Somewhere in the world, there's a 14-year-old in an interminable high school history class who, just to stay awake, is probably imagining a scenario that looks a lot like Bladestorm: Nightmare. The Hundred Years' War is one of the longest and most pointless conflicts in human history, memorable primarily for Joan of Arc's involvement and as the basis for hundreds of years of Brits and the French throwing shade at each other, with decades upon decades of grousing about kings and succession happening in between. Surely, such a memory can only be improved by imagining the war being fought by anime-haired mercenaries commanding legions of sellswords to slay massive armored knights, vicious dragons, and snarling armies of demons, right?
On paper, that's a yes, and I wish the folks at Tecmo Koei were capable of doing it justice. Instead, Bladestorm's pretension of being a massive scale real-time strategy game with action elements turns out to be little more than a European coat of paint slathered over the tired Musou formula, with the RTS elements working to its detriment instead of providing much needed fun and depth. At least the game gives you a lot to work with. Bladestorm Nightmare is a remaster and a sequel all in one. The original game, released in 2007, is included here with a few new features to bring it up to par with the new scenario, Nightmare, which totals out to anywhere from 25 to 30 hours of gameplay, all told. If nothing else, it at least succeeds in keeping you busy.
Staying busy in the Hundred Years' War scenario involves making a mercenary in the game's fairly deep character creator to lead specialized troops--swords, spears, archers, and the like--into the fray of the ongoing war between the British and the French. Just as in the Warriors games, your job is to go from enemy base to enemy base, clearing out hordes of enemy combatants and their generals, lowering their defenses to nothing until the base commander shows. Killing him or her means that your side sets up shop in the base, and the enemy has fewer reinforcements to prevent you from taking out the big target on the map and clearing the stage.
While there's at least a measure of flash and flair to the ongoing march to war in the Warriors games, Bladestorm tries to throw an RTS twist into the mix, in which you don't directly control one single, legendary fighter, but an entire squad that swarms enemies at the push of a button. Special moves are powerful, but they all have a cool down period, meaning that each coordinated move has to be planned carefully. You also have the ability to pair up with another mercenary--either by switching back and forth at the push of a button or via online cooperation, both of which are new features in this version--and you can strategize your attack to leave enemies trapped in massive walls of zealotry and death.
Bladestorm's pretension of being a massive scale real-time strategy game with action elements turns out to be little more than a European coat of paint slathered over the tired Musou formula.
Though you could do that, chances are pretty good that it's unnecessary. Despite a slew of strategic features and options, generally any squad of any weapon can walk right up to any group of enemies, start slashing, and walk away no worse for wear. There is, ostensibly, a strength/weakness system in which specific weapons are more effective on certain squads than others, but aside from occasional trouble with troops on horseback when you're at a lower level, the chances of your squad being wiped out entirely are slim, especially since you can always retreat from battle to your nearest base, round up a new squad, and take another shot. Failure ends up being a virtual impossibility the further you go, since the enemy AI is profoundly awful. I have literally left the game unpaused to take a phone call, with my squad standing ten feet from a group of enemies, and not had the enemies take a single swipe the whole time. That's a characteristic of Warriors as well, but the fun of stringing together insane, crowd-slaying combos against nigh-defenseless masses is non-existent in a game in which all combat boils down to holding a button until damage numbers stop popping up.
Once upgrades start coming into play, enemies stop being a factor altogether, and pretty much exist just to be cannon fodder. The tavern, which serves as an ersatz base of operations, allows you to level up each squad's attack, defense, and item frequency, as well as giving you the opportunity to select variants with special powers. The variations are actually fairly extensive, which would be delightful if you didn't have the ability to sail through the game using just your hard earned points to buy attack and defense upgrades, never touching the rest. Instead, your enemy most often ends up being the clock, which times every stage at ten minutes, and stops the fighting no matter how much progress you've made. This would not be such a big deal if traveling from enemy base to enemy base didn't usually take two to three minutes, but even on horseback, you still face long stretches of riding through endless unchanging countryside looking for fights.
Aside from occasional trouble with troops on horseback when you're at a lower level, the chances of your squad being wiped out entirely are slim.
The tavern and the loading screens provide most of the story, which also ends up being a wash. There's plenty of detail to be mined out of 100 years of war, and the game hits on the highlights, with major figures like Edward the Black Prince, Gilles De Rais, and of course, Joan of Arc all making cameo appearances. The historical highlights are, unfortunately, utterly disconnected from the gameplay. As a mercenary, you're allowed to choose which side of each battle you want to fight on, and no matter how much work you put into claiming territory for one side or the other, the cutscenes still generally ignore your progress in favor of the real event. So all your time spent in taverns, chatting up other mercenaries and a bartender with the worst excuse for a French accent this side of Eddie Izzard's Bond-Villain-With-Broken-Translator skit ultimately makes absolutely no difference to the story.
Does the Nightmare scenario change any of this? Somewhat. It does introduce a more varied throng of enemies than the Hundred Years' War, with magicians, dragons, and snarly goblins. You're allowed to carry over your mercenaries from the Hundred Years' War, and if you owned the original game on PS3, you can import your character from that version. The difficulty level is kicked up a minor notch, so you might actually catch the occasional beatdown if you're not a bit more careful at first. The ten minute time restriction is eliminated in favor of a more dynamic system of shifting objectives, fake enemies, and a map that actually expands as more enemies make their appearance. So, yes, for what it's worth, Nightmare is a better game than the original. However, the core gameplay hasn't been touched, and turning Joan of Arc into an anime villain--who probably-not-coincidentally bears a more than passing resemblance to Cia from Hyrule Warriors--just makes the scenario into a strange Soul Calibur RTS, rather than doing anything interesting with France's beloved Maid selling her soul to stop a war.
Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game trapped in 2007, awkwardly fumbling for a way to push a tried and true formula forward. The ideas are appreciable, but not nearly enough of the required effort has been put in to make this game great or even challenging. Somewhere, a history student is daydreaming of a Hundred Years War full of magic, danger, wild-haired mercenaries, and insane alternate histories in which Joan of Arc becomes witch mistress of Europe. Whatever that kid has in mind, it is certain to be more ambitious than what Bladestorm: Nightmare can provide.