The Kings' Crusade Review
By Chad Montague |
What Neocore Games attempts to accomplish with Lionheart: Kings' Crusade is admirable. The small studio managed to put together a sort of Total War-lite experience, offering up big battlefields and entertaining real-time tactical conflicts between bitter opponents. Set during the time of the Third Crusade, you're tasked with first ripping through the Holy Lands as Richard the Lionheart, then driving out the interlopers in the subsequent Saracen campaign. With some nice visuals, an impressive array of persistent upgrade options, and a wealth of content, there's a lot to appreciate here for strategy game fans. But there's one problem, and it's a big one: the game has been out for roughly one month at this point and Neocore still hasn't addressed critical crash errors that severely impact the experience.
Much of the core gameplay of Lionheart involves situational military unit relationships that can be affected by terrain type and height. For example, if a large group of cavalry rush your front lines, it's a good idea to move out spearmen to meet them. If you've got archers set up on a hill and within a wooded area, they'll be far more effective at wiping out enemies below as they attempt to encroach on your elevated position. If you're moving light infantry at the archers, you're probably screwed, but heavily armored soldiers would stand a much better chance. Mounted units can punish standing forces by using their weight and speed to their advantage by simply running unprepared troops over. It's not the most complicated relationships between unit types, but serves as a solid basis for interesting tactical combat.
Big battles to manage across pretty terrain.
What adds more variety to the experience is the implementation of role-playing game-like features that enable groups of soldiers to be customized from mission to mission. Behavior during battle can level up units and earn bonuses to stamina and morale that enhances their effectiveness, and success on the field will earn money that can be spent between missions. This allows you to do things like hire new unit types and replenish ranks as well do things like insert healers into specific units to speed recovery. Special potions, armors, and weapons earned during fights can also be equipped when on the overworld map, and as units level up attribute and special abilities can be unlocked to make them more hardy. This helps solidify a more direct relationship with your forces, making you more personally vested in playing intelligently to keep them healthy and earning bonuses.
Aside from the unit customization options, there isn't much else to do in the overworld map. This isn't like Total War where you've got an entire Civilization-style empire management system in place to build cities, develop infrastructure, and expand into a dynamic web of competing nationalities. Instead, you simply move through territories one after another on your way to total domination. Not every mission plays out the same, though, as you'll be given multiple objectives along with a backstory before each outing. Sometimes it involves simply plowing through opposing forces, other times you'll be set out to attack a city with siege weapons, while yet other times still you'll set up a defensive perimeter with arrow towers and oil slicks to outlast an enemy's assault. This mix of mission goals adds quite a bit of excitement, and forces you to consider the many different ways units can be used.
While on the offensive and in open space cavalry may be best used to flank the enemy and sandwich their front lines between horse and foot soldier, whereas while defending you may want to hang back and let archers soften up the assault then send cavalry charging down the hill to trample hapless light infantry. It's also nice to see that while both armies share a lot in common base, there is a little bit of variation between crossbowmen, bombardiers, and others.
The unit upgrade system is well done.
The visuals are also well done, with detailed soldiers brandishing bows, swords, and spears and some smooth animations as they loose arrows and charge into a fight. Units on the field don't lock together in combat realistically – they'll swing at the air more often than they'll swing at the enemy – but such detail can't be expected in every type of game like this. The maps are large and filled with terrain variation like wooded hills to take shelter giving way to dusty valleys and heavily fortified mountainsides where rain renders ranged combat less effective. Overall the number of soldiers on the field can't compare to Total War titles, but you still get a sense of epic conflict as you assault the walls of a sprawling city and watch the bricks crumble out one by one as you inch your archers forward to pick off those who'd been hiding behind the collapsed fortifications.