Please make this war end
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.
To keep the player engaged, certain missions are signaled out with an “!”. These story driven levels move the central campaign along and provide some cinematic cutscenes. Unfortunately, the cutscenes suffer from horrendous voice acting and sloppy dialogue. The voice actors have terrible cliché accents and spout cornball phrases. While these scenes do present an opportunity for character development, the potential is wasted. The characters are mainly concerned with either victory, nationality or money, and little else.
Even in the graphical department Bladestorm is a mixed bag. Omega Force has done a commendable job with the amount of troops rendered on the screen, but once the camera swoops in to show the detail you’ll realize there’s not much there. The character models are decent, but they leave much to be desired. Things can get hectic with hundreds of characters on screen and a little slowdown is the inevitable result. There is an option to install a cache file on the system which dramatically reduces the load times and number of slowdowns.
The gameplay quickly becomes a grind as missions revolve around capturing bases over and over again. Occasionally an extra contract is thrown in – such as escort mission – but this is the kind of variety you’ll want to skip. This formula is rinsed and repeated so you can expect to get somewhere around 60 hours out of Bladestorm. The reason the word “around” is used is because the game could not be finished. There is a bug in a mission near the end of the game the might stop some players dead in their tracks. Whether it is isolated to the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version is uncertain.
It is really hard to recommend this title, especially considering the next-gen price tag. The game is marred by technical problems and, if anything, is an exercise in mediocrity. Ambitious on so many fronts, Bladestorm ultimately never finds a satisfying home. Take heed: this blade is dull.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The scale of battles is impressive, but detail is sacrificed in the process. 3.0 Control
Controlling troops and issuing commands is easy. The inability to control more than one squad at a time is frustrating. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The orchestral score draws you in, but quickly becomes repetitive. The voice acting is atrocious. You’ll wish the developer had thrown out the voices and opted for just subtitles. 2.0 Play Value
The campaign is monotonous. The overall length is artificial as the game derives much of its longevity from making the player repeat the same tasks. 2.0 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.