It’s hard to think about Bladestorm without also thinking about the Warriors series. In many ways they’re extremely similar. They’re both set during historical wars, and they have largely similar base-capturing gameplay. But there’s a reason the enhanced remake of Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, Bladestorm: Nightmare, isn’t called Blade Warriors: Nightmare.
But, first off, what’s new with Nightmare? The original game came out seven years ago, early on in the PlayStation 3’s lifecycle. While impressive at the time it’s definitely one of those early seventh generation games that doesn’t hold up so well nowadays, with plenty of rough edges. Nightmare is the perfect chance to go back and just polish it all up, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
For a series with such distinctive and honed gameplay nobody’s ever been too concerned about the graphics of Warriors, and indeed Bladestorm. But it has to be said: everything in the game looks straight-up nicer. The models are nicer. There can now be more units on screen at once, and you can see a long way across the battlefield. Lighting, the true hallmark of the new-gen, is even looking pretty good, with some of those delightful God rays (that’s crepuscular rays for all my optics pals out there). There’s a real sense that with the extra power available from the new machines that there’s been more freedom to make Bladestorm the way they wanted to make it the first time, and that this is the version of Bladestorm you always wanted to play.
Perhaps that’s why, despite the seven year gap, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War is being revisited with Nightmare instead of simply getting a sequel. The two Bladestorm games share the same producer as the Warriors games, Akihiro Suzuki, and he has a track record of proving himself to be quite the perfectionist, perhaps even a pathological iterator. Considering the careful refinement of every Warriors game over the past several years there’s something that wouldn’t feel right about just leaving the first Bladestorm in the dust.
But that’s not to say the game is a refinement of the original and nothing else. There’s a whole new story mode in the game, Nightmare mode, that introduces the most new elements to the game: specifically a non-apologetic full-on fantasy story and a whole host of “outlandish creatures”, including, but not limited to, goblins, giants (cyclops/ogre style), and dragons. The story involves Joan-of-Arc turning evil for mysterious reasons and leading an army of fantasy monsters. You have to stop her, using your ability to also control the fantasy creatures, which seems like a bad move on Joan’s part to use them considering you can do that. This does let you control units consisting of massive dragons, which is very much a cool addition to the game. Perhaps even “rad”. We’re even promised that there will be the ability to use the fantastical units unlocked in Nightmare mode in the original Hundred Years’ War mode. Nightmare mode is immediately selectable when you start the game, meaning old hats at the whole Bladestorm thing needn’t worry about having to beat the main game again before getting their dragon on, which is always nice.
Despite some very large similarities perhaps the most notable thing about Nightmare is that it’s very decisively not a Warriors game. This is true insofar as it simply refuses to beholden by the very definite idea of what a Warriors game is, something that has been built upon with every one of the many Warriors iterations. And Nightmare is shaping up all the stronger for it.
Perhaps the most obvious and key difference is the map, pointed out by Suzuki-san as he took us through some gameplay. There’s no rigid pathways between bases here for you to simply “colour in” with your army, instead there’s a massive, sprawling battlefield. It’s hard to grasp its size until you pop the left-analog stick in a few times, freeing the map from its top-right confines and showing just how small you are in the events of the battle that’s unfolding. Coloured flags dotted about it indicate who controls what, and it’s up to you to plan your army’s sweeping advance towards enemy territory.
As with the original Bladestorm there’s a deeper element of strategy that you’d expect from a Warriors title, but made a bit more fluid and easier to grasp this time around. All units have strengths and weaknesses, not unlike Fire Emblem, which have to be considered when commanding your units into battle. You can take control over four different units at a time, “zapping” between them in real-time with a press of the d-pad, making traversing the huge battlefields a little bit easier. A good match will see you commanding your army along multiple routes capturing bases, before pincering and meeting up for a final assault on the enemy’s main base.
Movement speed is slow, despite being increased from the original game, but then, the whole game is. Despite getting your own hands dirty in a lot of skirmishes there’s a slow and considered approach to the strategy of Nightmare that really reflects the terrific scope of the battles. The part of the game I played was only early on in Nightmare mode, with the most basic units available to me, so how much you can steamroll things as it goes on I don’t know, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.
But so far I can say that without any doubt Bladestorm: Nightmare is better than Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War. How could it not be when that seems to be its very design? Not only has it polished the original to a shine, but its also added a whole host of new content that puts an interesting spin on the tested mechanics of the original. At the same time its making it clear its more than the Warriors pedigree from which it was birthed, and establishing itself as its own beast. If the full game looks like it will be as fantastical as promised, we might be in for an interesting future with Bladestorm yet.
NB: I only took a look at the eighth gen console version of Bladestorm Nightmare. The PS3 version will be digital-only, and the recently announced Steam version will be dropping in May.
Like the sound of it? You can pre-order Bladestorm: Nightmare from our store here.