Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come
- Publisher: Virgin Play
- Developer: Neocore
Religious debate was much more straightforward in the brutal old days. If you didn't believe, a plate-mail-clad zealot turned up on your doorstep and lopped your head off. Which wasn't particularly pleasant, but at least it was quick. Rather than the modern-day alternative, where some smartly dressed gent and lady come knocking early on a Sunday morning, force their way in for a cup of tea and then try to talk you to death while waving around a copy of The Watchtower.
Crusaders is a real-time strategy wargame with a tactical emphasis, and obviously it's based around the crusades. The player can select one of five knights, each with different advantages and weaknesses, before heading eastwards to spread the gospel of pain. A character's boons can be useful in battles - such as a squad of heavy cavalry bodyguards - or they can be handy in the inter-mission army management.
For example, a wealthy knight will have the resources to more easily recruit troops to his cause. Not only are armies recruited during the management phase, but existing squads can be levelled up and given upgraded equipment, and your hero can don relics to grant extra bonuses (or send them to the Pope to increase his faith score, which helps enlistment prospects). However, the really intriguing choice comes when picking one secondary objective for the upcoming scenario.
There are several different factions offering these, and completing them gains you fame points with that power-bloc, in turn allowing access to goodies such as new types of specialised units and abilities. Some objectives will be harder than others, offering greater rewards, and some involve you backing one side against another, so you'll lose fame with the latter. It's an interesting approach to spice up the missions and it works very well.
Out on the battlefield, Crusaders plays realistically. Terrain type and height advantage are vital considerations, and troops have stamina levels which drop badly if forced to march, or if they're left fighting too long, so careful manoeuvring and planning is necessary. When your own squads intersect, matters can get a little fiddly, but generally the interface is smooth and does a good job of letting you dictate the battle free from annoyances.
In fact, there are some thoughtful touches, such as icons that show when a unit is under fire from enemy archers (in fact if you mouse-over an enemy longbow squad, their range is automatically shown). Formations are very effective tools, as it's easy to understand which should be used and when, and it's simple to switch between them.
Crusaders is, by and large, a pretty slick wargame. However, the artificial intelligence is somewhat erratic. At times it acted quite cleverly, and at others it was easily conned by something ridiculous such as a decimated cavalry regiment with just one horseman charging a full unit of archers and making them run off. Yes, a bowman's melee is weak, but 48 of them would have slaughtered the lone ranger; yet the AI reacted as if it was a full cavalry charge. The game also makes use of some obvious event triggers, which is unimaginative and can be exploited on your second play through a battle.
Nonetheless, Crusaders remains pleasantly absorbing. The battles play out smoothly with the streamlined interface, and there's a lot of flavour added between missions with historical facts being imparted, and a bunch of decisions to be made on which factions to support, and how best to shape your army. The campaign is certainly replayable, and this is a worthy strategy title.