April 20, 2015, Author: Dan Moore
Change is good. Change leads to new things, new ideas, and yes, new challenges. It can make products better, though it can also make them worse. It gives insight you might not have had before, increasing knowledge. In short, change is good.
Unfortunately, developers Omega Force haven’t quite realized this, and as a result pretty much all of their games have the same core gameplay loop, which is becoming increasingly dated with each game. The latest, Bladestorm: Nightmare, does nothing to change this simple fact, and feels that much poorer for it.
Bladestorm, like many of Omega Force’s games, is set during a real historical period. This time, it’s the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. You don’t play as a real historical figure, rather a user-created mercenary who will fight for any side. The character creator for this is the usual stuff: gender selection, height etc., and the normal array of sliders for customizing cheek bones and the like.
Once you have created your character, you head to an inn, run by a Frenchman and vacated by people from both sides. This is where you pick up your missions and buy items, troops and upgrades. It is also where the problems really begin.
Voice acting in the game is terrible, beginning with the aforementioned barkeep. His accent is barely French, and his lips do not sync with the dialogue at all. This happens with every single character in the game, to the point where there is just no point in paying any kind of attention to it. Further into the game, this compounds a story I didn’t have any investment in into an outright mess.
That story is presented as a series of missions for both the French and English, but selecting one side’s mission doesn’t lock you out of the other. Instead, you can filter between both sides at will, which I think is meant to create the feeling of a ‘warrior for hire’, but actually manages to take away any kind of cool factor playing as mercenary should have (and mercs are definitely cool).
It also destroys any kind of investment in the story. If you are not fighting for anything in particular, and just playing the missions because that is what you are supposed to do, there is no room for character development and bonding. All you do is play a series of missions one after the other.
I choose to play as England for the majority of my time, but the few times I did play as France I could honestly not tell any difference between them, other than the mini-map displayed allies as blue instead of red. There aren’t even faction-specific troops; once you unlock the ability to play with a particular troop type, it is unlocked for all sides of the conflict.
It makes no sense, and provides almost no story development, mission setup or faction differentiation. The missions themselves feel just as meaningless - you are just playing them because really, that is the only thing there is to do. The most maddening thing is that the game’s premise is such that it could provide some really great story beats and missions, but it all takes a back seat in favour of playing the same-looking battlefield over and over again.
The missions do provide something though: experience. This manifests as two things: a poorly-conceived ‘fame’ level, and ‘SP’ which allows you to upgrade your troops. Fame is bad because there is exactly zero point in it. As far as I can tell, it allows you to unlock new areas of France to battle in and that’s it. These areas all look almost identical to each other, so there really isn’t any benefit. If it does something else, the game never showed it, and I wasn’t even sure I managed to get the meter full in my entire time playing. It seemingly adds nothing to the game except for an extra meter to keep track of and a screen showing what you earned after a mission.
SP is actually useful, thankfully. This is used to upgrade ‘books’ for specific units. So if you want to make your swordsmen more powerful, hike them up with SP and level up the book. These upgrades come in the form of various attributes that do things like increase the number of troops in a squad or increase attack power, and max out at level 10. The problem is that in order to fully upgrade all the troops at your disposal, you would have to play the game for hours upon hours – but then when you get one unit, probably the swordsmen, fully upgraded, you can take on all other troops and so don’t need to upgrade the rest.
I spent the majority of my time playing as swordsmen as my primary squad. This gives you a unit to run around with as well as your character, and if other characters are very close by, you can combine with their squads into an army. If you manage to do this (which isn’t always possible), and have upgraded the other character’s troops too, you can rip through every other unit in the game, at least at normal difficulty.
The various squads work on an almost rock-paper-scissors basis. So sword troops are good against other sword troops and archers, but weak against mounted cavalry. Upgrade them enough though, and this simply goes away. The mechanic that is supposed to force you to switch up troop types and vary your play style is completely obliterated by using another of the game’s mechanics. This is not good game design. The fact that you can summon other other units at will (assuming you assigned them to a button) becomes pointless as well, as you simply do not need them.
At least the combat can provide some thrills, though after a while, the sheer repetitiveness of it all got on top of me and I had to put the game down for good. Combat itself is relatively easy to pick up: press R1 and your whole squad or army attacks with normal strikes. Press triangle, square or circle and they will perform one of their special moves, which vary from unit to unit. Swordsmen have a heavy strike and a charge ability, while mounted troops get to accelerate faster so they can use their own charge ability which can only be used after gaining momentum.
It works, but after a while I realized that by pressing the buttons one after the other in the same order, I could destroy anything in my path, including base commanders which are supposed to be more powerful. Killing these allows you to take over the base you are in, which can be satisfying, but after doing it for the five hundredth time it gets a little dull, and trust me when I say that you will do it a lot. Bases are littered over what is, to be fair, a pretty large map, but there doesn’t seem to be any real benefit to taking them over apart from a slight bump in gained fame.
Movement is so slow that even getting to each base is a chore. You can buy one-time-use items that speed this process up, but for no reason at all, the merchant might not always have them. You’re permitted a total of nine of each type of item, and on more than one occasion I used them all in one mission just so I could get around at something approaching a normal pace.
After a few hours with the Hundred Years’ War story mode, I just couldn’t do it any more, and quit. The plus side to this that I could then attempt the Nightmare story mode, which is actually a big improvement. I wouldn’t say that it was good, but it engaged me more than its brother, to the point where I actually wanted to see it through.
This mode takes all the same mechanics from the core game, adds a story someone has actually taken the time to write, whisks in some demons and reduces the length. In short, it would appear to be the best thing Omega Force have created in years.
In Nightmare you play as your custom character, as Joan of Arc rises up with a horde of demons to take over the planet and destroy mankind. This leads other named characters with comically bad accents – and even worse dialog – to set off to free or destroy her, depending on their will. It is a story that feels like someone actually put some effort in, and despite being terrible all the same, is the best part of Bladestorm I played.
The main difference between the two story modes is that Nightmare allows you to control demon forces, ranging from giants, to dragons and even Death. This is cool, and some of the designs of these creatures are pretty sweet, but the mode is completely hamstrung by being tied to out-of-date mechanics and poor mission design. You literally do the same thing as you would in the main mode, only you can now play with demons due to owning a magic sword. You don’t even get to shout “by the power of Grayskull!”.
Nightmare also has the single worst boss fight I have ever played. There is only one real boss, the Big Bad you face at the very end of the game. The problem is that when you actually come to face it, you are still playing Bladestorm. Which means that you press and hold R1 to attack, occasionally tap buttons to do something different, and sometimes summon other units to help. The core, though, is that you are basically just watching the fight play out with little interaction. It is shockingly bad, with little payoff at the end.
This also highlights problems with the game’s visuals. Said fight ends up with hundreds of troops attacking one large thing, and the game can’t keep up, so individuals stutter and disappear, the framerate can hitch up and activating the most powerful attack you can, the imaginatively titled ‘mass attack’, throws the camera skyward so that it points straight up and you can’t see anything that is happening.
There’s the little things too, like the fact that at times patches of grass looked like they floated above the ground texture, or that there is exactly four base designs and two farm buildings. The areas of France in real life are different, but here they look exactly the same, and it gets boring quickly.
Apart from the voice acting, every other bit of sound is passable at best. No interesting music, few entertaining sounds bites and nothing to make any special move pop. The game is just audibly dull. The slow pace of moving around the map means you will hear this crapfest a lot, and it does the game no favours.
So it’s obsolete?
On almost every level. Like many of this developer’s games there is a spark of something cool, but out-of-date gameplay, repetitive visuals and sound, and an overall lack of imagination – even in the demon-tinged Nightmare mode – leave this buried under a pile of steaming garbage.
This style of gamesimply doesn’t work anymore. I have played two games from the same developer so far this year – despite supposedly being very different, they were, at their core, the same damn game, and all the worse for it. Don’t buy this; save your cash for something something made recently, not fifteen years ago and dressed up as new.