by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Strategic level planning
Someone once said that beginners talk strategy while professionals talk logistics. Winning a military campaign is very much dependent on what happens outside the battlefields. In the case of Lionheart: Kings' Crusade this translates, for example, to political ass-kissing, as Richard Lionheart will have to keep political factions in Europe happy so that they will provide him with more funds and forces to keep running the campaign. These factions consist of the French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Templars as well as the Papal Court. Alliances with each of these factions will provide you with various sorts of benefits from new unit types to upgrades. In addition, your decisions as the campaign continues may either please or displease some of these factions – to the point where alliances may be broken and all-out war commences.
If you play the role of Saladin leading the Saracens, your background factions will be replaced by a ”tech tree” system in the form of leadership points that will provide you with new units and upgrades as the war continues. This will naturally give the game a great boost in replayability, as the gameplay of the different sides will vary greater than in your usual strategy games.
As far as the military actions are concerned, you will plan the grand strategy of your campaign on a strategic map showing the entire area known as The Holy Land, including cities such as Cairo and Baghdad. The map is divided into provinces between which you move your troops. In the provinces you will encounter either neutral or opposing forces – and there may be troops from your allies in the fray as well, controlled by the AI.
The strategic map will allow you to maintain and recruit your army that consists of units ranging from archers to mounted knights. As your units win battles they gain experience and can be further customized with stat or armor upgrades, new battle tactics or new captains or heroes to boost their morale and autonomic decision making capabilities. Or you can invest in healers who can heal your units more rapidly and send them back into the fray where they are needed most. Depending on how you equip your army, they will be able to use siege equipment and dig and build fortifications. This will be especially useful in battles where you have time to prepare for the onslaught, as you will then be able to cut down trees and lay down oil traps or fortifications before the battle starts.
But we cannot do without a tiny bit of magic, can we?
Well, I certainly could, but Neocore Games has decided to give the game one more layer by introducing holy relics that can give your troops specific bonuses. This is not far from the true history, however, as it was a well-known practice for conquering armies to carry with them different sorts of religious relics (e.g. piece of the cross, hay from the cradle the baby Christ peed on, a flag of stone he happened to step on etc. etc.) to bring them fortune. Whether you interpret these bonuses as straight-on magic or as some morale-boost that the soldiers feel in their religious fervor is of course your judgment to make. These holy relics can be found from different parts of the Holy Land as the game progresses and you can send some of them back to Europe for a morale boost, or keep them with you to boost your hero.
Innovation and new ideas
Neocore Games seems to hold onto their unprejudiced core strategy of renewing the RTS genre with elements from different game types. With Paradox as the publisher, it can be hoped that their Lionheart: Kings' Crusade will gather more attention than their earlier, certainly as worthy, games did. Personally, I will lay aside my dislike towards RTS and pick up Lionheart: Kings' Crusade as soon as it is released.