Warrior Within's Mechanical Discord

Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
The Prince and I have quite a bit of history

I've just finished playing Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. It's a game that I have quite a bit of history with, and a torrid one at that. I initially played the game back in 2005, when I received it along with several other games after buying a friend's original Xbox. I don't remember what my problem with the game was, but it didn't endear itself to me and I must've traded it in not long after that. A year or so later, another friend was offloading some PS2 games and I took about ten off his hands. Among them was Warrior Within, along with the two other games in the Sands of Time trilogy. I began, logically, with the first game, and chose to pick up Warrior Within immediately afterwards. I can't remember if I became burned out on the platforming mechanics or simply got stuck, but I put the game down after a few hours and didn't bother to pick it back up. That is, until last week.

Returning to Warrior Within for the third time has been both a pleasure and a chore in almost equal measure. Every moment of sheer enjoyment in my fifteen hours with the game was offset by a moment of disbelief or frustration. Strangely enough, though, my main complaint the standard one levelled at the game - namely, the excessive levels of baditude piled onto the product. While I found it a little gimmicky after the Arabian Nights-esque presentation of The Sands of Time, it didn't have any impact on my enjoyment of the game itself. My beef with the game actually concerns its mechanic discord, for lack of a better term. Put in simpler terms, there are aspects of Warrior Within's technical and mechanical design that really seem to be at odds with each other. In many cases, what one mechanical choice does really right is offset by another choice that does something really wrong.

This screenshot makes boss fights look a lot more interesting than they actually are

The most immediately obvious example of this mechanical discord establishes itself between the game's combat system and its handful of boss battles. For those not in the know, one of the primary complaints directed at The Sands of Time was that its combat mechanics were pretty simplistic, resulting in fights being more inconvenient than enjoyable. Warrior Within addresses this criticism with a much deeper combat system, incorporating dual-wielding as well as a number of grapples, throws, weapon-steals and acrobatic attacks. Pretty much all of these moves can be linked into each other, opening up a ton of potential combos for the Prince to unleash upon his foes. You might think these myriad possibilities would make for some interesting boss battles - perhaps some Zelda-style opportunities to exploit weak points using specific combos and open them up to attack. You'd be very wrong if you did. Save for a single evasive move which allows you to spring off an enemy's head, all those skills and permutations become null and void in the face of a boss. This reduced my boss tactics to 'slash a couple of times, back away from the counter-attack, wait for an opening, and slash again'. Add to this the fact that the damage done by bosses seems outrageously high, and you've got five very, very tedious boss encounters on your hands.

Combine the Game Over screens with the overpowered bosses and you've got one of the most justified reasons to rage-quit in gaming history

The other case of mechanical discord that bothered me was a lot less obvious, but much more infuriating. It's also pretty difficult to articulate. For lack of a better way of putting it, I found the parts of the game where I wasn't playing, were making me not want to play it. As anyone who's played a Prince of Persia game will know, a big draw for those games is the speed and fluidity of the game mechanics. The platforming is snappy and responsive, the combat is stylish and acrobatic, and if you should make a mistake and die, the time-rewinding mechanic allows you to quickly and painlessly pick up where you went wrong. Every single aspect of the gameplay seems focused on providing a fast, flowing, uninterrupted experience for the player. This makes it very jarring when everything not directly related to the gameplay takes twice as long as it should. It's evident from the moment the game launches - one after another, four animated logos fill the screen. Only one of these can be skipped (specifically the second one, which in itself is a pretty strange design choice), so every time I turned the game on I found myself enduring an unnecessarily long wait to actually play it. If you're unlucky enough to die without any sand tanks in reserve, the game will slowly fade to black, then present you with an animated 'Game Over' screen. The screen then fades to black again, and presents you with a second Game Over screen, this one giving you the option to choose between Retry or Quit. This whole process takes about twenty seconds, and is completely counterintuitive to the 'get-back-in-action-quickly' effect of rewinding time. Why not just make one Game Over screen, damn it? And while you're at it, make sure the game doesn't have to noticeably load it.

The most enervating example of this is encountered whenever you try to save your game. Have the Prince drink at a fountain and you'll be given the chance to save. 'Would you like to save your game to the Memory Card in Slot 1?', it asks. Given that drinking water is also a healing mechanic in Warrior Within, this is pretty understandable - it's perfectly feasible that somebody might want to drink from the fountain to restore their health bar, without actually saving the game. Answer in the affirmative and it'll present you with a list of save game slots to pick from. Select one and the seemingly amnesiac Warrior Within will double-check with you on your intention - 'Are you sure you would like to save your game to the Memory Card in Slot 1?'. You'd think your woes would end here, and if you're picking an empty save slot, you'd be right. If, however, you're electing to overwrite an already-existing save game (as I'm sure quite a substantial number of people playing a linear action/adventure game with no branching paths or choices would), you're in for one last triple-check before you can actually go through with it - 'Are you absolutely, positively, 100% sure you want to overwrite this game on the Memory Card in Slot 1?'. Saving your game in Warrior Within is not only time-consuming, it is almost physically painful.

The brilliance of the rest of the game makes these issues even less forgivable

The most annoying thing about these jarring conflicts between getting to play Warrior Within and actually playing it is that there's no excuse for their existence. It's clearly not a question of developer ability, for one. The level of polish and fluidity exhibited in the gameplay of Warrior Within is a testament to the developers at Ubisoft Montreal's ability to streamline aspects of games that might otherwise have been ungainly and awkward (compare Prince of Persia's platforming with that of its contemporary, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, to see what I mean). I don't believe it's a hardware issue, either. Plenty of PS2 games are able to very quickly dust the player off and throw them back into the action - if you die during the campaign of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, for example, you're back at your last checkpoint in no more than a few seconds. With just a little more refinement, these menus could have been made at least less invasive, if not completely unobtrusive.

I can't remember if these issues were present in The Sands of Time, because It's been five years since I played it. I really hope they're not present in The Two Thrones, to the point where I'm actually reluctant to play it and find out. Perhaps I'm overreacting, coming across as overly pedantic because these aspects of the game don't actually reflect or impact upon the quality of the game itself (for what it's worth, the game part of Warrior Within is largely great). That may be true, but they do impact on the experience of actually playing the game, and in my eyes that's just as bad. To draw a comparison with the current generation, I'd say it's akin to building a great online multiplayer experience, but without the online infrastructure to back it up. If you keep getting disconnected because of problems on the server end, problems that shouldn't exist but do, then you're not going to want to come back regardless of how much fun actually playing the game is. That's how I felt every time I died or had to save in Warrior Within. Thanks very much for reading, guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Persona 3: FES (PS2)

#1 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -
The Prince and I have quite a bit of history

I've just finished playing Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. It's a game that I have quite a bit of history with, and a torrid one at that. I initially played the game back in 2005, when I received it along with several other games after buying a friend's original Xbox. I don't remember what my problem with the game was, but it didn't endear itself to me and I must've traded it in not long after that. A year or so later, another friend was offloading some PS2 games and I took about ten off his hands. Among them was Warrior Within, along with the two other games in the Sands of Time trilogy. I began, logically, with the first game, and chose to pick up Warrior Within immediately afterwards. I can't remember if I became burned out on the platforming mechanics or simply got stuck, but I put the game down after a few hours and didn't bother to pick it back up. That is, until last week.

Returning to Warrior Within for the third time has been both a pleasure and a chore in almost equal measure. Every moment of sheer enjoyment in my fifteen hours with the game was offset by a moment of disbelief or frustration. Strangely enough, though, my main complaint the standard one levelled at the game - namely, the excessive levels of baditude piled onto the product. While I found it a little gimmicky after the Arabian Nights-esque presentation of The Sands of Time, it didn't have any impact on my enjoyment of the game itself. My beef with the game actually concerns its mechanic discord, for lack of a better term. Put in simpler terms, there are aspects of Warrior Within's technical and mechanical design that really seem to be at odds with each other. In many cases, what one mechanical choice does really right is offset by another choice that does something really wrong.

This screenshot makes boss fights look a lot more interesting than they actually are

The most immediately obvious example of this mechanical discord establishes itself between the game's combat system and its handful of boss battles. For those not in the know, one of the primary complaints directed at The Sands of Time was that its combat mechanics were pretty simplistic, resulting in fights being more inconvenient than enjoyable. Warrior Within addresses this criticism with a much deeper combat system, incorporating dual-wielding as well as a number of grapples, throws, weapon-steals and acrobatic attacks. Pretty much all of these moves can be linked into each other, opening up a ton of potential combos for the Prince to unleash upon his foes. You might think these myriad possibilities would make for some interesting boss battles - perhaps some Zelda-style opportunities to exploit weak points using specific combos and open them up to attack. You'd be very wrong if you did. Save for a single evasive move which allows you to spring off an enemy's head, all those skills and permutations become null and void in the face of a boss. This reduced my boss tactics to 'slash a couple of times, back away from the counter-attack, wait for an opening, and slash again'. Add to this the fact that the damage done by bosses seems outrageously high, and you've got five very, very tedious boss encounters on your hands.

Combine the Game Over screens with the overpowered bosses and you've got one of the most justified reasons to rage-quit in gaming history

The other case of mechanical discord that bothered me was a lot less obvious, but much more infuriating. It's also pretty difficult to articulate. For lack of a better way of putting it, I found the parts of the game where I wasn't playing, were making me not want to play it. As anyone who's played a Prince of Persia game will know, a big draw for those games is the speed and fluidity of the game mechanics. The platforming is snappy and responsive, the combat is stylish and acrobatic, and if you should make a mistake and die, the time-rewinding mechanic allows you to quickly and painlessly pick up where you went wrong. Every single aspect of the gameplay seems focused on providing a fast, flowing, uninterrupted experience for the player. This makes it very jarring when everything not directly related to the gameplay takes twice as long as it should. It's evident from the moment the game launches - one after another, four animated logos fill the screen. Only one of these can be skipped (specifically the second one, which in itself is a pretty strange design choice), so every time I turned the game on I found myself enduring an unnecessarily long wait to actually play it. If you're unlucky enough to die without any sand tanks in reserve, the game will slowly fade to black, then present you with an animated 'Game Over' screen. The screen then fades to black again, and presents you with a second Game Over screen, this one giving you the option to choose between Retry or Quit. This whole process takes about twenty seconds, and is completely counterintuitive to the 'get-back-in-action-quickly' effect of rewinding time. Why not just make one Game Over screen, damn it? And while you're at it, make sure the game doesn't have to noticeably load it.

The most enervating example of this is encountered whenever you try to save your game. Have the Prince drink at a fountain and you'll be given the chance to save. 'Would you like to save your game to the Memory Card in Slot 1?', it asks. Given that drinking water is also a healing mechanic in Warrior Within, this is pretty understandable - it's perfectly feasible that somebody might want to drink from the fountain to restore their health bar, without actually saving the game. Answer in the affirmative and it'll present you with a list of save game slots to pick from. Select one and the seemingly amnesiac Warrior Within will double-check with you on your intention - 'Are you sure you would like to save your game to the Memory Card in Slot 1?'. You'd think your woes would end here, and if you're picking an empty save slot, you'd be right. If, however, you're electing to overwrite an already-existing save game (as I'm sure quite a substantial number of people playing a linear action/adventure game with no branching paths or choices would), you're in for one last triple-check before you can actually go through with it - 'Are you absolutely, positively, 100% sure you want to overwrite this game on the Memory Card in Slot 1?'. Saving your game in Warrior Within is not only time-consuming, it is almost physically painful.

The brilliance of the rest of the game makes these issues even less forgivable

The most annoying thing about these jarring conflicts between getting to play Warrior Within and actually playing it is that there's no excuse for their existence. It's clearly not a question of developer ability, for one. The level of polish and fluidity exhibited in the gameplay of Warrior Within is a testament to the developers at Ubisoft Montreal's ability to streamline aspects of games that might otherwise have been ungainly and awkward (compare Prince of Persia's platforming with that of its contemporary, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, to see what I mean). I don't believe it's a hardware issue, either. Plenty of PS2 games are able to very quickly dust the player off and throw them back into the action - if you die during the campaign of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, for example, you're back at your last checkpoint in no more than a few seconds. With just a little more refinement, these menus could have been made at least less invasive, if not completely unobtrusive.

I can't remember if these issues were present in The Sands of Time, because It's been five years since I played it. I really hope they're not present in The Two Thrones, to the point where I'm actually reluctant to play it and find out. Perhaps I'm overreacting, coming across as overly pedantic because these aspects of the game don't actually reflect or impact upon the quality of the game itself (for what it's worth, the game part of Warrior Within is largely great). That may be true, but they do impact on the experience of actually playing the game, and in my eyes that's just as bad. To draw a comparison with the current generation, I'd say it's akin to building a great online multiplayer experience, but without the online infrastructure to back it up. If you keep getting disconnected because of problems on the server end, problems that shouldn't exist but do, then you're not going to want to come back regardless of how much fun actually playing the game is. That's how I felt every time I died or had to save in Warrior Within. Thanks very much for reading, guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Persona 3: FES (PS2)

#2 Posted by wealllikepie (757 posts) -

The parts where you play as the sandwraith were fun. they did some cool stuff with the plot too!

it's too bad critics were so quick to judge this game because of its admittedly poor choices in tone. From what I remember of playing the game, I was shocked by how fun the combat actually was when I got my head around it, and those platforming sections were pretty fun, even though I died a whole lot of times.

Unfortunately, I never got around to playing the two thrones, and I hope to pick it up when the HD trilogy comes out.

also, dope blog bro!

#3 Posted by jakob187 (21671 posts) -

I remember enjoying the hell out of this game, more than Sands of Time or whatever that third one was called. Yeah, the moments where Godsmack played were awkward as hell, but I've got this particular love for blood in a game. Prince of Persia handled that and the combat pretty damn well for my tastes.

Good blog, though.

#4 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -

@wealllikepie: Thanks. Yeah, I liked the Sandwraith stuff too. Admittedly, it was kind of obvious the twist was coming as you got closer to it, but the way they handled it was really impressive, I thought. I also really liked the way they switched things up with the decreasing health and regenerating sand tanks. It didn't drastically change my playstyle, but it did make me much more conscious of my health in combat. That being said, I know you're not supposed to take that stuff too seriously, but the time paradox that the Prince creates as the Sandwraith did frustrate me quite a bit:

I mean, if your past self dies, then your past self can't become your present self, so wouldn't your present self cease to exist? And if that's the case, then your non-existent present self wouldn't be around to orchestrate the death of your past self, so your past self would become your present self, who would then go on and...

...Like I said, I know I'm not supposed to take it too seriously. But still :P

@jakob187: It is a good game. The soundtrack doesn't fit, I don't think, but then I'm not sure if anything else would have been a better fit. It's not really grand enough for a big orchestral score a la God of War, and the period-style soundtrack of Sands of Time would have been a little too light and airy for the tone they were going for. It was awkward, but I think it was the least awkward option.

Also, the song that played over the end credits was pretty awesome.

#5 Posted by mylifeforAiur (3484 posts) -

 Oh, that last battle against Kaileena was a gargantuan exercise in frustration. The game focused too heavily on its combat mechanics -- mechanics that were, at times, completely unforgiving. Though, I will say that Warrior Within has some genuinely fun additions: The chase sequences and the switching of time-periods being the noteworthy addendums to the PoP formula. 
 
Also, writing like this only served to infuriate me: "I am the architect of my own destruction."  What happened to my wise-cracking, amiable, and jovial Prince? Bleh!

#6 Posted by Ashwyn (202 posts) -

I actually havent completed a Prince of Persia game other than Sand of Time and Forgotten Sands.... Really should pick up the HD trilogy me thinks, are reading about this I kinda wanna go back and complete them all.

#7 Posted by wealllikepie (757 posts) -

@mylifeforAiur said:

Oh, that last battle against Kaileena was a gargantuan exercise in frustration. The game focused too heavily on its combat mechanics -- mechanics that were, at times, completely unforgiving. Though, I will say that Warrior Within has some genuinely fun additions: The chase sequences and the switching of time-periods being the noteworthy addendums to the PoP formula. Also, writing like this only served to infuriate me: "I am the architect of my own destruction." What happened to my wise-cracking, amiable, and jovial Prince? Bleh!

if you collected all of the health upgrades, you would get the "good" ending where you fight the dahaka or whatever he was called. it's much easier than the fight against kaileena.

#8 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

Because of this blog, I did a little research and found that there's a Wii stand alone version of Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands. It seems to be a pretty good Wii game. I'll have to keep that in mind. I played Warrior Within, but didn't like it as much as Sands of Time.

#9 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6197 posts) -

I was interested in these games up until the point when I heard Godsmack in the ad. I know, it's a stupid reason to not want to play a game on the surface, but an ex-girlfriend had been crazy into that band and I kinda grew to hate them.

Moderator
#10 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -

@Claude said:

Because of this blog, I did a little research and found that there's a Wii stand alone version of Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands. It seems to be a pretty good Wii game. I'll have to keep that in mind. I played Warrior Within, but didn't like it as much as Sands of Time.

I'm pretty interested in checking out the 360 version of The Forgotten Sands at some point. I actually watched the Quick Look on Monday, not long after beating Warrior Within, and thought, "that looks like something I'd enjoy". Before that, though, I'll have to get around to playing The Two Thrones and the 2008 reboot. So much Prince of Persia to contend with!

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I'm pretty sure Godsmack only feature in the soundtrack to Warrior Within. Bearing that in mind, I'd say that at least Sands of Time is definitely still worth your... time. Assuming you still have a PS2, you could probably find a used copy somewhere for just a few bucks.

@mylifeforAiur: I don't know if it's because Warrior Within was the first time I was exposed to the franchise, but the rough-and-ready restyling of the Prince wasn't really a bother for me. I can definitely see how it would be if you'd played the hell out of Sands of Time, though. The dahaka chases were a nice idea, but the camera detracted from them for me. If you're going to put sequences like that in a platforming game, you need a great camera. Warrior Within's camera isn't bad (actually, as far as PS2 games go, it's pretty damn good), but its tendency to snag on the environment made some of those chases a lot more frustrating than they needed to be. As for the Ocarina of Time-style past/present dichotomy, I felt it was done really well and unlike the baditude, it didn't feel gimmicky at all. There's a real danger with things like that of making the game feel heavy on backtracking, but the developers clearly put a lot of effort into making the various environments recognisable across time, but still unique to traverse, and it really paid off.

#11 Posted by yinstarrunner (1199 posts) -

I liked Warrior Within. Not as much as the other two in the trilogy, but it wasn't bad at all. As you said, the tonal changes didn't really get in the way of the gameplay, though the soundtrack was a little jarring.

The boss fights were indeed super frustrating. It always evolved into doing a very specific pattern so that you could do damage without getting hit. The flow of the regular combat encounters was completely gone.

My main complaint with the game, though, is the respawning enemies. I uunderstand the developers wanted a good mix of traversal and combat, but with the almost metroid-like open world (an idea i love for this type of game, by the way), going through areas you've been 5 times before and fighting the same enemies again is an exercise in tedium. The idea of respawning enemies in Metroid is fine because you're so powerful in those games that you can clear out a room in seconds. In prince of Persia, fights will on average last at least a minute or more.

Whatever. I still like the game, even if i think it is the weakest entry in the whole series

#12 Posted by McGhee (6094 posts) -

@Claude said:

Because of this blog, I did a little research and found that there's a Wii stand alone version of Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands. It seems to be a pretty good Wii game. I'll have to keep that in mind. I played Warrior Within, but didn't like it as much as Sands of Time.

I played that on the PS3 not too long ago. It's a great game, not deserving of a lot of the shit-talking it received. The freezing and unfreezing mechanic along with the ability to reform fallen platforms made for some really fun and challenging platforming.

#13 Posted by agoaj (35 posts) -

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Not that crazy a reason. They're songs are in the game too.

#14 Posted by dankempster (2253 posts) -

@yinstarrunner: You mentioning Metroid in relation to the game's layout has reminded me of a thought that crossed my mind a few times while I was playing the game - how much the layout and design seemed to evoke the design philosophies of Castlevania. I have to admit I've never actually played a Castlevania game in any capacity, so I can't be 100% certain in saying this, but Warrior Within definitely seemed to tick a lot of the boxes that people wanting a 'true 3D Castlevania' demand in forum posts.

And I'll agree with you on the respawning enemies front. It's not so bad towards the very end of the game, because you're revisiting areas with comparatively weak enemies that your upgraded weaponry can fell with one hit, but it really does make the third quarter of the game drag. Fighting through the huge library yet again on my third visit was not fun at all.

#15 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -
@McGhee_the_Insomniac said:

@Claude said:

Because of this blog, I did a little research and found that there's a Wii stand alone version of Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands. It seems to be a pretty good Wii game. I'll have to keep that in mind. I played Warrior Within, but didn't like it as much as Sands of Time.

I played that on the PS3 not too long ago. It's a great game, not deserving of a lot of the shit-talking it received. The freezing and unfreezing mechanic along with the ability to reform fallen platforms made for some really fun and challenging platforming.

From what I read, the Wii version is not a port, but a stand alone game and its own story elements. I also read that it's a rather long game, around 15 hours.
#16 Posted by Jedted (2363 posts) -

I recently bought the PoP HD collection on PSN and i just started Warrior Within. It feels like going straight from SoT to this was a pretty big mistake cause i really don't like tonal shift they did. In the opening boss battle when the Prince shouts "you b*tch," that was when i was like "That's NOT The Prince i grew to love in the last game."

I'm only about an hour in and the combat seems alright. Might jump back in once i take a break and have time to adjust to the moodiness.

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