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Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader Review

publisher: Black Isle Studios
developer: Reflexive Entertainment
genre: RPG

PIII 600, 128MB RAM, 8MB video card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Aug 13, 03
» All About Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader on ActionTrip

Black Isle Studios is certainly prominent when it comes to dishing out classic RPG's - Baldur's Gate series, Icewind Dale series, Planscape Tournament, etc. Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader was designed with the same attention to detail, except this time Black Isle was backed up by programmers and designers from Reflexive Entertainment (the creators of the real-time strategy Star Trek: Away Team. Because of Black Isle's long-standing reputation on the RPG scene, we thought Lionheart was pretty much a safe bet. A while back we were able to find out all there is to know about the game in a chat with Ion Hardie, the Lead Designer and Co-Producer of the game. Many promising features have been unveiled and our expectations heightened. Now, we took the time to go through the game step by step and see if it can measure up to the vast RPG competition out there. Sadly, there are many aspects in the gameplay that we found disappointing right at the beginning... Read on to find out why.

One thing should be straightened out before we go any further. Unlike other RPG's that were conjured up by Black Isle, Lionheart doesn't borrow any AD&D principles. As an alternative, the developers have relied on the effective SPECIAL rule system that's already been successfully utilized in the Fallout series. So, with that in mind, and several other aspects that are related to Black Isle's experience with RPG's, we took a leap in the world of Lionheart.

The game introduces a rather unusual setting for a classic RPG - it actually offers a unique fantasy tale that's effectively flavored with historic characters and events. This is, by all means, a move in the right direction and a most welcomed refreshment. You start out your quest in 16th century Spain - or, to be exact, a rather original alternate version of it. Long ago, during the Third Crusade, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin forgot their differences and quarrels and united against a terrible evil and the armies of darkness. Driving away most of demons and creatures, Lionheart and Saladin achieved victory. Unfortunately, many monsters lingered and began to spread havoc, spawning with humans and causing great unease throughout the lands. Your adventure starts in the great city of Barcelona. Upon your arrival to the city, you slowly begin to realize that your character possesses some sort of mystical heritage that's strongly related to the spirit and the very essence of the mighty Lionheart...

Barcelona is divided into many huge districts. Many factions fight to gain power and influence within the city as well as across the whole of Spain. Since you are a beginner and a young adventurer, your first task should be to gain as much experience as you can, in order to join up with the faction of your choice. Later on, you will be assigned to perform a variety of duties that are consistent with the policies of the factions you chose to support.

The first positive aspect of the game, is that a great deal of quests and sub-quests is available right from the start. In fact, there are so many things to do, you'll often need to consult your quest log; where the specifics of all initiated quest are neatly laid out. On many of these quests you get to chat with a range of authentic characters like Leonardo da Vinci, Cervantes, Shakespeare - all of which can send you on various and mighty useful sub-quests. Such moments can truly motivate players to carry on piercing and slashing their way through the game. At least that's the way it was for me. So, basically, Lionheart doesn't fall short of quests, to be sure. Sadly, as I was so keen to complete my quests, I immediately encountered certain disappointing aspects of the gameplay, which I think will surely draw away hardcore role-players and newbies alike. The simple fact is that the game has an excessively difficult beginning, with miscellaneous opponents that are in many ways too hard to handle - regardless if the character relies on spells, melee skills, or range combat. This is where a rather slow pace kicks in and you may become frustrated early on in the game (a recurrent phenomenon in many RPG's nowadays). So, when the action begins, you'll usually find yourself running away from simple enemies like sewer rats and goblins.

As you may have gathered, combat is an essential part of Lionheart's gameplay mechanics. The ol' hack-and-slash routine is present throughout the entire game.

Another impractical moment in the game is that there are no teleport areas. Also, there are no spots where players may expect to find perpetual healing or mana replenishment. Instead, you must hope to run into mana and life energy along the way. The problem is that certain locations are full of the so-called mana and energy spirits, whilst other places just don't have enough to help you go through an entire level smoothly - you frequently have to return to a section that's already been explored, looking for these spirits in every nook and cranny. Now, it's clear that Black Isle and Reflexive didn't handle the game's hack-and-slash moments very well (just compare the game to any action/RPG from Diablo to Dungeon Siege).

The AI is another aspect that might need additional work. Don't get me wrong, generally the AI works fine. It's just that freakish behavior can be observed in friendly characters (NPC's that can join you in your cause and can be released from duty at any time during the game). Your companion sometimes simply refuses to cooperate even when your character is in dire need of assistance. The enemy AI usually works satisfactorily, but it can also display some weird behaviors from time to time... Nothing too serious though.

Thanks to some of the aforementioned flaws, it was somewhat difficult to discern the positive aspects of the game. Later on, I was able to find some good moments. For one thing, establishing a good character advancement system is a huge advantage in Lionheart and it clearly stands as Black Isle's forte. The so-called SPECIAL system from the Fallout series was effectively optimized for the needs of Lionheart. The entire rule system is intuitive and makes skill advancement a cinch, even for inexperienced RPG players. Dispersing experience points and learning new skills and perks works smoothly and without any problems. As you progress, it will be quite easy to get used to combining various magic abilities and combat skills throughout the game - which is actually the most enjoyable feature.

Visually, I wasn't all that impressed with Lionheart. Fair enough, some areas are pretty with many cute details such as trees, little fire-bugs flyin' around, rippling brooks, etc. Then again that doesn't amount up to much when you consider the faintly colored backgrounds and various underground levels that seem a tad repetitive - in terms of design. On top of that, most characters were endowed with relatively rigid body animations. Once again, let us recall Diablo - when it comes to isometric hack-slash style RPG's, not a single developer managed to create such an impressive range of smoothly animated in-game characters. Another disappointment is that players cannot alter the graphic mode they're playing in - for some interesting and extremely annoying reason, the game is locked in 800*600 resolution. Contrary to these downers, Lionheart features a well-designed GUI and high-quality voicing, as well as some cool music themes (although, I would've preferred a slightly wider range of tunes).

The game can be fun for a little while when played in multiplayer. Up to four players can join a multiplayer game via built-in server browser; but alas, already numerous reports are coming in about frequent lagging issues and high pings. Also, don't expect any innovations in the multiplayer mode in terms of content. It's all the same as in the single-player campaign.

Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader is no doubt based on an original idea. But, from where I'm standing, it could've been way better, bearing in mind that the developers took the time to create a good story and brilliant setting for an RPG title (on top of using the Fallout SPECIAL system). Regrettably, the game suffers from several balancing issues. It's obvious that Reflexive wasn't pushed in the right direction, and as a result they turned a highly potential RPG franchise into an average and unbalanced hack-and-slasher. It seems to me that Black Isle should not leave its RPG projects to other developers in future.


6.6   Above Average 

Excellent setting - an interesting combination of a cool fantasy tale and actual historical facts. The SPECIAL rule system from Fallout does the trick. Numerous quests to complete;

Rather slow pacing at the beginning. The game is difficult and it mat take you a while to improve your character. Character animations could've been better. Only playable in 800*600 resolution. Several shortcomings that make for an unbalanced gameplay.



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