"Some would say it's better to be remembered in death than not remembered at all. That is the motto of the mercenaries — the warriors who didn't give a damn about national pride, the warriors who sacrificed their lives for a one-in-a-million shot at immortality. Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is their story."
During the 14th and 15th centuries, France and England fought for control of the northwestern European mainland. Late into what would eventually be known as the Hundred Years' War, after decades of armed conflict, things looked quite grim for the French. But then, as their most important forts lay pinned beneath heavy siege from ballistae and catapults, a young woman arrived.
"I come from the farmlands, but I come at the Lord's beckons."
This young farmgirl, scorned by proud nobles but embraced by a desperate king, led an army of lance-laden cavalry, female fencers, adept men-at-arms, and penny-pinching mercenaries towards Orléans. Within the span of a few days, this motley assortment ended the long siege. Buoyed by the young woman's spirit, the army marched across the French countryside with nary a wink of rest, liberating every town and castle they came across. This young farmgirl had accomplished what the arrogant nobles before her -- nobles who had abused and taxed the peasants they claimed to "protect" -- could not. She brought humanity back to a conflict that had stopped being human long, long before.
When captured by her political enemies, she escaped. When betrayed and captured again, then imprisoned in a tower made of stone, she leapt from a window at the top... and survived the fall. When captured yet again and thrust into an impromptu trial, she stymied her prosecutors with intelligent retort, leaving them no resort but slander and murder.
It's a pity that this remarkable woman, who led a life verging on superheroic, is best remembered for her death.
Some would say it's better to be remembered in death than not remembered at all. That is the motto of the mercenaries -- the warriors who didn't give a damn about national pride, the warriors who sacrificed their lives for a one-in-a-million shot at immortality.
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is their story.
Bladestorm's world is littered with such historic notables as Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Knight. Initially, the world's events are driven by their actions. Players are relegated to the passenger's seat -- forced to ride along, pay attention, and wait for a chance to take the wheel and lead the plot down a different path. At game's beginning, sending your motley band of swordsmen into Bertrand du Guesclin's camp would be suicidal. By game's end, the legions under your command will bring down entire castles within a matter of minutes.
Koei fans may be surprised by a number of things in that previous paragraph. With Dynasty Warriors, they're used to assuming the role of a historic persona and single-handedly cutting through swarms of opposition. Bladestorm isn't like that. Your mercenary -- created via a limited set of options -- has no name or reputation to precede him or her. There is no "swing your weapon" button per se, so cutting through a swarm of anything isn't realistic. The key to success in Bladestorm is to find a squad on the battlefield that isn't currently under someone else's command and issue the commands that will lead them to victory... because we all know who gets the credit for a job well done.
In addition to fame received for outstanding accomplishments (tracked via the aptly-titled "fame points"), you'll also earn money. Money is useful for a lot of things, such as the purchase of ornate headwear. Money is also useful for employing the assistance of other mercenaries. At any one time, you can hold three groups of mercenaries in reserve (this is in addition to any unclaimed squadrons roaming the battlefield). As your fame grows, the talents and number of potential hires will also grow.
Eventually, you could find yourself guiding a 50-strong unit of bowmen towards the castle. Let loose a few volleys of arrows, take out their cavalry, then dismiss the archers to fend for themselves. With a quick whistle, thirty lady lancers -- held aside for such a moment -- appear by your side. As the charge towards the castle gate commences, Jamie Christopherson's orchestral, context-dependent battle themes channel strong feelings of ambition and drive, with horns rising above strings to highlight the battle's most powerful moment. After impaling throngs of swordsmen inside the gates, sending broken bodies flying this way and that, it's time to dismiss the lady lancers and summon the scimitar-wielding, camel-riding, Middle-Eastern assassins. Why? Because it's the cool thing to do.
There are dozens of different unit types available for hire (or to be found lurking on the battlefield), and there are even more nobles and notable mercenaries to befriend or behead. At the beginning of the campaign, players choose their gender but not their affiliation. As political events swirl around them -- whether tales of Joan of Arc's heroism, Prince Edward's kindness, or the King of England's cruelty -- players can choose to fight for either side... or they can alternate from one to the next. Friends and comrades from one battle become enemies and adversaries in the next. Concepts such as patriotism and justice don't matter in a world ruled by money and power. This is the life of a mercenary.
In fact, it's actually impossible to finish the game without assisting both the French and English at some point. Some might wonder: if sides don't matter, then what's the point to playing? It's a fair question, and one I asked myself more than a few times.
The point is this: Bladestorm is a fun, addictive time-killer, where you can play again and again for incremental character improvement and still come out with a sense of self-fulfillment. When it comes to videogames, concepts such as "plot" and "atmospheric experience" only go so far. The ability to improve and discover hidden secrets ("I want my troops to throw chakrams!") worked for such varied games as Diablo and GTA III, and those things work here, too.
All of that being said, Bladestorm does have a tendency to drag between "key" missions. You'll visit the same French provinces over and over again and again, and you'll keep losing and reclaiming the same territories so often that it may occasionally feel pointless. But when you remember the first foray into Gascony -- when it was a chore to conquer a single city -- and compare that to your latest horseback rampage from the west end of the map to the east, that's when you'll smile, because that's when you'll know that you've become more than a mercenary. You've become a legend.
Staff review by Zigfried (November 09, 2008)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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