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Complete Review & Description

Developer Omega Force calls their latest title, Bladestorm: Nightmare, a “Troop Command Action Strategy” game. I’m not entirely sure what that all means, and I get the feeling they don’t either. Army movement is simplistic, combat is largely AI dependent, and the strategy boils down to exploiting systems. Additional fantasy trappings don’t help to change the gameplay from the original 2007 release either.
In the core campaign, you play a mercenary leader during the Hundred Years’ War. You’ll take on contracts, signing for either the British of French forces, without being locked into one or the other. Those contracts manifest as actual battles that took place – with the typical looseness to historical accuracy that the developers are known for.

In the battles you lead squads that fill specific roles – swordsmen, horsemen, and archers being the core archetypes. Progressing in the campaign unlocks more exotic squads, and additional historical figures that will accompany you into battle. You can take control of these leaders, or issue simple orders to them from a menu, such as “attack this base”, or “defend this person”.

Those orders aren’t entirely dissimilar from what you’ll be doing for most of the game – taking down strongholds (by defeating enemy squad leaders and base commanders), and protecting slowly retreating characters. The combat that defines these events is mostly left up to the computer. You’ll position your troops, hold down the attack button, and occasionally activate special abilities (like charges, or powered up strikes) as they come off cooldown.
None of the aforementioned gameplay elements, however, are particularly engaging or well implemented.

Troop movement isn’t handled by some zoomed out tactical view. Your soldiers shadow behind you, following your exact movements, like a strange, jittery mass of human flesh. While you can order other squads around, they’re as dumb as a bag of hammers – often standing stock still, retreating (even though you have the upper hand), or running into walls. You’d think that after making games with armies in them for about 15 years, Omega Force would develop good, large-scale artificial intelligence. Instead, I feel like some kindergarten teacher, constantly course-correcting my children so they don’t run into table corners or eat dirt.

Toggling into combat mode makes your men swing at the nearest available target. This sounds easy, but is maddening to watch – as they’ll typically swing at empty air instead of connecting with their foes. Attempting to re-align your troops to compensate doesn’t help either, as the time between your strikes has an invisible timer. This leads to situations where you’ll be holding down the attack button, but your soldiers will just stand around like mannequins.

I feel like some kindergarten teacher, constantly course-correcting my children so they don’t run into table corners or eat dirt.
The easiest path to victory also means completely bypassing the “troop-on-troop” premise that’s supposed to drive the game. Most battles are won by taking down specific bases, with time being one of the biggest contributors to your final score. The most logical approach to maximising your score is to run around the enemy, and focus on their commanders – as taking them down makes their forces scatter anyway.

That core gameplay is transplanted into the new “Nightmare” mode that accompanies this release. But now you’re fighting goblins, magicians, and giants – all led by a demonic Joan of Arc. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously (even if the melodrama is a little grating), but the pre-existing technology pokes holes in the premise.

A lot of the foes you face are quite large, and the battlefields are mostly lifted from the core game. This creates instances of things like dragon models clipping through castle walls, entire squadrons of gryphons populating incredibly narrow entry-ways, or multiple ogres occupying a small sliver of a bridge. The way that these units move is also ungainly, often twitching and turning sporadically, like they repurposed behavioural code from smaller units for the bigger ones. Everything about Nightmare mode feels like a hacked mod that you’d see in a PC game.

Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that suffers from its fundamentals. The act of moving your troops around the battlefield, and engaging in combat, is too far removed from the player’s input – leading to frustration rather than gratification. Adding dragons to the mix doesn’t shake up the formula, and highlights that not all games can act as frameworks for other concepts.



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