The latest game from Koei, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War continues their tradition of large scaled, epic game play, with the player assuming the role of a mercenary commander who fights for the French, English, or both to win renown and reward during the Hundred Year war. Historically this war was known for its prodigious use of mercenaries on both sides, as the forces of England and France wore thin, and the freelance agents were known to have made a big impact on several of the major battles and sieges that took place.
In the game you get to first select your gender, face and voice, and the graphics at this point are truly third generation. Game play consists of accepting a contract, which generally consists of picking a side (either the English or French) then being deployed to the major theatres of the war, persistent worlds like Normandy, Champagne and Brittany, with a specific objective to achieve, usually like taking a certain town or towns while defending others. While completing missions earns you wealth and some renown, as your mentor at the beginning points out the key for a mercenary is to earn as much glory as possible, and so you should seek to defeat as many of the enemy commanders and take as many of the enemy towns as you can.
Through all this the graphics are great, and run excellently on the 360 except for some tedious but overall not too irritating load times. On screen at any one time I’ve seen probably one hundred plus troops of both sides, which is fairly impressive, and the only criticism would be that when units come into the world where they do so is quite within draw distance, ruining the illusion somewhat. Combat is quick paced and easy to master, following the whole “hold down the right button and you and your men will keep fighting ‘til no ones left alive” approach. The three basic unit types are ranged, on foot and mounted, each of which requires quite a different combat style. The longer you fight with a given style and with a given weapon type the better you become at it, allowing you to choose which path and in what way you advance, which was an approach I quite liked.
Story-wise the main characters from the actual history are there in some nice anime style cut scenes. Some liberties have been taken of course, such as the Black Prince being a long haired peacock in gothic black plate, who cares for the peasants that he’s unfortunately massacring, which deviates just a little from the actual historical figure, who actually viewed peasants as some sort of messy grease beneath his horses’ hooves. Also, as much as Joan of Arc was a woman, the armies of both sides didn’t contain that many all-female units like the Lady Lancers, Lady Fencers and Lady Mace man as this game makes out. Still, as part of the story there are some fairly epic battle sequences, such as the Battle of Crecy, and although the general story progression is slow, it is quite enjoyable when it’s in play. One neat feature is that the character you create at the beginning is seamlessly integrated into the videos, along with the armour you’re wearing. This suggests some pretty good use of filters and shaders, and it really makes good use of the third generation console’s capabilities.
In conclusion Bladestorm is a cool game, and if you like similar titles like Kessel 3 and Dynasty Warriors, then you’ll find that this game is the next step and well worth grabbing. It is strangely addictive, but can eventually prove repetitive as each contract is effectively the same mission over and over. Still, it’s a nice action RPG, so I highly recommend it.