It’s been an incredibly long time since I sat down to a major AAA game and just finished a few levels in an hour. Much as I might enjoy Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers and other titles like it, so many games are an absolute grind these days. I look at my Steam library, glance at games like even Mortal Kombat 11, and I see hours of investment just to get to the heart of the fun.
That’s not the case with Raven Software’s long dormant but not forgotten duology of X-Men Legends games. Though the first has some odd quirks to it, the sequel, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, is astonishing to play today. While a pure action RPG through and through, with some thinly and not so thinly veiled dungeons to run around in as you level up your favorite squad of mutants, it doesn’t take long to get to the fun.
In a single session, I had Rogue flying around and tossing jet engines like it was nothing. Unlocking side content specific to certain mutants was easy because my roster already had what they needed to achieve success. I easily experimented with multiple characters in a snap. It’s possible to completely automate nearly every RPG aspect if you’re so inclined, turning the game into a pure isometric brawler should you so prefer it. And it’s fantastic either way.
The voice acting is top-notch, Patrick Stewart transitioning from expositing mission briefings to awkwardly game-y tutorials like it’s nothing. Every scenario may be a dungeon, but the narrative framing is precisely like in classic X-Men stories. Even modern niceties like audio diaries painting a picture of past events are sprinkled in, as well as passive leveling for the mutants you haven’t tried yet. The story won’t win any awards, yet it precisely captures the right level of classic X-Men pulp crossed with some of the grimmer edge of the Fox era of X-Men movies.
X-Men Legends II quickly became a game about embodying my preferred X-Men fantasy roster. Wolverine and Magneto were gladly tossed aside for longtime favorites like Rogue, Nightcrawler, and Juggernaut. With the mutant Blink able to blink my team back to the X-Men’s staging area at any moment — an impressive technical feat for the time — I never felt like I had to force myself to keep going to get all the progress necessary. I could stop and save when I felt like it. Do you remember that? Actually being able to stop in the middle of a level and come back to it? Gosh, those were nice days.
It turns out that when you have control over how long you play and how invested you truly have to be, it’s a lot easier to get into a game, no matter how old it is. I understand that the scope of modern games vastly exceeds that of X-Men Legends II — at this point, an indie team can pump out a game like this in a year with the right talent. However, these many aspects that help ensure I’m sticking with X-Men Legends II over those same modern releases don’t have to be a thing of the past. Those are deliberate choices that can be included in today’s games, and they’d be better for it.