The boss combat doesn’t fare much better, and reminded me a lot of the repetitive fights from Warrior Within. As in that game you’ll face the same couple of mini-bosses over and over—charging bull-like monsters and a large sword-wielding behemoth that you defeat by attacking his legs. As you gain more XP and upgrade your abilities it’s cool to see these bruisers crumble under the enhanced power of the Prince’s blade and magical attacks. But these bosses repeat many, many times in the kind of combinations we saw in Warrior Within. The same strategy for the big mini-boss is even recycled for two of the main fights with Ratash.
The incidental gameplay aspects from the series have also seen some changes, for better and for worse. As I mentioned before you can now upgrade several aspects of the prince’s powers and combat by collecting XP from enemies and hidden sarcophagi. If you want more time-rewind tanks or a stronger sword, go for it—you can upgrade as soon as you have enough XP, and with so many demons to dice the upgrades come pretty quickly. I actually found the regular life bar and sword upgrades to be more useful than leveling up the elemental combat powers, but that’s just me.
On the other hand, I wasn’t too pleased with some stylistic changes. The prince refills health, restores power and gains experience through the beat-em-up staple, floating colored orbs that pop out of dead enemies and jars. In previous games you’d recharge with the ubiquitous magic sands, and replenish health by drinking water. Water is a constant theme in Persian architecture, with fountains and pools being mainstays, and Malik’s kingdom is built on an oasis so water is literally everywhere. I always liked how the series used the mystical aspects of water for literal life-giving, so Forgotten Sands’ adoption of something as uninspiring as floating red health orbs is pretty disappointing.
The story itself isn’t a let-down overall, but it certainly fits the term “side-story” to the letter. It’s always cool to meet new members of the Prince’s family, but Malik’s hubris and what ends up happening to him isn’t exactly a surprise. The Prince meets a Djinn named Razia, a kind of genie, early in the game and she’s the one who gives him time powers. She’s a suitable foil for the still-arrogant Prince, but she’s absent for most of the game so the witty banter from the first game or the creepy head-talking of the third are absent and much missed. The Prince is effectively portrayed once again by Yuri Lowenthal and it’s great to hear him reprise the role, but he just doesn’t get a lot to say. He wanders silently through most of the game, trying to catch up to his brother and taking orders from Razia.
It’s a real shame too, because even though we have the same Prince again, we don’t get his heart-tugging moments of guilt and awkward romance from Sands, his wrenching identity crisis and eventual resolve from Two Thrones, or even his single-minded rage from Warrior Within. That said the sense of inevitability is rather strong in this game. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the Prince spends much of the game trying to find an alternative solution to a bad situation, and ultimately must come to terms with the very difficult thing he has to do. I just wish we could’ve seen more of his transformation from headstrong, carefree youth into the haggard, desperate wanderer in Warrior Within. Forgotten Sands has a pretty isolated story, considering the intricate continuity of the Sands trilogy.
I hate to get so down on this game because it’s really not that bad. In most respects it just isn’t groundbreaking (or infamous) like the previous three were. However, Forgotten Sands does have a saving grace, and man it’s a doozie. This game offers the most intricate, elaborate and devious platforming of the whole series. Wall running, precision jumps, pole vaulting and every other aspect of the pitch-perfect acrobatic free-running returns in top form, with a few new additions that take it to a new level.
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