Deadiest Warrior has a long history of surprising me at trade shows by being much, much better than any licensed downloadable game has a right to be. That trend wasn't bucked at this year's Electronics Entertainment Expo, where the newly rebranded publisher 345 Games -- not to be confused with 343 Industries or 505 Games, mind you -- showed off Pipeworks' second stab at the combatative franchise, Deadliest Warrior: Legends.

The title appears to bring a number of intriguing, necessary additions to the core one-on-one combat system, possibly bringing it into parity with deeper entries in the genre. However, the aspect which provided me with my annual jolt of surprise didn't involve dismembered, anachronistic soldiers: It involved the game's new strategic game mode, "Generals."

The new mode, which can either be played through a single-player campaign or against a friend, sees players vying for domination of different territories across a map, Risk-style. Rather than rolling die, though, combat is determined using the same odds calculator utilized by the show to determine who would win in a straight fight. The game skirts around the issue of imbalanced armies by including different terrain types in each map, and giving each of the title's nine Warriors their own set of strengths and weaknesses in the different venues.

In addition to their innate terrain strengths, each Warrior also has three special abilities that boost their odds of victory when trying to push through to a new territory. However, these abilities can't be used unless the player holds one of three corresponding castles scattered across the map. These keeps usually start out with a higher troop count than other territories, making them harder to capture -- as does the fact that once a single troop remains in the keep, you have to best him in one-on-one armed combat.

Each army has a base number of troops they can place in controlled territories each round, a number you can bolster by conquering entire continents or holding down these castles. However, each player starts the game only controlling their home country; surrounding areas must be taken by force from their peaceful, unattacking inhabitants.

It's a one-of-a-kind mixture of the strategy and fighting genres that I'm excited to sink my teeth into. Of course, there's a regular arcade mode campaign which sees you brawling your way through the game's cast of real-life military leaders, such as William Wallace, Shaka Zulu and Alexander the Great.

Returning players should find the original formula relatively unmolested -- they'll also find a set of exclusive weapons in their inventory, a bonus for having the original Deadliest Warrior on your hard drive. Combat is quick and brutal, with fights usually ending in two or three well-placed blows. (Or one well-placed arrow.)

However, Deadliest Warrior: Legends has totally done away with health, instead requiring players to keep an eye on their hero to monitor their physical well-being. This puts the kibosh on low-health finishing moves -- these are now executed by using a stamina-draining grapple. After getting a hold of an opponent, you can either aim high (instant kill), medium (arm break) or low (leg break). They, in turn, can block in the three directions, buffeting your advances completely.

There's a few more subtle additions as well. Players can now performing a feint attack, tricking an opponent on blowing a block maneuver and opening a brief window for a second strike. Also, projectiles must be aimed high to low as well, a decision which changes based on your distance to the enemy. Perhaps most exciting is the ability to push your opponent -- a maneuver that goes hand-in-hand with the game's new ability to toss opponents into deadly pits and traps strewn around the arenas.

There's Avatar awards, online titles and additional sets of weapons to collect for each fighter (including "joke weapons," low-damage armaments like Atilla the Hun's fearsome "Dead Fish," which is a dead fish) -- though I don't think interested parties are going to need the siren call of collectibles to stay locked into Deadliest Warrior: Legends for a long, long time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.