|System: PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Omega Force||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: KOEI||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 6, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: TEEN||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Developer Omega Force seems to never tire with its formula of showcasing epic battles set against a historical backdrop. In the past, its games were confined to the Asian continent, but with Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, the West now stands front and center. Gamers are thrust into a war between England and France over claims to the French throne. Abandoning the simple hack and slash route, the game adopts a hybrid approach that is part strategy, part action, and even contains some RPG elements. However, this aspiring mix of history and multi-genre gameplay results in an experience that is satisfying on neither front.
While Bladestorm is marked by looming historical figures such as Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Arc, the player assumes the more modest role of a mercenary. You start out the game in a tavern and create your character. The customization offered isn't very deep. Sex, facial type, and voice are the only options you can tweak, and even these can't be played with too much. Once you have your persona you are treated to a bevy of options. You can view a diary which keeps track of all the events in the story, recruit units, upgrade your stats, talk to people around the tavern, buy and sell items from a local merchant, and accept contracts. Contracts reward you with some much needed coin, and you always have the option of either playing for the French or English.
Contracts are where the bulk of the game resides. The objectives are always the same: capture enemy bases that are marked on your map. In order to accomplish your task you're given the ability to select squads of soldiers for your respective side and lead them to victory. These squads are varied, ranging from archers and knights to catapults and battering rams. Commanding these squads is relatively simple: with the push of a button and hold down the trigger to attack. Two sub menus can be brought up during battle. One offers special commands (that recharge using a timer) such as shield defense and charge attacks. The other menu contains items that have status effects such as lower defense, raised attack power, and enemy confusion.
On the surface, all the aforementioned elements seem to present Bladestorm with the trappings of a solid title. However, after the first few skirmishes gamers will notice a large number of flaws. First and foremost is the structure of missions. The only way to capture bases is to defeat the respective base commander. Sometimes he refuses to materialize and you'll be left waiting inside the enemy base for him to spawn. Likewise, the base commander also becomes a problem due to the game's day/night cycle. Contracts are sometimes limited to a set number of days, and the game defines a day as ten minutes. You can be inside the final enemy base with hundreds of troops, pummeling the base commander, but if night falls then you are ushered out of the city and have to trek across the map the next day to finish the job. Who knew the 14th century had such esoteric rules of engagement?
Another major problem with the missions is controlling the tide of the battle. While you can control squads, this is limited to one squad at a time. The computer controls the other squads on your side and sometimes their path finding can be difficult to comprehend. Often ally squads will chase random units around instead of trying to capture a base or go in an unnecessary direction. Why the developer didn't put in an option to set way points for ally squads or use the map screen as central command hub is a mystery. The only option you are left with is to detach from your current squad and try to corral the rogue units in the preferred direction.
What really obscures the notion of the gameplay being strategic is lack of actual strategy. There is no way to cut off reinforcements for the enemy permanently. No matter how many bases you capture, the computer always gets at least one base on the map that is invulnerable and constantly funnels out troops. This is compounded by the fact that throughout the game enemy units will literally materialize right in front of your eyes from no discernible location. If you want to add a little depth by pitting particular units against one another to try to exploit weaknesses, there really is no incentive. As long as your squad has a higher level, it will demolish any opposing forces.
Regarding units, the further you get into the game the more the line between history and fantasy blurs. Later in the game you'll encounter elephants, camels, Roman chariots, wizards, and ninjas. Yes, you read that right. Something strikes one as historically odd about a group of elephants trampling some ninjas on a French battlefield.