Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones Preview

NOTE: If you have not played through Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Warrior Within, this preview will contain quite a few spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Every gamer remembers certain moments in their gaming lives forever. One of my personal favorites is the first time I ever saw the original Prince of Persia in action. My friend's dad had taken us to see Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? live. Afterwards we swung by a local CompUSA because I'd never been there before. We perused countless aisles of generic games before we saw it: a lone Macintosh running a really awesome looking game at the end of an aisle. We played it for about an hour before my friend's dad finally hauled us back to the car. Two weeks later, I had the game for PC, and I've been a devout follower of the Prince series ever since.

Prince of Persia has certainly had its ups and downs, but the rejuvenation of the series—and of action-adventure gaming in general—with 2003's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time brought the series back to the big time. While many were disappointed with the direction that 2004's PoP: Warrior Within took, it was my personal opinion that the core of the game was built on what makes the PoP games so great in the first place: awesome game play. On December 1st of this year, the Sands of Time trilogy will come to an end with The Two Thrones, and after sitting down to talk with Ben Mattes, a Producer over at Ubisoft, I am not only confident that Two Thrones will satisfy not only action-adventure fans, but Prince of Persia fans as well.

As stated above, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is the culmination of Ubisoft's PoP trilogy that began with Sands of Time. The story picks up right after the ending of Warrior Within. The prince and Kaileena have entered Babylon, but his home is not quite the way he remembers it when he left. The city has been ravaged by war, and his people are being slaughtered. He enters the city a fugitive, and must discover who—or what—is behind the devastation wracking Babylon.

While excitement is pretty high for Two Thrones, many fans have (understandably) grown concerned that it won't be anything new; just more of the same things that we've seen over the past two years. What can you expect in the way of new features? Plenty. Under the hood, TT has undergone many AI tweaks to present tons of new challenges for returning players. What kind of tweaks? Well, how about an entirely new AI system? Mattes says that the rework "is based around two major elements: enemy awareness to their environment and the Sand Gate system. The [Two Thrones] enemies are now able to see the prince coming from afar, hear him as he comes close by or when he disturbs a volley of pigeons, for example, in which case, they will turn to an awareness behavior and investigate the issue further. If a real threat turns out to be found, they can trigger the alarm and call for reinforcements using the Sand Gate system."

Combat has always been lots of fun in PoP titles, and Two Thrones will be no exception. TT is set to re-employ the free form system used in WW in order to keep the creativity used in selecting weapons and killing with them. A balance has been sought between Sands of Time and Warrior Within in terms of combat versus puzzle solving. This has been done to sate the players who felt that SoT focused too much on puzzle solving while providing boring combat, whereas WW provided too much combat and not enough puzzle solving. Mattes believes that "What makes POP games very special is their balanced mix between different gameplay elements: combat, platforming/exploration and puzzles. In POPT2T we're keeping this mix, so we're definitely not heading towards an all-puzzle game or a hack-n-slash!" Even if you weren't a fan of the combat system of either game, an interesting element has been added into the mix to spice up the fighting engine a bit: Speed Kills.

Speed Kills are another new addition to the series. "The Speed kill System will allow you to inflict a very dramatic and athletic move that will take down your enemy in a single shot," says Mattes. "This new system will come with a whole new AI and a lot of new spectacular moves." In addition to looking pretty sweet, Speed Kills introduce an element of strategy to the killing. When the player spots large clusters of enemies, he or she will want to make certain to take down the stronger baddies first before they've detected the player's presence. Once they've been killed, the other enemies will most likely be alerted to the player, but the threat will have been lessened to a degree. Entirely new enemies and bosses have been created for players to defeat, and each Speed Kill has its own unique animation, guaranteeing that players won't get bored killing similar enemies over and over again.

One of the most exciting new features is the addition of a new playable character: the Dark Prince. According to Mattes, "The Dark Prince is a "corrupt" version of the Prince who has been infected by the Sands of Time." He's a manifestation of the darker traits of the prince, such as ruthlessness. And ruthless is something the Dark Prince can do very well. He is very violent, and takes a lot of pleasure in excessive brutality. The DP adds to the dynamic of the prince's character because though he is viewed as a separate entity, he is still the prince himself. The prince will have to learn to control his darker emotions, or else fall prey to them.

As different as they may be, DP and the prince do share common goals: to discover the identity of whoever is responsible for attacking Babylon and stealing their throne. DP "will often provide the Prince with advice and direction, helping to keep him focused on the mission at hand." _PAGE_BREAK_ So two different characters means two different ways of playing, right? Yep. While the prince and DP share similar athletic and combat abilities, their game play differences are unique enough to complement each other rather well. Mattes says that "In terms of combat style, The Dark Prince is reckless and furious! He fights with the Daggertail, a powerful chain-like mid-range weapon with which he can to perform spectacular grabs, direct attacks and combos. He also uses the Dagger of Time for close combat, mostly as a mean to finish his enemies after a deadly Daggertail attack. He can also perform Speed Kills in a very brutal way which reflects his personality. He also uses his Daggertail to manoeuvre in his environment and access places the Prince cannot."

So how will you control the two different characters? The change occurs when specific scripted events occur within the game world. "In order to calm these moments of crises and return back to his "normal" self, the Prince will need to seek out the healing properties of the Water of Life, familiar to any fans of the previous Prince of Persia titles."

One question that has been on the mind of many Sands of Time devotees is, what about Farah? "Farah has indeed returned," Mattes confirms, "though not under the most pleasant of circumstance. Players will learn how and why she came to be in Babylon over the course of the game. Unfortunately, she remembers nothing of her previous interactions with our hero. Thanks to his meddling in Warrior Within, the entire adventure at Azad simply never happened – including the last little moments where he slips into Farah's bedroom, tells his tale, and confronts The Vizier."

One of my personal favorite aspects of Sands of Time was the awesome character interaction and development that Farah and the prince went through while they worked with one another. Their running commentary was insightful, very humorous, and showed that they were developing genuine feelings with one another. Even though the prince has screwed with time to the point that Farah has no recollection of him whatsoever does not mean the two won't tag-team again. They share a common enemy, and it is this that brings them together once again.

However, Farah is not the same woman the prince once knew. "Times have changed," Mattes says, "and she's seen her fair share of sadness and loss." Don't panic: she'll be different, but she won't turn into the punk rocker our prince devolved into between SoT and WW. She has matured due to what she has seen.

Despite the changes each characters have gone through, the development time has taken great strides to ensure that interactions between Farah and the prince are just as fun and clever as they were in SoT. "Over the course of the adventure The Prince and Farah will work together to track their enemy – and so they're sure to run into obstacles requiring their cooperation. The familiar and much-loved banter between the two has returned as well."

The Dark Prince will prove a variable in the relationship between Farah and our hero. Mattes elaborates: "As the game progresses, players will discover that Farah and the Dark Prince have very different views of our hero – how he should proceed and what it means to be a prince. This conflict will fuel both the game's story as well as The Prince's development as a hero." He will have to learn the value of compassion, sacrifice, and honor; traits which Farah values very much. Even harder will be the prince's struggle to contain his baser emotions such as revenge and empowerment, which will be manifested in the form of the Dark Prince.

The mysterious old man from Warrior Within makes a return as well. Since childhood, the prince has been in the care of the old man. His father, King Sharaman, was often busy waging wars and conquering cities, which doesn't leave much time to properly raise children. Sharaman sought the wisest man in his kingdom to look after his son, and ever since, the old man has remained loyal to the prince. Mattes says that in WW, the old man warned the prince that his quest—to change his fate—was impossible. As the prince returns to Babylon and beholds the devastation wracking his city, he wonders if what his mentor told him turned out to be true after all. Mattes also says that the old man will play a critical role this time around, but was rather shy about revealing specifics. (Meaning, he didn't tell me anything at all.)

Inevitably, the comparison between the well-received Sands of Time and not so well-received Warrior Within spring up, and to be fair, the comparison needs to be made. To many fans of the series, Sands of Time embodied the spirit of Prince of Persia: an epic, sprawling world; fun and intuitive acrobatic maneuvers; lots of combat (too much, in some cases); and often perplexing puzzles. Warrior Within shied away from this approach. The prince appeared like a Trent Reznor lookalike, ostensibly due to his ordeals during SoT. The music went from a beautiful "Arabian Nights" type of soundtrack to hard rock and heavy metal. Gamers rallied against the artistic direction of the game, many going so far as to say the series had sold out in order to sell more copies.

Will The Two Thrones be more like The Sands of Time, or will it be similar to Warrior Within? Actually, kind of a hybrid, but more akin to Sands of Time by far. Mattes explains that "For each POP, we want to make a game that looks and feels different. In POPT2T, the Prince will evolve in Babylon, a city between myth and reality. We have designed this place as one of strong contrasts: dark and light, roofs and caves, richness and misery. In the end, we think it's the most engrossing and beautiful universe we have ever created in the series. It's a very balanced mix between the maturity of Warrior Within and the more Persian atmosphere of Sands of Time."

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones will be available for purchase on December 1st for PC, Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube.