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Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (PC) artwork

Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (PC) review

"Promises more than it delivers, but can remain enjoyable if you can tolerate some frustration."

I had this ordered very differently in my mind, but Iíll again try to stick to splitting the review into good and bad parts and start with the fact that I did rather enjoy the setting and the alternate history idea, including the use of known characters and events. Sure, it could have been much better, but it was nevertheless done well enough, and the presence of daevas and spirits and the little specific information about them was also just enough to make that aspect interesting as well, albeit mainly early on. While some might consider it an oddity, an annoyance or even a bug, I also found the fact that English soldiers have no spirits, no souls, to be a nice touch, making a certain sense if you think about it.
It is true that most of that atmosphere, most of the enjoyable and perhaps in some cases even memorable elements of that setting, are found in the Barcelona area. Since I mentioned that nice touch, even those few dying soldiers that can provide a little added context if you realize you can click on them are in Barcelona. However, by far the most important areas in terms of gameplay for an ARPG are the dungeons, and from this point of view it was the Montaillou Crypt that stood out for me, seeming more complex and created with more care than the others.

When it comes to good design choices, I must make a special note of the fact that you receive full experience for all kills made in your presence. Itís so terribly frustrating when, in other games, it depends on who lands the killing blow, or having companions reduces the amount of experience received, or it even matters how many times a character hits the enemy or how much damage they deal, and kills made by allies that arenít party members or indirectly, for example by using the environment, may well grant no experience at all. However, none of that matters in Lionheart. If thereís a kill and youíre around, you will receive the experience.
Since Iím on the topic of experience, summoned creatures also grant experience when killed, so keeping enemy summoners around for a while can be desirable. Very importantly, thereís no level cap and until the point of no return you can use the ethereal areas to grind if you so desire, turning those times when the teleport crystals malfunction into something potentially positive while also largely putting the player in control of this aspect. There are a few enemies that respawn in the regular areas as well, but thatís also kept in check, not becoming a problem or creating that feeling that youíre not really doing anything because areas donít remain cleared, and the crystals also malfunction relatively rarely and will in fact gradually become completely safe as you gain levels, so youíll be able to return to earlier areas without risking to waste time while still being able to specifically seek out such fights by using those that may still malfunction.

Otherwise, while thereís no container UI, dropped items donít vanish, so if you so desire you can gather everything from an area, dropping items in a pile when you end up carrying too much, and then make multiple trips to sell everything off once youíre done or just want a break from the fighting. In addition, inventory management only means caring for the weight, since thereís no limit in terms of size, and the fact that stackable items have the same weight regardless of their number, while perhaps strange, helps as well.

Targeting and attack frequency would also be interesting mechanics, but those using fighter characters would be able to say more about that, as in my case it just meant that sometimes Iíd select torso and calculated and hope to at least get the odd hit, while selecting hectic helped me cast faster when every little bit helped, which was rare. So Iíd file that under positive odds and ends, albeit as something much more notable than the fact that the descriptions for the secret treasures you find struck me as a nice touch. Considering the character development system, Iíd also add here the lack of a separate disarm skill, meaning that you can disarm any trap you spot. And, while Iím at both traps and design choices that mitigate problems caused by others, the fact that companions donít trigger traps and donít get affected by them is quite a relief.

Also a relief is that I can now finally get to what I meant to start this review with, which is that what I most often read about Lionheart was that it has a pretty good first part, but after a certain point it all falls apart and all thatís left is a tedious battle that may feel endless and is an exercise in frustration for anything except pure fighter characters, while for those itís too easy and boring. And there is truth in that, which Iíll get to later, yet at the same time it wasnít quite as bad as those comments made me expect, and my Smite / Fortitude mage, Wielder, with 1 strength, 3 endurance and not a single skill point used on any fighting skills over the course of the entire game did quite fine.

I didnít need to get far in the game to bump into the first thing that really bothered me, however. In fact, that came before actually starting, during character generation, when I saw the SPECIAL system, which Iím not fond of at all. That may be in some part because I associate it with Fallout 2, which I couldnít get myself to enjoy at all and eventually abandoned, but Iím definitely bothered by needing to know exactly what skills you want to use from the beginning in order to tag them, stick to them almost exclusively, and being so very limited when it comes to raising attributes. The fact that there are diminishing returns for improving skills to high levels but the costs increase sharply makes it even more frustrating, feeling like a waste and a loss whether you choose to stick to a specialist character or spread the points around a little.
There are also some ways to lose experience and things that the perks that increase experience gain donít seem to apply to. Yes, you can grind until the point of no return, so you can make up for it, but the fact that you may need to remains unpleasant, and this method only works up to that point. Was definitely not keen on the very different rewards for faction quests and the different number of such quests either, and receiving up to 75% of the experience for killing an enemy for sneaking around them seemed like an odd choice, both because thatís not exactly what you do in an ARPG and because it still meant you got penalized if you did try that route, since what you receive for sneaking is deducted from what should be granted for the kill, if and when you do kill the enemy. But what bothered me the most from this point of view was that there are pieces of equipment that increase the number of skill points per level, so those skill points are lost until you find and afford such items. Again, the game does allow you to make up for it, lacking a level cap, but it means spending a lot of time making up for whatís essentially random chance.
One more thing Iíll mention when it comes to character development is the way in which magic skills develop. While somewhat interesting, it means you canít focus on the more powerful spells, or get access to them earlier by sacrificing something else. And, on this topic, I kept wondering why Greater Resistance didnít also protect from cold, making it so thereís no way to protect companions from cold. Canít protect them from disease either, but then again, thereís also no way whatsoever to cure them of poison or disease, needing to just wait it out all the time and heal the damage as needed.

Speaking of companions, the entire concept seems tacked on and a complete mess. Thereís no information given about any of them in terms of attributes, you canít give them any commands other than to follow or not, they tend to wander all around a spot youíd expect them to stay in if theyíre around you, get stuck in tighter places, get in your or each otherís way, stop where they are if they fall behind, attack whatever enemy they please, whenever they please, have no skills they can be instructed to use, also have no inventory and are stuck with whatever equipment they have by default, which you again get no actual information about, and if they die thatís the end of it, thereís no way to resurrect or otherwise get them back. Couple that with the fact that they never improve and youíll be making a lot of effort to just keep them alive, often being more focused on that than on the enemies if you want to keep them around for as long as possible. And the thing is that theyíre not some random, generic companions, but individuals with stories that youíll learn at least some bits of when they join you, which may make you, or at least made me, care about them to some extent and want to keep them around and alive, but once they join they do become completely generic, just a sum of some attributes you canít even know, not having a single line of dialogue or any use other than to mindlessly hit things.

Combat is also a mess, even without companions, though it of course becomes an even worse one with them. The option to reduce the speed may offer some relief for those who manage to make some good use of it, but the system is not at all suited for real time and itís not real time with pause, since you canít give commands while paused, so youíll often be struggling to click the right enemy, or even an enemy, as they run around at lightning speed, or to move somewhere and maybe avoid picking up an item that will make you encumbered or, more often, a spirit before you need it, leading to excess mana or health that will quickly drop back down to the normal maximum on its own and therefore waste what you could use later. With companions around, youíll also need to do that while hoping to avoid clicking on them, as that will start a dialogue even in the middle of combat, the only options of course being to tell them to keep following or stay behind. And you do need all that clicking, because the character wonít even attack automatically, instead just standing there even when attacked in melee, and not doing anything else after casting or after the current enemy is killed. And there are also moments when casting just wonít work without moving the mouse to some other spot on the screen that the game for some reason likes better, even if the spell doesnít require a target.
Complicating things further, there are way too few quickslots and for some reason buffs canít be reapplied before they expire. What makes it even worse for mages, however, is that mana regeneration is awfully slow, health regenerating faster even when attributes completely favor magic and early on, and health regeneration improves with levels and there are also feats improving it further, which is not the case for mana. The Magery equipment attribute would greatly help, but it seems among the rarest, so I for one had to make do with Spirit Regeneration, ending up with two items with it and still spending much of the 120 hours the in-game timer said I needed to finish waiting for mana to recover. Admittedly, there are plenty of mana spirits much of the time, but you tend to need to kill something first, and itís still far too easy to run out of mana over the course of a battle, which also encourages leaving mana spirits around in case youíll really need them at a later point and wait for regeneration even when there would otherwise be enough spirits available to allow you to just keep going for the moment.

Mentioned accidentally picking things up above, and that may well happen even outside combat, though at least you can avoid picking up spirits along with items or when you interact with other things if you move far enough for the spirits to no longer be visible. That range can be annoyingly short when youíre actually looking for spirits though, as you need to be really close to see them. On the other hand, I have had a few items end up in unreachable places, which can be frustrating, and so is the fact that a small number of otherwise common scenery items can be interacted with, usually to obtain some items, but thereís no way to know which those are except to hover the cursor over everything and notice when it starts spinning, which is hardly the most noticeable indicator that an interaction is possible in the first place.

Movement itself, simply going from one place to another, can be rather frustrating as well. The lack of a minimap doesnít help either, and neither does the fact that there are no map markers, not even for exits, or any way to add notes yourself, but what most often annoyed me from this point of view was the short maximum distance between the character and the destination. Click more than a screen or so away, or in a spot you canít actually move to, and the character wonít try to get as close as possible or even just continue to the previous destination if already moving, but simply stop, which will also happen if you do anything while moving.

To finally get to those later parts that so many complain about, the game does indeed get worse after the point of no return, which you arenít even warned about, only suddenly finding that everything changed once you get back. Maybe also because of the low expectations created by what I had read, it didnít strike me as being as bad as I had been led to believe, but the design of the locations becomes, for lack of a better term, lazy, even most of the Barcelona area is no longer accessible when you return to it, you pretty much just keep fighting enemy after enemy and the English not leaving spirits does cause problems for magic users, even if that is compensated to a fair extent by more spirits being available from the beginning, and even some other ways to recharge mana.
Thatís not an issue in the desert, the scorpions leaving powerful spirits, but that desert is by far the best, or in fact worst, example of that lazy design. Yes, it is a desert, but itís a desert in a game and also comes between two so and so dungeons, so it should have been somewhat refreshing, yet instead itís just a large and mostly empty place, filled with swarms of giant scorpions. And the fortress that follows it was underwhelming as well, especially as a final dungeon. Maybe Iím no longer used to how such games were back when Lionheart was released, but while this can be understood and excused as standard practice in the rest of the game, entering that place and having all those assassins just wait calmly, usually in pairs, for you to pick them off at your leisure just seemed wrong.

Even those portals used to travel between locations once you get to the point of no return struck me as lazy design, but I was making a note of that ever since leaving the Barcelona area, the crystals becoming the only way to travel between areas. Admittedly, the large distances involved made simply walking no longer possible, but some other methods could have been used, DaVinciís inventions likely offering possible solutions. After all, he does make use of one himselfÖ Even if that makes him end up being in two places at once from that point forward, which becomes three places since at least for a long time heís not removed from the vicinity of the machine but can be found in the tavern as well.
But these are little things, though probably the smallest one I made a note of was the fact that the icon indicating that youíre encumbered vanishes after a while. Also found myself wanting some more detailed information when it came to the effective damage dealt by spells, separated per type, or wondering how come vendors quite frequently had better items in the regular stock than the special one. Something more notable would be that I didnít like the fact that vendor stock scaled with the characterís level, and having enchantments make certain equipment types heavier was unpleasant as well. And something that kept being frustrating was the search mode being turned off when attacking or talking and needing to be turned back on manually each time even if thereís no penalty for searching and therefore no reason to ever want it off, but forgetting to turn it back on each time meant ending up either running into traps or realizing I had to go back to look for any possible hidden treasures.
On the other hand, making so little use of the characterís spirit was a wasted opportunity. It seems like itíd be an important aspect at first, but it pretty much just says a few things early on and warns you before meeting daevas. What bothered me more, however, was this implication that, despite the obvious questions about their methods, the Inquisition was on the good side, while the Druids, and possibly extending to Pagans, were clearly evil. The fact that the Inquisitors would have clearly been the best choice of faction for my character, considering the rewards offered, made it even worse, but I wasnít going to get on that path under any circumstances.

Overall, Lionheart is indeed a game of two parts, with a rather interesting setting and atmosphere that devolves into a chain of battles in areas plagued by lazy design after a point of no return that the player isnít even warned about triggering before itís done. It seems to promise more than it ends up delivering, but it can, for the most part, remain enjoyable if you know what to expect and can put up with some frustrating elements, even that second part not being as bad as some would make you believe, while at the same time the first part being equally plagued by the combat system thatís unsuited for real time, the downright bad implementation of companions, the fact that magic users are at a disadvantage and various other design issues and quirks, plus that I personally rather dislike the character development system used. Nevertheless, there are some good design choices as well, some of them mitigating some of the flaws to some extent and a few, perhaps most notably the one ensuring that you wonít lose experience in combat, even standing out in a good way.

Cavalary's avatar
Community review by Cavalary (May 25, 2024)

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