IGN Review of Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War
The Hundred Years' War, the brutal, tragic conflict between England and France over claims to the French throne, is a subject greatly lauded and retold in fiction, film and (perhaps more recently) videogames. KOEI has entered the ranks of those that attempt to capture and depict these exhausting, blood-soaked times with Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, its newest title developed by Omega Force. While it suffers from a number of serious problems that many other KOEI games face, Bladestorm is surprisingly enjoyable. Were it not for the technical and presentation-oriented flaws that plague it, this could be one of the best KOEI games we've seen in a while, delivering a refreshingly different experience than the Dynasty Warriors series, which has been intensely stale as of late.
Bladestorm is a strategy-based title that puts you in direct control of a mercenary working during the Hundred Years War. With the ability to align with either the French or the English, you can select specific contracts for either side depending on who you want to fight for, who pays the most coin, and which side is more likely to emerge victorious. During battle, you fight by taking control of a squad of soldiers and command them on the field. We'll explain the combat system more thoroughly soon, but for now, let's discuss how the game is set up.
You begin with a few cutscenes (the opening one being admittedly impressive), then you'll find yourself in a small, cozy tavern talking to the Barkeep. It's through this dialogue that you create your character and are grounded in the setting and style of the war. Character creation isn't the worst, but you're given very limited control of the design. You can choose your character's gender, facial type and voice. The facial types are just preset - you only have a handful to choose from - but they look fine enough. From then on, the tavern serves as your hub to the game, giving you the ability to change settings, keep track of story and characters through a Diary option, recruit squads, buy equipment, level up your mercenary, and even gossip with the locals. That's one handy tavern.
When you actually accept a contract, that's where the meat of the game comes in. You, as we mentioned before, can fight on either the side of Price Edward of the English, or Joan of Arc on the side of the French (these characters will appear later in the game). When you enter battle, your main objective, generally, is to capture particular towns or fortresses on the map. But fighting alone will get you absolutely nowhere, so you'll need to command squads of soldiers, of varying types. The fighters range from swordsmen, archers, mounted knights and scouts to elephant troops and engineer based units. There's a lot of diversity here in the unit type, and Bladestorm plays very differently depending on who you lead.
If you take the time to actually study and take advantage of the combat system, Bladestorm can be quite fun. Main attacks are carried out by holding the right bumper. This puts your soldiers in the attack state, and they engage nearby enemies on their own. The face buttons are used for special, unit-exclusive attacks like thrusts, shield defensives and even magic-based techniques. By balancing movement, selective attacking, and timing your special moves right (which reset on a timer) you can dominate the battlefield.
A huge chunk of the experience comes from leveling up your character, which simultaneously benefits whatever units you have under your command at any given time. You have a book for each type of combat, like Swords, Maces, Knives, etc. Within each book, you can level up particular stats, increase your ability to command, and the like. By leveling up these traits, you not only become stronger but you also become a more effective, more deadly leader in battle. This system is extremely deep and you can pour quite a lot of time into leveling up your mercenary.
The last important point to note about combat is how you actually control squads. Running up to an "open" squad and pressing A gives you instant control over that group of soldiers. You can't do this if they already have a leader or are part of a fortress's defense. Because you can only command one squad at a time, you must be very careful who you face, because certain unit types have a strong strength against others. The strategy of Bladestorm comes into play by assigning support squads to your mercenary (you recruit them at the tavern) which you can then summon into battle at will. Again, you can only control one group at a time, but buying the right soldiers and using them effectively can get you out of a pinch.
With all that said, Bladestorm may sound like a pretty awesome game for strategy/RPG fans, and though it is fun, it's got a lot of problems. Perhaps the most obvious issue is Bladestorm's graphics. We admit that the game can put a good number of soldiers on the screen with few framerate drops, but the character models are pretty bare and the environments are even worse. They do the job, giving you a sense for where you are and what you're fighting, but the consoles can definitely do more. Much more. However, someone interested purely in the gameplay mechanics may not be bothered by the graphical limitations, because the environments are really no more than boards on which you play out a strategic game.
Our other concerns are varied. First, there's no way to perform a quick restart on a mission, which means you need to quit out of a stage and then load it back in, restarting the contract manually. So if you accidentally cross paths with a squad of cavalry and your twenty-strong team is completely decimated, it's a bit of a pain to start over. More frustrating is that a lot of the missions overlap and blend together. Ultimately, you're just capturing the same bases over and over again and there's little to spice that up.
The AI is not the finest, either. We'll admit that it's much more active, dynamic and realistic than the Dynasty Warriors games, but it's still weak. Had Bladestorm boasted more realistic troop behavior, it would have been a super fun title, but that's sadly not the case. And we can't forget to mention that there's no Japanese voice track, which means you have to listen to some pretty atrocious voice acting. It's terrible. You should probably just turn the sound of the voices all the way down and spare yourself the laughable misery. Then pray that developers work harder to make games multilingual, because that's the ideal setup and we're surprised that such a thing isn't yet the standard.
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