Not Total War
Zoom out during a battle in Neocore’s newest title, Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade, and, if you didn’t know any better, you might think you were playing an early Total War game. Both feature large-scale real-time tactical battles but Lionheart isn’t as pretty as say Empire: Total War and It doesn’t have as advanced a physics system either. It also can’t handle the enormous number of units that Napoleon:Total War is able to, making a superficial comparison unfavorable to Neocore. Such a comparison would also be quite wrong.
As you delve deeper into Kings’ Crusade, you realize it doesn’t really feel like a Total War game. It doesn’t even feel like a real-time strategy game, for that matter. Surprisingly, it feels more like a two-dimensional, party-based RPG, like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale or even those Final Fantasy games from the SNES era.
Such RPGs were all about managing a diverse group of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that made combat a tactical affair. Your high-hit-point melee characters dealt damage while acting as human shields for the weaker ranged characters, who shot arrows and lightning bolts from a safe distance. After combat, you healed everyone, leveled up if possible, upgraded special abilities, equipped better gear, and sold the old stuff. This is Lionheart, to my great delight.
Conquering the Holy Land
As its name suggests, Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade follows Richard the Lionheart’s exploits in the Holy Land – in the first campaign. The game also features a second Saracen campaign that has you playing Richard’s historical rival, Saladin. But historical accuracy doesn’t seem to be a major concern, nor should it be. Lionheart is entertainment. Though, I will admit playing the game did get me interested in actual historic events, so much so that I looked up “The Crusades” on Wikipedia.
Upon arriving at the Holy Land, your goal is to conquer every territory on the map through military might. Territories have their own specific missions which vary in complexity. Some are episodic in nature – you may have to take a fortified position and then set up your own fortifications and then defend that position, for example – while others are more straightforward and ask you to simply demolish another army.
Regardless of the mission, every army, whether Crusader or Saracen, is comprised of variations on four basic unit types: light infantry, heavy infantry, cavalry, and archers. There are some fairly unique units like the Saracen Assassins, which are completely invisible to the enemy and are very useful for taking out siege weapons, but even they fit in the light infantry category. Each of the four types has its own strengths and weaknesses that contribute to how you use them in battle. Light infantry fight well on difficult terrain while heavy infantry are strong in the open. But the real determinant is how you customize them.
Enjoyable blend of RPG mechanics and RTS aesthetics
Stability issues that need to be adressed quickly