When Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War was released on the Xbox 360 back in 2008, it was a game that pretty much passed everyone by. Those who did play it tend to remember it with fondness, even though it was far from perfect. A genuinely inventive game that saw players leading battalions of troops across France while racking up the combo count in true KOEI fashion, it was a shame to think that the series had died after only one title. So, we were excited to learn that out of nowhere, a new game was on the horizon.
Sadly, to call Bladestorm: Nightmare a new game would be being somewhat frugal with the truth.
What you have here is essentially the exact same game that was released on the Xbox 360 thrown together with a limited new mode and a bit of online play. The new mode forms the "Nightmare" part of the title, introducing fantastical monsters such as giants and griffons to the 7-year-old game engine. To be fair, we should probably have worked out that this was at least going to be a half-remake from the fact that the game was initially announced as Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War & Nightmare, but there you go.
With the original game being so much fun to play, surely a remaster would be equally as fun all the same though? Unfortunately, that isn't the case. What was once a nice diversion that provided some decent tactical options and truly innovative gameplay feels dated and unfinished, despite the slight graphical tweaks that have been made. And when we say that those graphical tweaks are slight, that's exactly what we mean. Draw distances are slightly improved, but there's still popup all over the show, and the framerate suffers frequent and severe drops. We'd go as far as to say that from what we remember, the Xbox 360 edition was smoother.
Other technical issues raise their heads, too. In Nightmare mode, you can genuinely be waiting for two minutes for a stage to load although it must be said that once you're on the battlefield – which can be pretty huge - there's no loading until the scenario is complete. There are also some nasty bugs which lead to full crashes back to the Xbox One dashboard. Indeed, we had to complete the sixth stage of Nightmare mode three times, thanks to the game freezing up entirely after we'd liberated the target base.
Liberating bases of course, is pretty much the entire point of the game. You control a single character who is the head of a battalion. When you turn, the battalion turns with you. When you attack, the battalion attacks with you. The goal is generally to battle your way through defense points at enemy strongholds until a "Base Commander" appears. Then you take down that commander and hundreds of your troops appear in their new home and you've gained a new foothold in the region. This goes on until you've defeated a "boss" character or reached a specific goal. Overthrowing bases in the correct order can be the difference between winning and losing a scenario. On the harder difficulty levels, you'll find that you'll start in one corner of the map and charge toward your goal, taking down bases as you go. Miss one though, and enemy troops from that base can start to head out to recapture your previous conquests, leaving you stranded and surrounded. There are times when it can feel as if you're trying to fight back the tide, with bases falling all around you, and this is where Bladestorm is at its best. The problem is that its best just doesn't show up all that often.
Most of the time, capturing a base or defeating a battalion is as simple as meandering up to the opposition with your troops and holding down the right bumper in order to carry out repeated simple attacks. Often, the opposition won't even register that you're there until you're actually smacking them in the fact with a sword. If the foe is a little stronger, you'll use one of three face buttons to throw heavier attacks their way. If you're still not getting it done, you can call in reinforcement squads via the left trigger, or if your army's morale is high enough, carry out a special attack. These specials are generally enough to rack up 400 kill combos, but the way in which they're represented shows the lack of thought that permeates through the entire game. You command a special attack to be carried out and the camera – more often than not – decides to zip in for a close look at the action, but loses its bearings so that you're looking at the sky. You're still taking down opponents and running up that combo meter, but you can't actually see what's going on.
That's a theme that appears elsewhere, as well. Since you're commanding twenty or thirty people at a time – and multiples of that amount if you've formed an army and got up to four commanders (and their respective squads) under your control – it can be really terribly difficult to see exactly what's going on. As both faction's outfits are much the same in colour, the only way you know that you've cleared an area of enemies is that your squad stops attacking. Most battles are nothing but a mess of characters all juddering about on screen while you hold down a button until the noise of sword on shield stops. This is as the game always was but, as with many things that appear here, it's something that should have been fixed on the second go-round.
We'd have liked some more explanation for new players, as well. Bladestorm always expected you to just understand what was going on when it came to squad and resource management, levelling up, and all the usual RPG-like gubbins that you'd find in a tactical title such as this, but there are literally no changes to how everything works here. You can upgrade a character's squad management abilities for when he or she is paired with a certain type of squad, but then upgrade those abilities even further and in different ways - powering up special commands and the like - if you find pages of a book about that particular type of squad. But sometimes you can just buy the pages. Sometimes you have to find them. Sometimes you can't use a certain squad leader in a certain scenario because they're now your enemy for a bit, but then you'll get a message that you've become friends with them again, and so you can use them again. And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, until you've filled up an entire notebook with scrawlings about the things you arbitrarily can and can't do.
With the basics worked out though, you'll notice a distinct lack of difficulty on anything but the top level, and it makes the game feel more dull and tiresome than it really should. Entire missions on the "normal" level consist of nothing but wandering up to bases, pressing RB for a bit, then wandering on to the next one. Even when giant monsters appear, you can beat them within a few seconds just by surrounding them and firing in a heavy attack or two. It makes the hours of trudging through dull, lifeless scenery feel even less rewarding than it already did. In the Nightmare mode, you win so many spoils from each level that your squads will always be able to sport the most powerful gear, so you'll be unlikely to suffer any setbacks as you plod through the game until it's over. That's if the whole thing doesn't decide to crash on you after you've spent 45 minutes playing a mission, of course.
When all is said and done, the Xbox 360 version of Bladestorm deserved a full sequel, or at least a proper remaster. Bladestorm: Nightmare is neither of those things. It's a half-hearted attempt at bringing the series into the current generation, and is only barely recommended for the absolute die-hard fans of the original. This is a real shame and even if you can get past the bare-bones approach to remastering that Omega Force have taken, you probably won't get past all the bugs.