menu, when you change your team, and even when you go back to the title screen. For me, I chose to keep playing the game despite of the long loads because it was so much fun, but for someone with little patience, the loading times are going to drive you up the wall.
The sound in XML2 is a double-edged sword. It features excellent voice acting from many talented voice actors such as Patrick Stewart (Star Trek, X-Men) and James Arnold Taylor (Final Fantasy X, Futurama). The X-Men sound almost exactly how I imagined them, and their taunts and witty lines during battle never get old. However, the soundtrack is terrible. It is bland orchestral music that sounds better suited for a film score. Not once did the music get me pumped to clobber some bad guys. The sound quality is a sham, too, due to bad compression. Character voices sound grainy at times, and the music sounds farther away than it should. The sound during cut scenes is even worse; my speakers were buzzing every time a character spoke. I hope that Ravensoft enlists better audio engineers for their next action-RPG title, because this isn’t going to work.
Despite its shortcomings, X-Men Legends is a great game. It’s even better with friends. The game can be completed rather quickly (in less than 20 hours), but there are tons of unlockables to keep you playing well past 40 hours, such as secret characters, a Hard Mode, and the option to start a new game with your cleared save data. If you’re looking for a fun game to play whenever your friends come over, this is it. It is without a doubt, the best X-Men game ever made.