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Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader

Developer: Reflexive Entertainment
Publisher: Interplay
Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
Players: 1
Similar To: Diablo II
Rating: Teen
Published: 12 :22 : 03
Reviewed By: Nick Stewart

Overall: 4.5 = Poor


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Minimum Req.: P3 700 Single, 128MB RAM, 8MB 3D Video Card, Win 98, DirectX 8.1
Reviewed On: P4 2.4, 512MB DDR RAM, GeForce FX 5800, Soundblaster Audigy, Win XP, DirectX 9


On paper, some games sound so good, so utterly full of promise that you know deep down that they couldn't possibly meet your expectations. In some rare cases, such titles - such as Fallout 2 or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - actually match what you had imagined. However, it's sad to note that the vast majority offer some sort of major letdown, partially because of your excessive expectations, partially because of poor design choices. Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader is one such letdown, due largely to the latter; in fact, Reflexive's first major foray into RPGs poses so many missteps and bewildering design choices that even Black Isle's production can't save it.

Gameplay: 3/10
With RPGs, the plot is often paramount to its gameplay, and can often make or break the entire experience. With that in mind, Lionheart should have been a true epic, as its storyline represents a fascinating parallel-universe deviation of real-world history. In this alternate universe, various events that occurred during the Crusades gave birth to the horrible event known as the Disjunction, whereupon the forces of magic were released violently upon the world, along with all the standard trolls and goblins and golems and elementals that go along with it. As a result, the Inquisition came about not to prosecute heretics, but instead those who practice heretical magic. This concept-rich backdrop poses an interesting backdrop against which to complete quests and hack monsters into tiny bits, and although it falls apart almost completely at the halfway mark, it does its absolute best to pull you in. Between the Inquisition, the Renaissance, and the historical figures, there's a lot for fans of the period to try and enjoy. Unfortunately, an interesting concept isn't nearly enough to power an entire game, as the title's many other failings ultimately detract from the otherwise compelling atmosphere featured in this alternate version of 16th-century Europe.

One advantage of being smack dab in the center of the intellectual and cultural revolution of this alternate time is that you'll get more than enough chances to rub elbows with some of history's most interesting minds and personalities, and Reflexive certainly didn't waste this particular opportunity. Within the first hour of gameplay, you'll have met such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Hernan Cortez, Machiavelli, Cervantes - and that's in the game's first and biggest city, Barcelona. Considering the specifics of the time, however, each of these figures have a distinctly different spin to their real-world counterparts; for instance, da Vinci imbues his inventions with elemental spirits, and Hernan Cortez longs for a mechanical arm. It's an interesting approach to the subject matter, and it sometimes works well enough to make you wonder why this sort of thing isn't done more often. Unfortunately, it also proves that too much of a good thing can be bad; it's nearly impossible to go anywhere or do anything without tripping over yet another famous historical figure. Although amusing and even exciting at first, this rapid "Oh, look ANOTHER one" phenomenon doesn't take long to set in, and what was initially fascinating soon becomes a novelty. Given, it's a difficult balancing act to try and offer enough historical figures to try and set the right tone without overdoing it. However, there comes a point where there are just so many historical figures that keep coming to you for help that you can't help but feel like somebody stuffed a history book page by page into Lionheart not because it would be interesting or fun, but simply because it was possible to do so. It serves its purpose initially, but before long you can't help but feel like even the most famous historical figure is just another "themed" NPC.

Despite these minor missteps, this historical setting and cast of characters is nevertheless the principal reason to care about the game itself. This is especially true since the highly-respected SPECIAL character development system, which was pioneered by and brilliantly implemented in the Fallout series, is a dismal failure here. In fact, this particular problem serves to highlight Lionheart's primary and single most glaring fault: the complete and utter waste of the SPECIAL system. Those who wandered through any of the Fallout titles (barring perhaps Tactics, but that's another article altogether) certainly know how the one true strength of and indeed the entire reason for the existence of the SPECIAL system is its ability to allow players to create any type of character that they want with a relatively considerable degree of depth and detail. In other words, a charming diplomat might stand as much of a chance as succeeding within a Fallout game as a stealthy thief or a brawny soldier. Sadly, this reality is completely impossible within the realm of Lionheart. This is true for one simple reason: the game is almost entirely combat-centric. There are quests that do not directly involve killing, but these are largely peripheral and are often unrelated to actual progress. No, in order to make any real headway in the game, you'll have to throw yourself into the midst of what seems to be hundreds upon hundreds of enemies who want nothing more than to see you dead. This means that, while a diplomatic or thieving-oriented character is indeed possible, it's completely unadvisable, as the legions of enemies will take those unprepared for intensive combat and chew them into little tiny bits. In fact, anyone who fails to invest points in purely combat-related skills within the skill tree will stand a very small chance of making it even three-quarters of the way through Lionheart. This is a real shame, since the skill trees are quite varied and offer a fairly diverse and interesting set of choices for character development. Without the ability to allow non-combat characters to survive, however, this variety of skills becomes a complete and utter waste. One must wonder why the SPECIAL character development system was used here, since the design choices negate its strengths almost completely.

Lionheart's strict, unwavering focus on combat isn't automatically a bad thing, despite its waste of the SPECIAL system; after all, both the Diablo and Icewind Dale series have proved that a combat-only perspective can indeed work if done properly. Had Lionheart managed to implement a combat system that was both accessible and fun, it might have been able to redeem itself. This is not the case, as the game's fighting engine is fundamentally flawed in many respects. Using the highly-imitated Diablo style, Lionheart features simplified real-time combat where you need to do nothing more than click on your enemy a single time, as which point your character will heave away with everything they've got until they or the enemy is dead. This is about as complex as the combat gets here, with the exception of the occasional need to cast a protection spell or to drink a health potion. In other words, fighting couldn't possibly get any less complex - or boring. This model of combat is as lifeless and uninteresting as it gets, almost entirely removing the player from the process. What's more is that, if you made the mistake of attempting to make a mage character, you're going to have to wait about ten minutes for every group of four or five monsters you fight so that your mana can replenish itself. Given, there are mana spheres - essentially instant-use mana potions -- dotted here there across the dungeons, but as the game goes on, these become increasingly rare. Much the same applies to even the fighter characters, who must rely upon the hard-to-find health spheres and health potions to survive. If you don't have the money to buy such potions - and considering the need to constantly upgrade your equipment to survive, such a lack of cash isn't entirely uncommon -- then you're going to spend a great deal of time waiting for your hit points to slowly regenerate. So not only is combat dull and uninvolving, but it forces many players to sit around for ridiculous periods of time in order to survive; a terrible and unforgivable design error, considering that the bulk of the game is focused upon this very aspect.

Considering the considerable failures of Lionheart's combat, which in fact drives the game itself, it almost seems pointless to list the numerous other poor design choices littered throughout. For instance, the automap cannot be annotated, and there are no labels to indicate the names of relevant areas. This is a huge problem since maps tend to be somewhat large, and without any way of knowing where previously-visited and quest-crucial areas are located, you're forced to constantly re-explore places you've already been.

These are just a few of the peripheral complaints; others include the complete lack of a rest option or a decent heal spell, the fact that your temporary companions are really useless for the most part, the fact that treasure chests can't forced open, and that archer characters completely useless. None of these are even close to being as much of a horrendous game-breaker as the combat or character development, but when viewed as a whole, they combine to create a game that possesses little more than a faint wheeze of potential. This potential can be seen within the first half of the game, which takes place almost entirely within the city of Barcelona. This area is fairly decently balanced, and although it certainly fails on many, many levels, it could still have managed to pose as a halfway decent bargain bin title if the rest of the game were similarly structured. Sadly, once Barcelona is "completed", it all goes completely downhill, fully espousing all the factors that make Lionheart a chore to play - that is, non-stop combat. In the end, Lionheart crumbles under the weight of countless design problems that destroy most of its ability to create any real atmosphere or fun.

Graphics: 8/10
Despite its many problems, Lionheart just plain looks good. The alternate reality that it presents may not always look realistic, but it almost always manages to appear to be at least somewhat impressive. From the heights of the towers of the Inquisition to the lowest, dankest dungeons, the visuals feature a definite shine and gloss that make a concerted effort to create a strong atmosphere. The character animations, though frequently too speedy and jilted, are nevertheless smooth and appropriately colorful. The lava trolls in particular are a good example of this, as their attacks largely consist of turning the surrounding floors into cracked magma pools, which soon cool and return the ground to its original form; it's a minor detail, certainly, but it goes a long way. The only real complaint to be had in this aspect is the resolution, which is locked at 800x600, and can't be adjusted. The chance to bump to a higher resolution would have helped to alleviate certain control issues, though this is once again a minor point in what is an otherwise solid graphical presentation.

Sound: 9/10
If there's one area in which Lionheart truly shines, it's the sound. The music is often beautiful, and sometimes crosses over to the status of epic. The songs that flow from your speakers during your time in Barcelona and beyond wouldn't sound out of place in a fantasy movie, and do wonders for setting the tone of the game. The sound effects are of equally high quality, as are the voiceovers, which are as professional and believable as any you'd find in any Black Isle title. Had the level of care and quality that was applied to this aspect also been applied to the remainder of the game, Lionheart would have been something to behold.

Control: 5/10
The bulk of Lionheart's menu screens are relatively functional and accessible, and the controls themselves are simple enough for just about anybody to just pick up and play. The ability to minimize the largish interface down to a bare minimum is a nice touch, too. This isn't to say that it doesn't have its own set of problems, naturally. For example, you're able to scroll the overhead view ahead of your character in order to check out different places within the area you're in, but unless it's within your hero's line of sight, you can't command him/her/it to walk any advance location. This is unbelievably frustrating, to say the least. What's more, character movement is agonizingly slow, as there's no run command; combined with the inability to effectively command your hero's movement from any real distance, this slow movement forces you to handhold your character as it makes its painfully sluggish way from one side of the largish map to the other. It's extremely awkward and frustrating setup, and it only serves to compound Lionheart's numerous troubles.

Overall: 4.5/10
In light of the failures of the wholly misused and horrendously implemented character development system and the combat that drives much of the game itself, there is in fact little reason to even bother with Lionheart, apart from its interesting plot. It's a textbook exercise in bad game design, as nearly every strength Lionheart may have initially possessed has been ground into oblivion by the endless frustrations that plague the entire experience. Only the sound and graphics bear any kind of standard of quality here; sadly, eye and ear candy are not nearly enough to carry one through hours and hours of action-RPG gameplay. In the end, Lionheart is such an addled mess that even the bargain bin won't likely be a good enough fate for it, where even value-minded gamers should avoid it like the plague…or the Inquisition.

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Related Links: Reflexive Entertainment