Bladestorm: Nightmare PS4 Review
Throughout the life of the PS3 and Xbox 360, Omega Force created a lot of Warrior/Musou games, but they also branched out and tried expanding their range with titles like Fatal Inertia and Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, but one title, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, felt like the developers were attempting to grow the established formula from Dynasty Warriors with more tactical battles, no longer having one general who could demolish a hundred soldiers in minutes, instead, base it around the use of squads to overpower the opposition army.
Koei Tecmo have brought back the title for current generation, but rather going down the remastered route, like many companies are doing, this updated game, titled Bladestorm: Nightmare, comes with all the old content of the original game, plus a brand new fantasy campaign to make it worthwhile for fans to come back to, while newcomers have a lot of content to play. The main question is, though, does this current-gen port/expansion improve the overall experience that wasn’t brilliant the last time around?
The original campaign focuses on The Hundred Years’ War between England and France battling for the French throne. Bladestorm covers various areas of French land, from Normandy to Gascony, and takes the factual war and puts a fictional spin on it. All the key players are included, such as the likes of The Black Prince Edward, but while the story is told about these characters, it really comes down to your role as a created mercenary and fulfilling contracts for your choice of sides. This ultimately leads to the final decision of who comes out on top in this war, while becoming a legendary mercenary told about in stories for centuries to come. The Hundred Years’ campaign remains unchanged from what was available on PS3/Xbox 360, so fans will already know what to expect with the story.
More exciting is the new campaign in Bladestorm: Nightmare, called Nightmare, where Joan of Arc has turned heel and brought with her a horde of dragons, ogres and goblins to cause destruction. This new danger creates a truce between England and France, so that they can fight off this monster invasion. It’s a silly and refreshing take on the setting, and fighting the monsters is more entertaining than fighting other human soldiers. The game does allow save importing from the original Bladestorm on PS3 – this is done by downloading the Bladestorm: Nightmare demo and using that to detect the old save, then upload it to download on the PS4 – so fans can bring their units and levels across to this game and start the fresh Nightmare campaign with all units intact. The game does allow new players to start the Nightmare campaign, but it’s advised to go through The Hundred Years’ War, as some units are high level in the Nightmare campaign, which becomes frustrating to deal with in such a weakling state.
No matter which campaign is started, the concepts remain the same. A new player must first create a mercenary through the game’s expanded character creation, although, while it features more detail and content than the original, it’s still not as in-depth as the character creation systems in newer titles like Samurai Warriors 4. From here you assign your mercenary a squad type. These types are based around their weapon use, swords, longspears, horses, axes, bows, clubs; the list goes on, as there is quite the variety when it comes to weapons. As you continue to progress through the campaign, the squads will level up and gain skill points to unlock increase defence, attack and unit count. Gear can also be purchased from the merchant to offer better weapons, armour and buffs to the mercenary and the squads.
As a mercenary, your allegiance is to no one, so missions are based on accepting contracts from either the English or the French, usually focused on wiping out the armies defending specific villages or forts controlled by the enemy and turning them into your control point. A pre-mission screen shows a map of who is controlling what and where you can spawn at the beginning of battle. Any base that is controlled by the faction that hired you can be spawned next to, so it’s easy just to go for the base closest to the enemy’s, because you can spend a couple of minutes wondering the land moving to the next building, but time is against you, as you only have 10 minutes per day (campaigns can range from one to a few days) and if you don’t meet the objective before the last day ticks over, it’s failure and back to the mercenary inn. AI team members, which is a new feature brought into Bladestorm: Nightmare, can also have their spawn points selected. Once everyone is geared up and ready to go, then the mission can begin.
Once on the battlefield some similarities with the Warriors games do crop up. You are in control of the mercenary and can run around the battlefield, but unlike Omega Force’s other game, going around solo without a squad means being unable to do much, and the mercenary will meet a quick death by someone’s steel end. When attached to a squad, those soldiers will follow the player around. You can call them into a tight formation if they get stuck or detached from the squad, which happens way too often, so R2 becomes held down 90% of the time to keep units in check around the mercenary. With a squad in hand, players can attack opposition by holding down the R1 button to make the unit auto attack with their equipped weapon. The face buttons act as special moves for the unit. For example, the spears unit can throw spears, the sword and shield unit can charge into battle with their shields up acting as a battering ram and the archers can volley down a rain of arrows from a distance. Each class has their own set of three skill moves that are handy for dealing tremendous amounts of damage. No matter which class you use, one thing to note is that you will kill a lot of soldiers, which feels very similar to the Warriors games, except this time you’re doing it as a group rather than a one man army.
Bladestorm: Nightmare is supposed to be a more tactical game than any of Omega Force’s other action-based titles, and for the early part of the campaign this feels the case. Each weapon class has their strengths and weaknesses. Rapiers are good against axes, but are bad against cavalry. Swords are great for attacking speedy knife units, but suck when taking on spear-men, and clubs are great for bringing down horses, but their raw brute slob of weaponry are no match for skilled halberd users.
It’s important to keep track of this in the beginning, as when close to allied forces on the battlefield, you can cause the mercenary to jump to the other squad and control that type. Icons above enemy units will either glow red (weak against), neutral or shine green (strong against) to show the advantage the player’s unit type has against the foe. Building on top of this is the newly implemented mercenary switching, where the additional three mercenaries that come to battle with you (when unlocked after reaching a certain point in the campaign) can be jumped to by clicking the direction of the unit on the d-pad. While under AI control, these AI mercenaries can be told to take their squad to attack strongholds by directing them using the pause screen map, follow your unit or keep stand and defend. Being able to switch between these mercenaries adds extra strategy in taking over strongholds, as you can attack them from multiple sides to pincer the enemy units stuck in the centre.
What I found best to do is keep all the mercenary squads together and join them into one huge unit. This means that you can create an unstoppable force that contains four weapon types that can cover each other’s weakness, since jumping between mercenary leaders is done by clicking R2, causing them to shuffle the squad and go to the front. This merging of mercenary units and the power from levelling up means all strategy is lost after a few hours with the game. For example, my spear squad had clocked over level 30 – which doesn’t take that long to do, plus you can purchase levels using currency earned from successfully completing contracts – could near enough ignore any squad that the unit was weak against, as the spearmen overpower them with damage and numbers. I felt like I had to play as other squad types to offer a fair fight against the opposition, because my spearmen would simply dash in and produce crazy high numbers of damage, leaving the poor French/English people dead on the floor, completely obliterated.
Nightmare campaign does alleviate this a little, as it contains a difficulty setting from the beginning, but you can still get through the campaign without having to think so much of a hint of strategy. It’s a shame really, as there is potential with this format, it just needs more work and testing to make sure the developers get the progression and strategy right. As it is, Bladestorm: Nightmare is a fancy coated Dynasty Warriors game that aims for a more believable attempt at war, but ends up losing its focus on strategy, becoming an action hack-and-slash surrounded in extra baggage, causing it to be stuck in limbo between being a strategy game and an action game, but isn’t great at both.
Last generations aesthetics flow all over this game, even if it is coated in some current generation effects, such as high-dynamic-range lighting. It also improves draw distance, which means troops no longer pop into view. Even with the bump to 1080p resolution, the game doesn’t look pretty, with dirty textures and poorly detailed units not doing much to demonstrate the power of the systems. To be honest, this isn’t the point of the game. This was a port with some extra content and polish to bring a expanded version of the game, which it does. Although, the frame rate should be able to keep at 30fps, but it sadly drops quite often from the desired target. Voice acting remains intact from the last release, meaning it’s just as cringe sounding as before, as voice actors do they best to produce the most stereotypical French accent in current video games.
Bladestorm: Nightmare at its core is the same game that came out in 2007 with some slight alterations to the mechanics that bring in a little fun, but at the same time kill off the strategy that this game was going for. The best feature of Bladestorm: Nightmare is the fantasy campaign about Joan of Arc and her monster army, showcasing the fun to be had with changing history, while at the same time supplying a ton of content to get through, but sadly, this unique title from Omega Force doesn’t effectively blend action and strategy together, leaving us with mindless action that can’t offer the high-octane fun of Dynasty Warriors nor the challenge of a tactical battle.