Disparagers often state that developer Omega Force’s output represents variations on a single theme. Irrefutably, there’s some truth in that assentation, with a throng of titles (typically, but not always having ‘Warrior’ in the title) tasking players with slashing their way through large swaths of foes. While the context might be Han Dynasty China, Japan’s Sengoku period, One Piece’s pirate-filled realm, or even Hyrule, the action is similar, with players employing a solitary combatant to help turn the tide of war.
The niggling exception to this rule was 2007’s Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War. While the game’s engine and artificial intelligence undoubtedly recycled some of Omega Force’s coding, gameplay mechanics were wildly different from most musuo-based titles. Instead of scything through adversaries yourself, players commandeered a variety of regiments, ordering subordinates to attack, and calling of them to use a variety of special strikes and defensive maneuvers. In execution, Bladestorm was Pikmin with pikemen, and unlike anything Omega Force had crafted before.
Although The Hundred Years’ War certainly wasn’t a faultless game, it signaled an appealing and promising new direction for the developer. Unfortunately, the potential wasn’t really recognized by critics or consumers, and the title fell into obscurity, garnering only a micro-niche following. Mercifully, the game has been given a second chance with the release of Bladestorm: Nightmare, a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One title was offers a high-definition reworking of the original game along with an expansion which pushes the plotline into an surprising new direction.
Much like how Dynasty Warriors uses Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms to establish a loose context for the embellished skirmishing, Bladestorm: Nightmare employs the Hundred Years’ War as its backdrop. A bit of a misnomer, the confrontation between English and France wasn’t a single war but a succession of conflicts which lasted 116 years, involving notable figures such as Joan of Arc, Edward the Black Prince, and John the Fearless. For history buffs, the inclusion of these personas, along with the recreations of Crécy, Orléans, Poitiers, will be indulging. For others, Bladestorm’s break from the Eastern locales, with its European-styled strongholds, weaponry, and even revolving windmills, provides a milieu that is disconcertingly underutilized in contemporary console gaming.
Although the game plays loose and facts with many historical elements, there are a number of realities depicted in the game. The end of the Hundred Years’ War is noteworthy for the number of paid combatants, with the prolonged conflict (as well as disease) taking a toll on the size of the fighting force. That’s represented by the role of the player, who as a mercenary, can accept consignments from both factions. After using the game’s creation component to create either a male or female protagonist, gamers are ushered to a tavern which becomes Bladestorm’s base of operations.
Once an assignment is accepted and optional officers are selected, players head to the tactics screen where they can choose their deployment location and give broad commands to their fellow comrades. Thankfully, for players who want to lay siege immediately, these decrees aren’t required, with allied forced showing a bit of independence. While they might not show the conquering prowess of say, Charlemagne, the AI does a decent job at repelling invaders from invading forces.
Gratifyingly, commandeering combatants is much more fun that just giving them orders. Instead of leading a single soldier, players lead an entire battalion of swordsmen, cavalry, archers, pikemen, (and later brigades of war elephants and even dragons) with an entire division dutifully following the lead character around. A general attack is issued by holding down the right shoulder button; which sends allied forces scrapping with any nearby enemies. On a micro-level, combat can be an inexact; you’ll often see a knight flailing at a straggling soldier with comical inefficiency. However, once large numbers of troops collide in a visual cacophony of thrashing appendages, armor, and armaments, Battlestorm can evoke the feeling of an epic battle right out of Ridley Scott’s oeuvre.
Each type of battalion also has access to three different special commands that are customarily tied to a cool down meter. It’s here where Bladestorm truly excels, whether through the exhilaration felt when a cavalcade tramples over an entire company, or a perfectly timed shielding and counter from your swordsman. Likewise, archers can use the ‘pinpoint’ attack, which pushes players into first-person mode, where they’ll launch a shower of arrows onto distant foes. What’s remarkably enjoyable are the understated tactical elements that come into play, with ranged units benefiting from elements like elevation. New to Nightmare is the ability to switch between four officers by pressing different direction on the D-pad. As such, it’s possible to coordinate an assault, a trait adapted from current Warriors franchises.
Organically, the title pushes players into using a variety of troops, whether by the limited number of arrows carried by archers, or the rock-scissors-papers like relationship between troop types. Deftly, players don’t have to remember the connections between different regiments, with an icon over a leader showing if they are advantaged or susceptible. Time limits goad gamers into using horseman who can cover sizable distances across Battlestorm’s colossal maps, while tight-knit areas are ideal for melee militias.
Disappointingly, accomplishment on Bladestorm’s battlefields doesn’t always shift the geopolitical balance. While clashes contribute to more immediate goals of take over villages or castles, any supplemental success is reset for the next mission. In effect, this can feel a bit punitive, especially after a players sweep an entire region of antagonists. Instead progress is made through the game’s upgrade system, where that can pour any earned SP points into improving troop attributes, making them more mobile or increasing the size of their formations. Bladestorm: Nightmare’s other setback doesn’t show until at least fifteen hours into the campaign. Although leveling up your character and troops is a stimulating incentive, combat strategies grow stagnant after you’ve unlocked my types of regiments. That said, a majority of the campaign is still engaging, especially with the cooperation of an online participant.
For the rerelease, all of the content from The Hundred Years’ War returns, along with a second campaign that sees the English and French united again a monstrous militia filled with all kind of vile creatures endowed with supernatural abilities. Although Nightmare is available from the main menu, players will likely want to invest a bit of time upgrading their character before jumping into the fray, since beasts are at a slightly higher experience level. Once players do gain some headway, they’ll find that the Nightmare campaign plays out quite different, with more of a linear trajectory with longer missions. In essence, it’s much more plot driven and fueled by surprise; just when you think you’re bested a boss, another horde of monsters seeks vengeance. Pleasingly, the crusade allows players to take control of the demonic horde, allowing gamers to sample their malicious repertoire of abilities.
In screenshots, Bladestorm: Nightmare visuals can look rather bland, a circumstance that isn’t helped by the game’s drab color palette. But peer past this visual impediment and there are a number of aesthetic merits. The game’s sense of epic scale is helped by an impressive draw distance, giving gamers the ability to survey the topography and reconnoiter distant structures, although enemy troops tend to exhibit a bit of pop-in. While character models are serviceable, castles, villages, and cities are all well-drawn with each showing a bit of structural diversity. Sonically, the game’s soundtrack evokes the exquisite melodies and stirring themes crafted by Hans Zimmer, offering a seamless accompaniment when battling. In fact, there’s almost good enough to distract players from Bladestorm’s appalling voicework, which routinely botches accents and delivers a surprisingly monotonic narration.
Once fated for obscurity, Bladestorm: Nightmare reveals the virtues of Omega Force’s invigorating deviation from their customary action-driven play style. Not only is the original game worthy of a second look, given the visual upgrade and addition of new play mechanic, but the inclusive of a second campaign, makes Nightmare a solid value, offering over forty hours of troop trampling, demon directing goodness.
Bladestorm: Nightmare was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America
Release date: March 17th, 2015
Price: $59.99 via PSN or retail