Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War Hands-On

Koei's upcoming action game brings history to life…and death.

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Between the lines of every history book are thousands of forgotten battles and unsung skirmishes. In other words, all the good stuff. But don't fret, because Koei is going to fill you in on the gory details of one of civilization's bloodiest, most action-packed conflicts in their upcoming game Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War.

If you slept through that unit in school, all you need to know is that England and France were at war for half of the 14th and 15th centuries. Although the conflict spawned legends like Joan of Arc and Prince Edward, it was hard on the normal, mortal folk whose populations were decimated by losses. That's where you come in. As a mercenary commander, you'll control forces for hire as you attempt to become rich off one of the most expensive periods in European history.

Command your forces against the enemy.
Command your forces against the enemy.

On a conceptual level, Bladestorm has a lot in common with Koei's flagship franchise, Dynasty Warriors. You're a hero capturing strategic locations on a giant map as a huge battle rages around you. But instead of running amok as a one-man army, you'll be able to take control of an entire band of mercenaries. When a battle begins, you'll pick a base and spawn in. As you look around, you'll notice several different groups of soldiers, such as cavalry, crossbowmen, and infantry loitering about. To assume command of a group, you simply approach and press a button.

Once the squad is under your command, they'll basically follow you everywhere and do whatever you do. In turn, you assume the qualities of whichever squad you just commandeered. Let's say you grab a gaggle of crossbowmen. You'll want to run within range of a skirmish, and then tell your guys to fire away. We tried this, and after filling a few enemies with bolts, we started following a band of marauding cavalry. These guys would storm through infantry, skewering them with lances, and as soon as they were clear we'd let loose on the survivors with volleys of lethal bolts. It was fun and cool to see how these two unit types worked so well together.

In spite of our combined brutality against hapless infantry, we weren't doing much to change the battle lines or advance our cause. We needed to capture a base, which meant defeating its leader. Once we found one, we quickly parked our bowmen and ordered them to fill him full of holes. Fortunately, we saw him quickly shred another unit of bowmen with his wicked long sword, so we abandoned control of the bowmen and changed to cavalry. From there, we repeatedly ran him down, keeping him off his feet and giving the remaining bowmen easy shots. He was tough and took long to kill, but after getting trampled a dozen times, and being shot a couple hundred more, he finally succumbed to his wounds, falling through the cracks of history.

Will you fight with Black Prince Edward, or against him?
Will you fight with Black Prince Edward, or against him?

Although we didn't see much of the game's story unfold, we were pleased to see some role-playing elements on display, including our character's fame rating, which would allow us to eventually command more powerful units. We were also pleased to see Bladestorm running smoothly despite entire armies clashing onscreen. Unlike Dynasty Warriors, it looks somewhat realistic.

Although it's hard to predict how Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War will ultimately go down in history, we think it has a bright future. It places you right in the thick of a huge battle among autonomous, seemingly intelligent forces, and allows you to play several different, interesting rolls on your way to fame, fortune, and legend. Look for more on this war when it lands on American shores in the fourth quarter of 2007.

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