“Bladestorm” is not a great game. If I’m going to be honest, it’s not even a good game. The combat is clunky and mindlessly repetitive. The story and progression are murky and obtuse. The landscapes are some of the most boring you can find in the next generation, or even the previous one. Battles often end up no more complicated than mashing the right button one hundred or so times until everyone dies. The list of grievances, shortcomings and boneheaded mistakes goes on and on and on.
Of course, I still think that “Bladestorm” is totally awesome.
“Bladestorm” is the latest project of KOEI, the same team that brought you “Dynasty Warriors” 1-5, plus “Dynasty Warriors Tactics,” “Empires,” “Legends,” and “Samurai Warriors” — in total, more than twenty versions of the exact same game. In “Dynasty Warriors” you played as one of the legendary warriors of the Three Kingdoms period in third century China, hacking through literally thousands of the exact same mindless warriors with the exact same seven-move combo, battle after battle. It was great. With every “Dynasty Warriors” iteration, the critics would inevitably lower the score a little more, complaining that the game was virtually unchanged from the last version, which wasn’t interesting anyway. But to me and the other “Dynasty Warriors” faithful, KOEI had already made the sweetest game ever and we would scream for joy at a slightly different map for the battle of Chi-Bi.
“Bladestorm” is KOEI’s first attempt to actually change their “warrior worth a thousand” formula. Taking the game to the Hundred Year’s War France, the most basic unit in combat is no longer the soldier but the squad. “Bladestorm” ups the epic ante, with ten times more soldiers in any given skirmish than “Dynasty Warriors” ever had. You still play as a single character, but you only become effective when you take control of a unit: bows, cavalry, sword and shield, whatever.
This kind of change was a long time coming for the KOEI. “Dynasty Warriors” would always have a few enemies on horseback, but it left you wanting a full scale cavalry charge like they showed in cut scenes. The small, ten-on-ten fights never gave the massive sense of clashing lines that you want out of an epic battle sim. “Bladestorm” fills that need. The feeling of taking fifteen knights and just pounding a column of enemy swordsmen makes the 15th century lancer in me squeal with joy. Same goes for getting just the right spot on the hill and knocking those same smarmy knights off their horses with a rain of arrows.
Defying logic, ten times as many enemies does not make the game ten times sicker. The mechanics in “Bladestorm” fail to capture the manic fun of “Dynasty Warriors.” Controlling your mercenary without a squad behind you is a complete joke, and fighting a single enemy is nearly impossible. The system of capturing bases often results in standing around an empty enemy base while inexplicably unable to capture it. The inventory system has miraculously been made even more incomprehensible than it was before: after one battle, my loot consisted of “jar, portrait, anger.”
The history, too, doesn’t have the right twisted sense yet. It’s not that it needs to be more accurate; it’s that it needs to develop the inaccuracies it has. For instance, the flags that some characters carry are of Japanese instead of European design. That’s fine. They’ve messed around with 15th century Europe as much as they did with Three Kingdoms-era China, but it’s nearly impossible to follow any semblance of story. There are some fun characters in here, but you can’t play as any of them. “Bladestorm” badly needs to find the Guan Yu of the Hundred Years War.
“Bladestorm” isn’t going to replace “Dynasty Warriors,” but it’s laid the groundwork for the next Christ-knows-how-many iterations of itself that we’ll hopefully get. It’s got the right idea, but hasn’t quite implemented it yet. Still, “Dynasty Warriors” with ten times as many enemies is an idea that won’t die. Make it work, KOEI.