By Alice Liang 08/07/2007 Koei's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War puts a new spin on ancient battles, not centering on Asian empires like the various Warriors titles, but on the series of conflicts between England and France in the 14th century. And it's not just the setting that's different -- the combat system is more squad-based, and way less button-mashy.

SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all Bladestorm screens.

In fact, as a mercenary commander, you won't be doing much button pressing during combat at all. This action game has you taking control of various units -- Calvary, Sword and Shield Infantry, Sword Infantry, and Archers -- and leading them into enemy lines. Pressing X next to a squad puts them under your control, provided you match or exceed their skill level, and they (roughly) follow your charge, while holding down R1 puts you and your squad into a rather slow auto attack mode. The interaction comes from directing your squad's focus and issuing attack commands every few seconds. For each unit type, there are three attacks to choose from, and each takes about five seconds to recharge (faster if you increase your Spirit) before you can use it again, so it's important to properly space and time your attacks for maximum effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the game starts slowly, and the battles don't feel as action-packed as they look. Though the screen is full of flashing swords and bursts of light, a lot of the time you're just watching the action happen. It's especially frustrating when you're stuck in the middle of a massive heap of bodies, unable to maneuver your way out (since a lot of what you're doing in battle is maneuvering) and therefore unable to direct your troops to a different location, though it does add some interesting strategy to the battles -- getting trapped is dangerous on horseback, as most Calvary attacks require some speed and momentum, so you can use your sword wielding squad to encircle enemy calvary like ants on a grasshopper.

But that's just the combat. Bladestorm has some RPG elements to it, most of which revolve around the local tavern, its barkeep and the contract board -- the equivalent of the classifieds. You can take contracts from either the French or English side, with the ability to ping-pong back and forth between sides if you wish, but the main objective is to successfully complete the missions and gain notoriety. Besides money and fame, you also come across items that will increase your squad's attributes -- you equip one item on your entire squad -- but you buy your own equipment from the tavern's Merchant.

Through the battles you earn proficiency levels and skill points for the squads you use -- the more you use the Calvary, the more points you get for them. You also gain points to increase your own stats: Putting points in Research increases the amount of skill points you gain with each proficiency level, increased Leadership allows you to commander larger squads, higher Endurance lets you more resilient against enemy attacks, and the more Spirit you have, the faster the action gauge refills.

As your reputation increases, more contracts become available and you can work your way through key battle events featuring notables like Joan of Arc or Prince Edward, but you start off as basically a nobody. We're curious to see just how closely the game will stick to history, and how far your mercenary's sword can sway the outcome of the Hundred Years' War.

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