Lionheart: King's Crusade Review
Lionheart: King's Crusade box art
System: PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: NeocoreGames 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Paradox Interactive 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct. 8, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Deep Strategy
by Derek Hidey

At first glance, Lionheart: King’s Crusade might appear a complete rip-off of the Total War series, but it isn’t. Rather than providing a multi-faceted game involving combat, empire building, diplomacy, and huge maps, with timelines spanning across thousands of years, Lionheart takes a focused approach to a similar style of RTS.

Lionheart: King's Crusade screenshot

The first thing players will notice is that there are only two factions you can play: the Crusaders, which are made up of almost entirely English forces led by King Richard, and the Saracen, which are made up of Arabian forces led by Saladin. You can play either the campaign or a scenario, which allows you to choose any number of units and go head-to-head against another army on any of the maps available in the campaign.

The campaign isn’t so much split into two and told from different perspectives as it is linear. There is also a larger focus on historical storytelling in the campaign. For example, each portion of the map has historical information that becomes available when you click on it, often in the form of history from the first Crusades. Playing as the Crusaders is the first portion, while playing as the Saracen is the second. While you can play as the Saracen first, the events of the Crusader campaign take place before it and also include the tutorial.

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The campaign begins with your forces landing north of Jerusalem. The first battle plays out in the form of tutorial and introduces you the various menus and units that you’ll be using. During this tutorial, the player is introduced to the other factions that represent the Crusaders, which include France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Templar, and the Papal Court. Each faction gives you a different objective for each mission and you’re required to pick one to achieve. Of course, this has diplomatic repercussions. For instance, choosing to complete France’s recommended objectives will result in the player receiving specific types of bonuses to his or her army. Each factions grants a different set of bonuses with each objective you complete, so picking which factions to work with is critical in your long-term plan.

Lionheart: King's Crusade screenshot

Lionheart also places a great deal of emphasis on army management, but not just how many of each type of unit to bring with you. Instead, the game keeps track of each individual unit, which will increase in experience the longer you can keep them alive. As they gain experience, they get more powerful and can be upgraded. Moreover, you can train specific types of units that can be attached to already existing units, such as healers. Each add-on unit gives a different bonus to the unit it’s attached to, which can give you an advantage on the battlefield. Knowing which specialty units to attach to what is part of the strategic depth.

The game’s focus isn’t entirely on having a bigger or more experienced army either. It also includes a pre-battle system that involves a bit of thought and strategy. Included in these actions are things like sabotaging the city walls, which make it easier for your siege units to break through or assassinating a high-priority target, which decreases the morale of the opposing army. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as just performing all these pre-battle actions every time, as they cost Ducats to perform, which also happens to be the currency you use to recruit a larger army, train specialty units, and upgrade existing units. Therefore, you could spend some of that currency on sabotaging the walls, or you could use it to recruits an extra two units of cavalry to deal with any flanking enemies. Knowing what to spend your Ducats on before every battle is part of the challenge, and the pre-battle actions make it more complicated, but also more fun.

Lionheart: King's Crusade screenshot

Similar to the real Crusades, much of the fighting is over holy relics as much as it is land. Throughout the game, the player will receive different relics as it defeats the enemy armies and takes territories. However, the relics are much more than just battle trophies—they can be equipped to grant special bonuses or sent back to your homeland for extra Ducats and greater standing with the other Crusader factions. You can only equip one holy relic at a time and each one grants a different bonus, so picking whether to keep and use them or send them back will play a role in determining your success.

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