If, through some fluke of space and time, Genghis Khan and William Wallace had clashed on the battlefield, who would have won? Deadliest Warrior: Legends doesn't provide a definitive answer to this question, but it does suggest that the battle would have been bloody and possibly absurd. Khan might have broken Wallace's leg and chopped off his arm before twisting his neck with his bare hands. Or perhaps the two warriors would have slashed at each other for a few seconds before Wallace's sword miraculously passed right through Khan's body, instantly making Khan go as limp as a rag doll. Legends is a brutal and goofy game that's good for some guffaws. But the short and silly battles and technical problems of this fighter give it about as much longevity as Attila the Hun has after you've cut off a few of his limbs.
Legends lets you choose one of nine historic leaders to take into one-on-one battles with other such personages. Those nine characters are broken down into three categories. Guerrillas like Sun Tzu and Shaka Zulu lack armor but move quickly; champions like Hannibal and Alexander the Great are heavily armored and relatively slow; and berserkers like Hernan Cortes and William Wallace are powerful offensive fighters. Battles occur in three-dimensional space, and you're free to run in any direction. With the three attack buttons, you can perform strikes that target your foe's head, body, or legs. Strikes to the limbs can leave your opponent crippled, making him hobble on his feet or preventing him from wielding heavy, two-handed weapons. And a blow to the head is likely to kill your opponent instantly.
Each warrior can wield quick short-range weapons, slower medium-range weapons, and ranged weapons. There are no health meters in this fighting game; characters collapse when they've suffered a blow the game deems fatal, or when they bleed out from a severed limb. Matches often end within just a few seconds of starting, perhaps with an arrow through a warrior's eye or a sword strike to the head that sends a helmet flying off at a trajectory that makes no sense. You can also attempt to grab your opponent. If you succeed, both combatants must then hit the low, medium, or high attack button, and unless the defender makes the same input as the attacker, he suffers a broken leg, a broken arm, or death, depending on the area the attacker targeted. The finishing moves that play out when a warrior successfully performs a high attack in a grapple (or a medium or low attack to an already disabled area) are sometimes shockingly brutal. Vlad the Impaler's finisher, for instance, demonstrates how he earned his grisly nickname.
Because a single blow can bring the match to an end, there's none of the tension here that can evolve over the course of a battle in a traditional fighting game as combatants feel each other out and whittle each other down. A different kind of tension could have emerged from battles in which any hit could prove fatal, but Legends is too sloppy to generate much excitement. The game's instructional screens have information about different types of damage--slashing, piercing, and crushing--and the varying effectiveness of armor against these types of attacks. But the actual gameplay doesn't support the depth that this suggests. It's hard to see how such details could matter much when, during battles, weapons regularly clip right through people and combatants sometimes collapse dead from attacks that didn't even appear to make contact. There's often no clear rhyme or reason to why one fighter falls while his opponent is left standing, and this makes it nigh impossible to become invested in the action. Visual problems, including swords and shields that disappear from warriors' hands when they try to grab their opponents, and some severe screen tearing, make the experience even more off-putting.
So a realistic fighting game this is not. Your best bet for getting any enjoyment out of Legends is to approach it not as a simulation, but as the video game equivalent of a schlocky martial arts movie, complete with lousy fight choreography; cheap, bloody special effects; and hilariously bad dubbing. Before each battle, the warriors speak a few words or emit a fierce battle cry, and both the mouth movements and the timing of those movements are so mismatched to the sounds you hear that you may wonder if the game isn't intentionally evoking the stereotypical image of poorly synced dubbing from low-budget kung-fu flicks. It's funny at first, but, like nearly everything else about the game, it looks cheap and hastily slapped together, and the initial amusement wears off quickly.
Whether or not the poor lip-syncing is intended as a joke, Legends certainly has a sense of humor, and it shines most brightly when you turn on what the game calls Zombie mode in multiplayer combat. With this option in effect, fighters don't go down until every last limb has been hacked. A pair of legs, no longer attached to its upper body, might continue to speedily run around the arena, forcing the opposing player to give chase. These battles are a great source of physical comedy, reminiscent of the famous encounter with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the underlying gameplay remains too chaotic and shallow to stay compelling once you've had your fill of laughter at this mode's sheer absurdity.
Legends has an Arcade mode in which you choose a warrior and progress through nine battles, and because fights can be so brief, you may spend nearly as much time on the between-match loading screens as you spend playing. You can also fight one-off battles against CPU opponents, or practice against dummy opponents. After you've completed the Arcade mode with each character, you unlock Challenge mode, where you can fight to survive against waves of opponents, engage in battles in which every hit severs a limb, or try to hack down a number of hanging pig carcasses before a timer runs out. The most interesting mode is the one with the least fighting in it. Generals mode is a simple war game inspired by Risk. You start out with a single territory and a home castle, and on a map, you assign armies to territories you control and direct them to other territories. When you target a neutral or enemy territory, a percentage indicates the likelihood of your victory, and as you claim more territories and entire zones, the number of bonus armies you receive each turn increases. The object is to conquer the enemy leader's castle, and when you attack it, you enter a one-on-one duel with that leader, which you must win to be victorious. Each general has attributes that affect his armies' chances in battle, such as bonuses to attack in mountain territories or bonuses to defense in the desert. But there's little actual nuance or strategy to this minigame. Brute force rules the day; build up a larger army, and an enemy's bonuses aren't likely to do him much good as you steamroll his forces.
Legends supports ranked and unranked online multiplayer, but scant few are taking advantage of this functionality. Even if you do find opponents, the opportunity to compete with other players (which you can also do locally) can't redeem Legends' basic, ugly combat. Last year's Deadliest Warrior: The Game was too unrefined to be entirely successful, but there was something promising about its attempts to simulate realistic, bloody combat. This sequel not only fails to build on that promise; it stabs a knife right through its heart.