It’s Warriors, Jim. But not as we know it.
Gods, I can’t believe I opened with that. Seven years since its original release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I take a look at the remastered and expanded next generation version of Koei Tecmo’s Bladestorm The Hundred Years’ War. This here’s my Bladestorm Nightmare review!
It’s been seven years since I last touched Bladestorm. I wouldn’t even say it was a touch, more of a light caress. I didn’t so much invade France as take a Sunday afternoon drive to the Normandy coast. And there was one pretty solid reason for that. The first Assassin’s Creed title was released the same month. If you’re a fan of history and cutting people up, the choice between the two is rather obvious.
Move along over half a decade, another generation of home consoles, and about six dozen lack-luster Assassin’s Creed titles, and Bladestorm has once again piqued my interest. And I’d say it was a keeper. It might just deserve my time getting that platinum trophy.
The thing is, while PoshAlligator is gallivanting around writing up comprehensive previews about how good Nightmare is because of the new features, what really shone through to me was how polished the original campaign was. As we’ve not touched on it before on Rice Digital, I’ll give a bit of an overview, because to me, Bladestorm Nightmare is a game of two parts, not a remake with the old version tacked on.
The eponymous campaign takes place in mid-14th century, when the majestic King of England decides to cross the channel and claim France. Unlike a typical Warriors title, the player creates a faction-less mercenary who may fight for either the French or the English. Cue Edit Mode.
If you happened to pick up ANY OF THE RECENT WARRIORS TITLES you will recognize faces and hairstyles, and I’m pretty sure that you could create a near-identical character in Bladestorm and, say, Samurai Warriors 4. Creation of a mercenary is mandatory as there are no pre-created characters and you cannot play as key figures off the bat. There are some pretty fun sliders though, and I let my friend go crazy on his character:
Oh, did I say friend? Let’s get this out in the open now. There is no couch coop. None. Play online with friends all you want but don’t bother inviting them over for pizza and a Northern France invasion because you’ll be sorely disappointing them. At least you can still both play that copy of Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires you purchased from Rice Digital! Phew…
After your chosen character is created, you’ll enter a pub (that campaign latest long! huehue) where the English (or Japanese) speaking French barkeep will greet you and give you a run-down of the situation. Yep, Bladestorm is fully voiced in both English and Japanese and you are able to swap between the two easily in the options menu. Arigatou gozaimashita Koei Tecmo.
The tavern is where you launch your campaign missions, but you can also purchase new armor, weapons, soldiers, and banners (instant-effect items), upgrade your troops, read about the history of the war and key characters, and talk to the pub’s denizens – some of whom read books.
After launching into a campaign mission the effects of the remaster really shine. There are absolutely loads of troops on-screen at one time, the surrounding environments are more detailed and lush, and – most importantly – the game plays like a charm. I was expecting frame drops and glitches to be in the forefront but I was to be disappointed: Nightmare really feels like it’s taking advantage of the hardware, even more so than the most recent next-gen Samurai Warriors 4. It’s a joy to play, and it looks great.
“But it’s so slow!” I hear you wail. And, yes, movement on some squads can feel very sluggish. However, I feel that this is a side-effect of Bladestorm’s huge map areas. Instead of opting for the large room and corridor approach, the battlefields are open areas, intersected by rivers and mountain ranges, and populated with towns, keeps, and castles. Charging on horseback up a hill to invade a stronghold in the pouring rain is something to behold.
Your character can take control of any squad type (assuming you have the required book unlocked) from infantry, cavalry, archers, and more modern rifles and explosive units. Each unit is either strong, equal, or weak to every other unit type, so purely leveling up your preferred group is not an option, you will need to have a balanced spread of types to call on. Officer types also roam the battlefield and are tougher than most units; left unchecked they will take over your bases and destroy your allies.
Reducing the number of enemy units around a keep spawns the Base Captain, who relinquishes control of the keep if bested in combat. This can also happen to your own bases though, meaning that all-out offence is not necessarily the best tactic.
The remastered version adds in the feature to swap to any of three other controlled officers at whim, regardless of where they are on the battlefield. Alternatively, you can call all your characters together to form an Army, allowing you to perform proximity combo attacks. Officers can also be commanded to defend or attack bases when NPC controlled. Each officer retains their own unit levels and equipment, so playing through a campaign with the same officer units is recommended.
Normal skirmishes take around 10 minutes, and the world reflects this, slowly getting darker until the battle is ended at ‘Nightfall’. The failing light really adds to the atmosphere and can genuinely feel like the day is getting long and the battle almost over. Sometimes it’s even picturesque.
Each unit has three special attacks, usually a power attack, a stun, and a defensive/utility skill, as well as an auto attack. Holding R1 will direct your unit to attack nearby enemies. Holding R2 directs the unit to formation, easily allowing you to hold ranks against other units and create regimented attack patterns. Don’t expect to be cutting down enemies on your own. If your units die and you are alone, chances are you’ve had it.
The open-ended nature of Bladestorm allows you to make up your own goals. If you have three days to capture Chesny and you think you can do it in one, the other two campaign days can be spent training weaker units, capturing as many bases as possible, or defeating enemy officers. The latter two earn rewards in the form of items, unit books, and experience, to further progress your military prowess in future skirmishes.
All in all, revisiting The Hundred Years’ War was an absolute joy. I did not expect it to hold up so well and have such a polished feel for an admittedly seven year old game. Ideally, adding more features would be a nice touch (LIKE COUCH COOP), but the game play is solid and will command a number of hours to complete. Now into the Nightmare.
Just like The Hundred Years’ War campaign, only custom-made characters can be brought into Nightmare straight away. Levels and items are retained from either, so character progression continues across all modes.
In the Nightmare campaign, the English and French forces have called a temporary truce, as monsters have appeared all across France and are wreaking havoc on the people. The military leaders hold up in their fortresses, wary of outsiders, and various factions become stranded from their allies, cut off by the monster hordes.
In all this, a mysterious mercenary appears, wielding a blade with the ability to control the monsters. With a gang of officers from the two opposing historic forces and the ever-trusty side-kick Magnus, the mercenary travels the land to unite the human armies against the monstrous threat.
The key difference in the Nightmare campaign is the way the narrative is told. In between skirmishes, the ever-expanding gang of characters comes together to discuss the next move, and in-battle dialogue is more frequent, sometimes shifting if the battlefield situation changes. Battles are larger scale and often contain objectives that only appear when the previous is met. These new objectives often open up new parts of the map or cause additional units/bases to appear, lending a more frantic and prolonged feeling to the fights. Perhaps longer is the correct word, as some battles are upwards of forty-five minutes in length.
Battles follow the same approach seen in The Hundred Years’ War but with additional unit types: skeletons and goblins replace the enemies typical foot soldier units, griffons are hard-hitting cavalry, ghosts take the place of range damage dealers, and giants and dragons are new fearsome units. The power of the sword allows the player character to control any these units (if the relevant books are unlocked) and each bring a unique play style to the field.
My favourite of these new units was Death, a ghost-type unit armed with magic and a scythe. Floating in formation towards the grouped enemy and unleashing a two star firestorm was satisfying and terrifying every time.
If you’ve ever played Warriors Orochi then the setting will be familiar. Battles mostly take place on ruined versions of the original campaign’s locations, with stormy weather clouding the skies and dead trees and crops populating the landscape. It’s like a hellscape with less lava.
The music more than makes up for the drab atmosphere, with the main battle music sounding like a mix between Duel of the Fates from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and The Lord of the Rings’s Isengard Theme. It’s big, war-like, and really sets the tone for the large-scale battles.
One of the more surprising elements in Nightmare is that the lead antagonist is Joan of Arc (or The Maid). At the start of the monster invasion, the French girl-next-door type leader disappears, and re-emerges as sexy-succubus-mistress type, and also the monster horde’s leader. You and your merry gang are not too pleased by this Grease-esque transformation and take it upon yourselves to defeat and return her to wearing normal attire. Thus begins the campaign across France, with each battle occurring in a different French territory.
All in all, the Nightmare campaign doesn’t vary too much from The Hundred Years’ War mode. Insofar as in-between battles you’ll still be upgrading your units, purchasing new equipment and troops, and unlocking characters, and in battle you’ll be focusing on taking bases and defeating commanders. But the change in setting and the introduction of characters from both factions relying on each other to survive is a nice touch to an already solid foundation.
Fans of epic fantasy will feel right at home here, with grand-scale medieval battles where magic is used to devastating effect feeling right out of something like the Wheel of Time or the Malazan book of the Fallen novels.
With fully-voiced dual English/Japanese audio, two stellar campaigns, and a grand sense of scale, Bladestorm Nightmare is the medieval war game that many may have missed out on the first time round, but should definitely make the effort to pick up now.
You can order the game from us here!
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