BLADESTORM: The Hundred Years' War

  • Release: November 6, 2007
  • Developer: KOEI
  • Publisher: KOEI
  • Genre: Action

A Century of Switching Sides

BLADESTORM gives Omega Force naysayers the very thing they've been asking for: something new. It also gives them more fuel for the fire.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 18, 2007
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Poor Omega Force just can't win. KOEI's development studio responsible for the 8.2 trillion Dynasty Warriors games have been repeatedly chastised for essentially releasing the same game with minor tweaks to baffling success. Ignoring the fact that wrestling and sports games do the same thing year on year, the relative stagnation of the Warriors games is something even fans of the series will admit, which is exactly why it was so nice to see Omega Force doing something different with BLADESTORM: The 100 Years' War.

Though it bears a passing resemblance to the Warriors games in terms of relative scale, BLADESTORM (we'll just call it The 'Storm from now on to avoid capitalizing it every friggin time) is arguably a closer cousin to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games in terms of approach. Deeply strategic and littered with opportunities to power-level RPG-style, the game really is something different. Unfortunately, it's also deeply flawed in execution, leading to a feeling that you're literally doing the same thing over and over again, just switching teams from time to time.

See, you're a mercenary (either male or female, created with a very basic set of pre-determined bits and pieces like face and voice), quite literally the 14th Century equivalent of a hired gun, offering your sword and knowhow to the highest bidder. Any allegiances you may have are purely the whims of the player, and the game regularly plays off this, speaking of mercenaries not as a side-switching scoundrel but as an extremely valuable resource for both the defending French forces and the invading English armies.

This already creates something of a problem for the game. With no clear compass as to whom you'll fight alongside, be it Joan of Arc or Edward the Black Prince, and a literal case of capturing and re-capturing parts of the French countryside with no real consequence either way, the game instead falls to the depth of the way the armies are handled. As a mercenary, you can essentially walk up to just about any squad on the battlefield and take command of them, guiding sometimes dozens-strong waves of soldiers into battle against roving generals or sieging strongholds for maximum profit and renown (both of which are important to building your own little stock of private forces, but more on that in a second).

Combat, then is as simple as tapping the X Button when near a squad (excepting those with a major leader or parties that are defending strongholds) and then charging at enemies while holding the R1 button. This sets off continual attacks for as long as you hold the button, but by using Square, Triangle and Circle, you can unleash special attacks. Off enough enemies and you'll build up a Bladestorm state; you and your squad will run faster, attack harder, take less damage and special attacks will refill faster.

Initially I just ran in and button mashed like I was playing a Warriors game, but as I learned more about unlocking more powerful squads and upgrading their abilities, not to mention clashes with enemy squads that were often a half-dozen levels or more higher than mine, it became increasingly important to use these attacks strategically, timing the waves of strikes when the enemy squads were pushed into packs or to offset some of the deficiencies inherent to a squad type.

The idea is that for any one type of mini-army, be it poleswords, archers, sword and shield carriers, mounted strikers and so on, there are a handful of unit types that they can walk all over and at least one or two that will do the same to them. Proper strategy dictates that, say, an invading squad of mounted attackers be handled with halberds or spears to hit the riders. The game allows you to peek at a particular squad's strengths and weaknesses at any time, so it becomes an active game of chess for major fights.

Of course, chess doesn't let you just bust out your own pieces whenever you want, and this is where The 'Storm really starts to show some depth. See, when you're back at the tavern that serves as the game's hub, you can hire on your own squads from various weapons disciplines and map them to the familiar Square/Triangle/Circle setup, and with a pull of the shoulder button, you can summon them into a fight instantly. The same goes for buying spells that buff or revive your own squads or weaken the enemy's, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
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