I’ve had the good fortune of being able to preview Paradox Interactive’s Lionheart: Kings’ Crusade for the last few days, and I want this out up front: this game is fantastic. I’m not going to spoil the upcoming review, but I can honestly say I didn’t realize how much I could enjoy playing an RTS game.
This is probably due, in large part, to the fact that there are some RPG elements sprinkled in that help you grow fond of your troops. I’ve never played an RTS where I actually work hard to keep the troops alive battle to battle, rather than just pumping out new troops to make up for my incompetence as a field general. You will need to plan your battles out to make sure you have good balance, adequate coverage, and the right placement or you will find yourself running reinforcements back and forth, and losing troops unnecessarily. Don’t be fooled by the pictures, you are able to zoom out to manage your army; the close-ups are nice to watch the carnage of your masterful (or miserable) leadership.
There’s not much story to speak of initially: you are either conquering the lands as Lionheart for the Crusade, or taking back the conquered lands as Saladin of the Saracen, but the game develops the story through the missions and factions, and there are nice lead-ins to each battle that describe what to expect based on who you help. Both sides of the campaign have little tweaks to gameplay that make things unique (the Crusade campaign has you balancing factions, the Saracen eschews factions for knowledge searching). You can equip your units with weapons, armor and potions to make them more deadly on the battlefield, and can also upgrade their skills and give them abilities they can put to use. As units fight, they gain more experience, which means more skills and abilities. You can also make decisions outside of battle that affect your standing, through choosing to help one faction over another (or following one action or another).
Another nice touch is the multi-stage missions, where you will find yourself invading a city to complete one objective, only to have to turn around and fortify the city against a counter attack by placing catapults, traps and towers, all within the same mission. Sometimes your army may have to arrive in waves, so you will be forced to split your attack accordingly. The game really does a good job of varying the gameplay so that things don’t get stale, and it works very well.
It all ties together nicely, and with the game set to release October 8th, 2010, I can happily tell you this one is looking to be well worth your time and money. Stay tuned to Platform Nation closer to the release date for the full review to see what the final say will be.