Bladestorm: how 28 rogue ninja conquered Brittany

By Brenna Hillier, Tuesday, 31 March 2015 08:56 GMT

The Hundred Years War wasn’t ended by the superior forces of the French cavalry: it was ninja.

bladestorm_nightmare_1

Bladestorm: Nightmare

bladestorm_nightmare_3

Battlefield sim. Take control of dozens of unit types.

You play a mercenary, fighting for both France and England, usually at your own discretion.

Unit variations liven things up; Lady Lancers replace Knights. Vikings replace Swords.

Available now on PlayStation 3, PS4 and Xbox One. PC version due in May.

Bladestorm: Nightmare is a PC, PlayStation 3, PS4 and Xbox One re-release of an early PlayStation 3 exclusive called Bladestorm: the Hundred Years War.

Built by Omega Force, the developer behind the Warriors franchise, it is perhaps the only game that has ever really felt like it deserves the “battlefield sim” label the studio stamps on its other games. Whereas Dynasty Warriors is about either mashing one button or enacting fighter-level timing and combos (depending on difficulty), Bladestorm is about assessing, planning, executing and reacting in the flow of a major battle.

Bladestorm simulates the feeling of commanding not entire armies but certainly units and eventually multiple squads, if you choose. It’s not like a grand strategy game or an RTS, where your brain and reaction times are sorely tested, and it’s not an accurate, realistic recreation of a real battlefield. It just gives you a feeling.

It’s very hard to explain. You know how in TV shows and movies you see WWII commanders pushing little arrows around sand trays with sticks? It’s kind of like that. You have to study the map to decide when and where to push attacks.

The reinforcements come from here, the base you need to catch is here, there are two bases feeding attacks at us from there but they’re gonna be funnelled by that gully and that bridge so I have time. If I leave one unit to defend there, I can attack on two fronts, sweep round to block their reinforcements, and then if everything goes well I should be able to get back in time to take the target before they break through into our base.

You make those decisions before battle kicks off, and in the pause menu while it’s going on. On the ground, your decisions take on a more tactical nature.

There’s a big group of enemies coming down that road. If I shortcut across the fields I can take them from the side. Wait, their frontline units are too powerful for the troop I’m leading. Hang on, here come some allies; Wait till the faster front line splits off, then slide into the gap, wheel, and stop the rest of the troop from catching up.

When it all works out, it’s super satisfying; long lines of cavalry wheeling across the fields. Shock units barrelling through choke points. Wings of infantry folding in to surround isolated groups. Ranged attacks raining down death on a distracted foe.

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression here: none of this is hard. Once you have the hang of it, in spite of Omega Force’s continually dire tutorial screens and tendency to drip feed new features, it’s not difficult to smash through every challenge the core game provides. The easily exploited RPG elements and terrible balance mean that it’s very easy to dominate entire battlefield from early in the game, especially with a few egregiously overpowered units like cavalry and knives. For many players this will prove unsatisfying, but if you enjoy the moment to moment gameplay it doesn’t matter too much. Just letting you know that this isn’t exactly Total War.

bladestorm_nightmare_2

I loved Bladestorm when I first played it, pushing through for 100% completion during a long period of illness, but I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy the Nightmare re-release much. To my surprise, Omega Force has made enough delightful little tweaks that the whole thing is, without question, a much better package.

It no longer feels slow, and clunky. Boss battles in major bases mean it’s much harder to just cavalry your way to victory in every map. Having multiple characters at your command allows for some fun tactical approaches. The extra fantasy-inspired Nightmare scenario seems pretty fun. Allowing you to choose which unit you start the battle with makes playing more about getting really good with a balanced selection of unit types that suit your style, as opposed to the old approach of either grinding or playing a desperate game of rock paper scissors where your hand is chosen randomly by someone with absolutely no grasp of function or utility.

Hot Tips

bladestorm_nightmare

Use your SP wisely! Max out your Research skill in each book you intend to use regularly, and you’ll grow faster.

Leadership is the next most valuable skill. You’re tearing shit up with six ninja. Imagine what you can do with 30.

If your squad mates keep dying, try setting everyone to defend

To level up unit types quickly, take a low level contract at least three days long, and spend two days taking out extra bases before hitting the target on the last day. Remember to set your starting squad unit appropriately, and bring some recruits if you’re expecting them to get killed off a few times.

Plus it really does look amazing. Oh, the character models are still very much last-gen Omega Force, but the HD update is genuinely impressive. The number of units on screen can be baffling – I once knocked out 700 guys in the space of a few seconds, while leading my own army of 60 – but the frame rate in the PS4 version is astoundingly steady despite that. The lighting and shadows are very good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game do twilight so well; the way some colours almost glow as the contrast fades away.

Throwing dragons and whatnot into the mix has certainly made Bladestorm: Nightmare more challenging, but Omega Force also deserves kudos for daring to revisit a game that didn’t get enough credit, and ironing out the wrinkles.

I spent a very happy weekend with Bladestorm: Nightmare and I expect I’ll do so again when time allows – especially now I’ve unlocked the game’s secret weapon. This afternoon I levelled my knife leading skills from zero to 43 in the space of one two day battle using the Rogue Ninja unit, which turns out to have been solely responsible for conquering large regions of France, and especially Brittany.

Flinging kunai about at a ridiculous pace to fend off the attentions of an attacking troop of camel, wondering when in the heck the nearby base would send a siege weapon to bust down the door to Rennes, greeting the appearance of an allied troop of magicians (flamethrowers) with great relief, switching to my cavalry unit to charge down a slope and take out a whole field of pikemen who foolishly turned their backs on the ridge. I laughed aloud and thought: Bladestorm is ridiculous, and ridiculous is fun.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Comments

Headlines

Bladestorm: Nightmare

Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War

Omega Force