PC Game Review: Lionheart: Kings' Crusade
Curtis Szmania travels to the Middle Ages during the time of the Crusades to decide if this real-time strategy is worthy to carry the banner of victors.
The Third Crusade was a revival of the religious zeal seen during the First Crusade. The crusades aims were to recapture the lands lost since the end of the First Crusade to Saladin and the Ayyubids. Several European nobles answered the call to arms whilst three European states took up the cross to lead them to the Holy Land. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa drowned in a river in Turkey on the way to the Holy Land, while King Philip of France abandoned his army because of poor health after the Siege of Acre; leaving Richard the Lionheart of England alone with the crusaders in the Middle East. Richard I then had to fend off the Arabs who fought from a distance with missiles, and usually on horseback. To counter this light-horsed and maneuverable enemy Richard had to keep his army tightly together, while moving it forward towards his ultimate objective of Jerusalem. He displayed logistical and tactical genius as he beat off everything Saladin threw at him. The crusade finally ended with a mutual agreement between these two profound figures of the Middle Ages. This is the story Lionheart: Kings' Crusade tries to bring to the battlefield of the PC wargamer.
The game starts by welcoming players with an immersive soundtrack, reminiscent of the ones from the movies Kingdom of Heaven or Alexander. But overall the audio isnt anything spectacular. Players can hop right into one of two campaigns straight from the main menu if they like, but Id recommend starting with the tutorial first. The game offers a fantastic, simplistic, and well-informed tutorial. Though the experienced RTS player may be well familiar with the controls at hand, it offers text, pictures, and voice to guide the player through the learning process. Its great because it puts players right in the thick of the Third Crusade; the tutorial is in fact a historical scenario of Richard Is shipwreck in 1191 on the coast of Rhodes. Once players have settled settled in, they may start to notice the resemblance the game has with the Total War games.
Players will notice immediately that the graphics are outstanding. Each unit (soldier) was created uniquely. A group, of say, Crusader Archers, will have some men tall and skinny, while others will be short with blonde hair. It seems each unit was created separately, with varying hair and facial features. Simply astonishing! The terrain is just as good, if not better. Shaders and lighting are abundant, and every map has a lot of detail with many objects and scenery lying about just for looks (lighthouses, ancient ruins, jagged boulders, and luscious green vegetation). Also, on many maps the terrain is mountainous and complicated, representing the topography of the Middle Eastern region near the Mediterranean. Its definitely the opposite of flat and simplistic. Add this to the pretty menu, GUI, and cut scenes; and you got yourself a beauty! But, the game lacks graphic options, and the screen resolution choices are minimal. I wasn't able to find my preferred screen resolution, which my OS recognizes, in the games video options.
Speaking of the UI, the in-game (battle) interface is pretty much self-explanatory. Its definitely a good looking GUI; colorful with a lot of detail. But its also simplistic and serves its purpose. The number of buttons isn't overwhelming and they all have floating texts attached to them so players will know what youre clicking on. Also on the UI, which is definitely unique for any RTS or tactical/historical game, is the informative section right in the center. Once one moves the mouse over something, that things information comes up with a hint or basic info about that thing. I say thing here because it could either be a unit, obstacle, plant, or terrain. I was using my Total War habits of selecting units on one side of the selection box to the other with the shift key but the game never responded to this. This isn't the games fault; I just wish it was an added hotkey. It sure would be handy. The menu, however, could use some work. In some screens, like Options or Scenario, there are missing Back buttons. I had to use the Esc key to get out of these screens: not every player might figure this out as quickly as I did.
Once you feel like you're a seasoned Templar you should head for one of the two campaigns; Crusader or Saracen. The campaign is similar to the Medieval: Total War games in some ways, but its also different in many other ways. The recruitment is different as the player is involved in the units training process. The map is also obviously much smaller than the Medieval II: Total War map, while the campaign UI is also different in ways. Some of this is due to the training system implemented into the game and the unique unit system (which Medieval: Total War lacks). The unique unit system is consisted of special units that have perks, like Holy relics, that raise certain modifiers of your army if they are recruited.
Players also have to maintain relations with the other kingdoms or orders in the campaigns. In the Crusader campaign there are four other factions you do business with: The French King, The Holy Roman Empire, The Templars, and The Papal Court. But if players are in the Saracen campaign there is an Upgrade screen. Here, instead of appeasing other factions players can upgrade their unit, leadership, or general modifiers. Appeasing these factions is important for the players army because they give it certain perks. The campaign is solely based around the army, and thus the players every action affects it. The map is divided into sections or territories that represent a battlefield. Players can conquer these territories by winning the corresponding battle in that territory. There are 16 of these territories on the map and the battles can either be open-field engagements, besieging fortresses, or defending fortresses. It is worth mentioning that siege weapons are an important aspect of a players army. As each territory is won the gold pours into your coffers, enabling you to recruit more units. Since the army is the key focus here, there are many things players can do with it. Holy artifacts increase certain stats, while seasoned units gain experience points.
Multiplayer in the game isnt extensive, and isn't really anything to talk about. Players are only given the option to battle other players in single battles by trying to conquer all Victory Locations or a free-for-all. Players are given a certain amount of cash to build their armies, same as in the single player Scenario option, and they meet on the battlefield. That's about it. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer campaign option available.
Now I know everyone saw this coming, since I'm such a history fan. And, since I write for the Wargamer I might as well give everyone the military history perspective on this game. The game attempts to be historical, but knowingly breaks its boundaries. Templars were present in the Third Crusade, but they weren't wearing full plate metal armor like portrayed in the game. Lionheart is seen carrying a humongous axe, crusader foot soldiers bear gigantic broad swords, and nearly all crusading knights wear horned helmets (a trait of the Teutonic Knights who fought against the Lithuanians in Prussia). The GUI is over-glittered with swords and decorations reminiscent of a magic, wizard, dragon game like The Battle for Middle-Earth. It also doesn't help that the main menu and the campaign maps have a dark and creepy aroma to them. Also, when units clash on the battlefield they seem to run into each other and then start swinging their swords or thrusting their spears. This is a trait absent from its apparent competitor Medieval II: Total War, which was released four year earlier. The game tried to be a fun historical RTS game, but it hasn't fooled me.
Lionheart: Kings' Crusade is definitely beautiful in its own way. The graphics are stunning, from each unique unit to the map topography, with a beautiful GUI. The tutorial encourages people of all ages to get involved in the action, but hotkeys (which have become so commonplace for games like the Total War series) are missing and incomplete. Navigation could also be difficult for some in the menus, while the hotkeys for camera movement dont produce ideal results. Battle mechanics aren't perfect and unit sizes are a bit smaller than what the competition has to offer. In addition, the game is portrayed as being historical but yet it falls short of the mark. Unit uniforms and weapons are ahistorical, while the GUI represents a wizard-like role-playing game. I really enjoy realistic/historical warfare games, but I wouldnt call this historical; much less realistic.
The Good: Two campaigns (Crusader and Saracen) with immersive storylines, great looking GUI, fantastic graphics for both units and terrain, informative tutorial with text and speech.
The So-So: No multiplayer campaign option, could have used a more realistic and historical approach.
The Bad: Navigating through the menu is awkward in some parts, video and sound options are sparse, has ahistorical units with a wizard-like feel to it, group-unit sizes are smaller than the competitors.
Does the game have a permanent spot on Curtis hard drive? This game does not have a permanent spot on my hard drive. The reason being is because its ahistorical. I don't care much for ahistorical games nor do I like games that make everything look like Dungeons & Dragons. I honestly feel this would have made a great game had the developers stuck with the historical and military aspects of the Third Crusade, without all the extra glitter. With great graphics, this game might have competed with Medieval II: Total War more seriously than it actually did. A few minor bug fixes would have helped its cause as well.
Review written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer
- AMD Phenom II 955 BE Quad-Core Processor Overclocked @ 3.7Ghz
- 8GB of DDR3 RAM Overclocked @ 1666 MHz
- ATI HD 6850 1GB Overclocked @ 1030 MHz GPU and 1175 MHz Memory
- Windows 7 Ultimate x64