If Bladestorm: Nightmare is to share anything with real life war, it may be that both are in fact chaotic, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the gaming experience. I suppose there can be a subtle metaphor too that war turns people into monsters and that maybe we are all just followers to decisive leaders. Okay, so that’s stretching it a bit, but despite great graphics and a piece of history serving as a narrative background, this iteration of Bladestorm is an anarchic mix of strategy, combat, and leveling up.
Unfortunately, instead of one of these elements being exceptional, all three are stuck in mediocrity, making for a game that while entertaining, lacks purpose and long term pleasure. This offering from Koei Tecmo for Playstation 4 updates the 2007 game Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War for current-gen consoles. The story finds you as a customizable mercenary given various battles to wage and castles to siege on both sides of the fight. You are a leader for hire, gaining weapons, acumen, and new squads while hanging out at a peculiar bar with an awkward and strangely knowledgeable barkeeper.
He is more or less your host and guide off the battlefield, and after spending any earned Skill Points on books and spending money on more fighters, you can head to the action. There isn’t much of a narrative to be had here; while there is a story mode to play (and a free mode that allows you to stage select), the game uses the backdrop of the French-English conflict as a backbone to ride horseback into battle, swing spears, shoot arrows, and all around lay waste to scores of people in less than realistic fashion.
However, there is a fair of amount of history shared with the gamer, especially amid loading sequences. There are references to Joan of Arc and other major figures, and lessons scattered throughout. There though, is where the connectivity to real life ends – and such teachings have nothing to do with the gameplay itself.
The biggest addition here, and really the main draw for any casual observer, is the Nightmare component. It’s the same war, and the same sides, except we jump to a certain time where we are informed in a matter-of-fact way, with no pause or explanation, that there has been a ‘sudden appearances of hordes of monstrous demons.’ Makes sense, right?
So instead of enlisting to fight for pay on one side against the other, now you fight for human against goblins, ogres, giants, and dragons, among others. Not only does this solve the problem of occasionally not easily identifying friend from foe, but it makes an uninteresting game far more middling. It proves to be more varied in terms of enemies, and runs a bit more difficult; the aforementioned French heroine is also given a mystical rewrite of her biography.
Despite the addition of the mythical and fantastic, the execution of battle and the inclusion of too many superfluous elements hamper the game each and every time. The screen is constantly lit up with alerts: enemies lose hit points (which are unnecessary), you’re levelling up, combo hits are tallied, gauges are filling, synergistic attacks lie in wait, and it all seems to be happening both at random and with little importance.
A cluttered map resides in the corner to keep you posted various bases and who controls them, while in the opposite corner you’ve more information on your own status. For most of the time, the screen runs wild as you either strategically plan your attack or simply throw caution to the wind, scream and charge. You have the option to assume leadership of various squads – archers, horseman, swordsman, and those wielding spears or axes (spear-ers and ax-ers?) – and each has three options to engage the enemy. While there is a simple attack option, there are also a trio of moves (usually one is defensive), but all take time to reset.
Time is a curious thing in Bladestorm. It can take quite a bit of it sometimes to get where the fight is, and the implementation of a 10-minute timer is frustrating too– apparently once night falls, the battle is done for the day, but you lose all progress. Indeed, after playing for some amount of time, and this will vary based on your willingness to believe in a half-hearted system of levelling up, gaining skills, and buying things, the game becomes repetitive and limited in imagination.
Strangely, perhaps the most creative part of Bladestorm: Nightmare comes in the beginning when you create your lead mercenary, a male or female figure that you can name and adjust for height, face shape, skin colour, hairdo, and even voice (unfortunately for Community fans, ‘Hector the Well-Endowed’ doesn’t fit as a name– I tried).
Certainly there is a fanbase out there that will enjoy what Bladestorm: Nightmare has to offer, but you can’t escape the feeling that it’s squandering potential. Instead of trying to do one thing superbly, it just does a bunch of average things. The combat system is cumbersome, and you can never truly command that large and cohesive a group. There isn’t a ton of strategizing required to win, either. Sure, you can lead with your bowmen and follow up with the cavalry and then have the infantry mop up, but that can be both unnecessary and hard to do – not all the squads are following you so readily.
That can be especially problematic as enemy hordes suddenly pop-out of the nowhere; the game is gorgeous and detailed, but such glitches are a minor annoyance. Then again, that just means there is more out there to slay, and those fleeting moments of sheer joy that the game offers arise when one side comes dramatically crashing into the other.
Just like real life; well, not really.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with for review purposes.
While at its core there is a great idea, Bladestorm: Nightmare has too much going on both during battle and off the field. The game tries so hard to juggle story, character levelling up, massive battles, and strategy that in the end, it doesn’t do anything particularly well.