Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War Xbox 360
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Omega Force
Release Date: Out Now
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War may be published by Koei and developed by Omega Force but if think this is going to be a Dynasty Warriors variant you would be wide of the mark. Yes it's a game involving mass combat but it's quite different to anything we've played before. The game is more of an RTS than a hack and slash action game and there's a real need to use a sound strategy, not only in the way you carry out the battles but also in the way you level-up your character.
As the name of the game suggests, Bladestorm is set during The Hundred Years' War. Rather than simply place you on the French or English side, the game casts you as a mercenary who is free to fight for which ever nation you please. The first thing you'll do in the game is to create your mercenary. The customisation options are a little limited in that you can choose to be either male or female and whichever you choose, you'll have a choice of eight pre-determined character models. Once you've decided upon a character model, a barkeep will tell you what's involved with being a mercenary and you'll be offered your first contract. As it turns out, you have a choice of fighting for the English at the Battle of Odon or helping the French at the Battle of Epaignes.
Bladestorm isn't a button bashing experience. As we said earlier it's more of an RTS than anything else. On the battlefield you'll take charge of a troop of units. There are forty different unit types in the game but you'll only have access to sword, sword horsemen and short bow using troops. Before you can control different types of troops, you'll have to acquire the relevant strategy book. You'll want to acquire as many strategy books as possible as they yield an impressive 50 Gamerscore points. The way it works is that you walk up to the troop you want to control and press the A button. The troop will then follow you and obey your orders until you relinquish control of them (by pressing the A button again). To order them to attack you press the RB button. Each troop has three special commands you can issue with the B, X and Y buttons. The sword horsemen for instance can perform a Ride-by Slash, Protection and Charge. These special actions can't be constantly performed as once they have been used a meter will have to refill before they can be used again. Each unit type has their strengths and weaknesses. It pays to know what unit types are strong and weak against so that you never attack a unit type that is going to slaughter you. Thankfully you can press the Back button at any time to learn what your current troops are strong and weak against.
The contracts you take all have their conditions, rewards, period of time to complete and difficulty ranking. Battles can take place over several days but at times your contract obligations won't be centred on the battle as a whole but rather one element of it. Before commencement of a battle you get to choose the location where you want to start. The battle may be set to last for five days but if your contractual obligations are simply to capture one town then it's possible that your involvement will be over much more quickly should you take the town quicker than the duration of the battle. Of course you could deliberately take time to complete your objectives and increase your proficiency level with the different troop types available, if you want to.
There are some RPG elements in Bladestorm. Your mercenary character will earn renown for his or her successes and their fame level will increase. A mercenary has Edge, Blunt, Point, Ranged, Impact and Magic attributes that develop throughout the course of the game. With the money you earn from successfully completing your contracts, you'll be able to purchase armour and items that will improve your character's attributes. You can also recruit troops (or squads as the game calls them) which you can call into a battle at any time you deem them necessary. It pays to fight with different troop types as you'll gain proficiency levels with them and become more skilled with controlling those units. As your proficiency levels increase for a troop type, you'll gain SP (Skill Points) and these can be used to improve skill types for that troop type. Like the Dynasty Warriors games, Bladestorm is not entirely grounded in reality. You'll be able to purchase temporary power-ups that can be used in battle. Some may be a little disappointed by this, but it does add an interesting twist to the game-play.
Bladestorm looks noticeably better than the Dynasty Warriors games that have appeared on the 360 so far. That's not to say that the game takes full advantage of the console's graphical horsepower, because it doesn't, but it certainly looks good enough. The character models all look quite good and they certain animate more realistically than in the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors titles. The battles look quite impressive and the frame rate manages to hold up even when the action becomes really intense. You do have to control the camera angle quite a bit (with the right analogue stick) but it's not as much of a problem as you might think.
Deaf gamers won't have any problems with Bladestorm. The game is subtitled and you'll be able to follow all of the important dialogue in the game. All tutorial messages are shown in text. Your contract objectives are shown in text and can be recalled during a battle. During a battle you're given text updates of what is happening elsewhere in the battle. You'll be notified when locations have been captured or lost for instance. When you create your mercenary character you get to choose a voice for them (whichever you pick is irrelevant of course) and when you give orders during a battle your character will shout commands. These aren't subtitled but it's of no importance as you can always tell what commands you have issued as once you've issued one, the meter for that command (displayed on the bottom right of the screen) will begin to refill.
Bladestorm has to be one of the best mass combat games we've seen on the Xbox 360 to date. Those who have grown tired of the Dynasty Warriors formula will really appreciate the effort Omega Force have put in to make this a completely different experience and I would wholeheartedly recommend the game to fans of mass combat games, even if they didn't appreciate either of the Dynasty or Samurai Warriors games. Bladestorm is an addictive mix of RTS, RPG and mass combat action games that proves to be very enjoyable. It will certainly be interesting to see if some of the innovations in Bladestorm are included in future Dynasty and Samurai Warriors titles. I, for one, hope they do.