I worried as I walked to the Spike Games booth for my E3 appointment to check out Deadliest Warrior that I might have been undeservedly kind to the game when I first saw it at GDC. Is it possible I liked the game so much because it was surprisingly un-terrible? Did I enjoy the game solely because I have a thing for preposterous juxtaposition in video games? Was I perhaps tainted from the start by the game's entertaining, edging-on-silly debut trailer?

After my second getting my hands on the game, which was recently dated and priced at July 14 for 800 Microsoft Points (the PSN version will come shortly thereafter), I feel confident in saying that I was totally right the first time around. Moreso, the delight I experienced the first time I played the game was only expounded by the arrival a few new anachronistic combatants.

The final version of the game I played at E3 retained the speedy, Bushido Blade-esque battles from the build I played earlier this year, with a few added layers of strategy thanks to the different playstyles of the game's selection of warriors. It would be irresponsible to go any further without providing you with a list of fighters:
  • Apache
  • Spartan
  • Pirate
  • Ninja
  • Samurai
  • Viking
  • Knight
  • One more yet-to-be-announced warrior from Season 2 of the television show
Each fighter is equipped with three different armaments -- a melee weapon, mid-range weapon (usually a type of spear) and a long-ranged weapon -- and a type of armor. Players can unlock one additional piece of equipment for each of these four slots by playing through each warrior's campaign. These don't just make aesthetic changes to your character, they also confer bonuses and penalties to your fighter's armor, damage and speed.

Though no one warrior is inherently stronger than the others, a tactical approach is necessary when playing as (and against) each of them. The Pirate, for instance, is a powerhouse, armed with a blunderbuss and a special grenadier attack which typically dismembers enemies caught in its radius. He's slow as molasses, though, and requires a bit of preparation in order to pull off his lumbering maneuvers.

The Ninja, on the other hand, is a nimble adversary, armed with poison darts and stunning smoke bombs. His defenses are nearly non-existent, but people who quickly master the art of parrying and counterattacking will likely find themselves drawn to his unmatched speed. The Viking can throw two spears at once, occasionally through the face of his unprotected enemy, leading to a rather gruesome one-hit-kill. The Knight and Spartan's heavy shields make them difficult adversaries to kill, unless you strip them of their aforementioned bucklers.

There's a few minigames aping common scenarios from the television, such as a pig carcass-slicing minigame, which rewards players with new equipment for whichever fighter is doing the carving. Another nice little bonus: Players who complete any of the fighter's campaigns will unlock a Samurai outfit for their Xbox Live Avatar -- but anyone who wants to unlock the head piece of that outfit will have to complete every campaign on the game's hardest difficulty setting.

I continue to be surprised at how much thought and polish went into the creation of Deadliest Warrior. The game's creators expressed concern at being lumped underneath the characteristically sub-par licensed game umbrella. Though there's nothing they can do to avoid that perception, the product they've created is several cuts above other titles in the licensed game space. There are plenty of hours of enjoyment just waiting to be extracted from its brisk skirmishes, and I simply can't wait to get started.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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