The Hundred Years' War between England and France was brutal. Many lives were lost and it was an incredibly violent struggle for supremacy, featuring famous figures from history such as Joan of Arc and Prince Edward. So, KOEI (who have made several ancient-war style games in the past including the Dynasty Warriors franchise) have decided to take this long war and put it into a videogame - but don't worry, it doesn't last a hundred years. Combining squad strategies with intense action sequences, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War succeeds on some level, and although its visuals and presentation have their flaws, the core gameplay experience is reasonably enjoyable, albeit a little repetitive.
After a number of opening cutscenes, you'll find yourself in a small tavern, talking to the Barkeep. Get used to this place, because here is where you will access basically every aspect of the game, from recruiting squads, buying equipment, getting tips from the locals and most importantly, acquiring contracts from the French or the English depending on which side you want to fight for. You start off by creating your mercenary from a few basic options, including gender, face style and voice. It doesn't drastically effect how the game is played, but at least there are a few cosmetic features to make your character look the way you want.
Each contract in the game has some coin as a reward - consider yourself a sort of freelance mercenary who can work for either side at any point, which means that there are a variety of different contracts at your disposal, each with its own benefits. Once you begin a contract, you're taken into the actual battlefield and have squads at your disposal based on what you've previously organized. There are swordsmen, archers, mounted knights and scouts along with other squads such as engineers that will be usable at later points in the game. You could try fighting by yourself, but you would get taken down pretty quickly, so utilizing different squads for different situations is vital to completing the game successfully.
Once in the field, you'll have your squads essentially waiting for you. Just select them with the press of a button and they will follow you wherever you go, do whatever you do. The basic controls involve holding down the right bumper to attack any nearby enemies (your squad will run to the nearest enemy and attack them without fuss) and the face buttons are used for special attacks and defenses that all have a cooldown period after you use them. Although it may sound simple, balancing your major attacks and defenses to keep your squad alive and victorious can be somewhat challenging in the larger battles, and is also a reasonable amount of fun. Your main goal will be to capture particular towns or areas on the map, which is similar in style to other games of this type.
As you play through Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, you'll gain experience and level up your character, which will make the squads you have control over stronger too. There are also specific 'books' for each weapon type which you can use to level up specific statistics and also increase your ability to command the squads efficiently. It's quite deep for anyone who is interested in those details, and you can really notice the difference in your skills after working on a certain statistic for a while. It's also quite addictive levelling up your mercenary to the point where they are a tank, and battles that were previously difficult become much easier as you take over each designated area.
Unfortunately, as intuitive as the gameplay can be at the outset, it's severely lacking in some important areas. Missions all feel a bit samey, most of them simply requiring you to take a squad, kill some enemies, capture their territory and then move on to the next one. Almost every contract is like this, and although you can vary the gameplay slightly by choosing different types of squads, you can't help but get the feeling that you've done the same thing before numerous times after the first few contracts have been completed. It's really up to the player to make the game more interesting by changing how they play, but you could easily just run through the game with the same basic squads and not have much of a problem, which makes the game monotonous to say the least for those that don't wish to experiment.
The AI in the game is also lacking in some areas. Although not as poor as seen in the Dynasty Warriors games where they just wait for you to attack them, you can still go for prolonged periods not pressing any buttons and survive the experience without much damage done. The squad you control could also think for themselves on occasion, as there are times when they are getting attacked and it seems foolish that they don't even try to defend themselves, which requires no cooldown period. If the squad intelligence had been tightened and the enemies made a tad more difficult, it would have made the game much more exciting to play.
The game falls short visually also, with fighters from each side being almost indistinguishable from one another at times and character designs looking identical for the most part on the field. The entire game looks like it could use another coat of polish, with environments also looking practically the same throughout the entire experience - and even then they're not the nicest to look at. There is no real slowdown in massive battles with lots of enemies on screen however, so some people may be able to excuse the fact that the look of Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is so decidedly average at best. The voice acting is also terrible, and with no option to change to Japanese voices, the speech of the characters gets on your nerves very quickly to say the least. The other sound effects in the game are also average, with your usual sword sounds and battle-crys.
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War can be marked down as one of those games that has interesting core gameplay ideas, but under-delivers in almost every other aspect. There are flaws in the game design, each contract is hard to differentiate from the one before it, and the entire thing could use a serious tune-up when it comes to audio and visuals. That being said, KOEI seem to be on the right track here. After several similarly average game attempts in the past, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War actually does the main thing right: fun gameplay. Now if the developers could just nail the other aspects and give the whole thing a fresh coat of paint in the other areas, we'd have a top-quality game on our hands.