Publisher: Enlight Software
Developer: Enlight Software
Release Date: February 20, 2004
Pre-order 'WAR AND WARRIORS: Joan of Arc': PC
If you sit back and think about it, it seems like almost every game set in medieval times takes place in England. Unbeknownst to many people almost all of Europe had some measure of political sway and military might, from France all the way over to Russia. France's medieval history has a particularly interesting story weaved into it; that of the female swordswoman Joan of Arc who, despite her being a woman and that statue assigned to the gender in medieval times, took up arms against English forces and led French soldiers into battle after battle. The upcoming Wars and Warriors: Joan of Arc by Enlight Software is the reincarnation of her story into the realm of video games and while it retains the Joan of Arc legend, the gameplay coupled alongside it needs a bit more polish before it's ready for prime time.
Starting off in the game you first control Joan of Arc, with other playable companions joining forces with Joan later on as she progresses onward in her fight against the English. The gameplay both looks and feels like if you took Dynasty Warriors style fighting and coupled it with a simplified version of Dungeon Siege's or Diablo 2's RPG elements. Fighting enemies is performed by using quick but weak swings of your sword, stronger but slower slices that take a chunk of stamina to perform, and combinations of the two. Weapon combos are very simplistic and are fairly unvaried, as there is no real benefit between using more than one or two of them throughout the entire game. In addition to the sword attacks and combos, you can use a special spinning move that has Joan repeatedly lunge and spin her sword which can level entire squads of enemies in seconds. However, this move will track a single enemy and will not let you pick which one, which can become a fairly big problem. Say you are facing a large group, if you perform the move on an enemy soldier who suddenly starts walking in a different direction you will only hit him and leave the rest of the group untouched and either behind or beside you. To reach out and touch someone from afar you have the option to use a bow and arrow, which is aimed and fired in first person. Though the arrows do arc instead of flying straight, the game automatically adjust how the arrow is fired for you to make sure it lands exactly where your cursor is pointed.
As you fight off hordes of English foot soldiers, archers, knights, and officers you characters will gain experience, enough of which gains them a level and allows you to assign a few more attribute and skill points. Attribute points can be spent on such traits as strength, defense, and dexterity among others, which not only makes your character to become stronger but also which areas to become stronger in. Skill points can be spent to purchase new combos or moves to increase your stable of offensive tactics or they can be spent to improve skills that you have already purchased and want to become more powerful. Breaking boxes and defeating enemies will occasionally net you gold or food to aid you in your travels. Certain levels have shops that allow you to purchase new armor, food to replenish your health or stamina, or to sell the items that you no longer need or simply don't want.
As you progress through the games seemingly small amount of missions (8 in total) you realize that beating one is no quick affair, nor is it cut and dry. Levels become increasingly larger and more difficult as you progress, and assign Joan larger amounts of primary and optional objectives. Simply completing a levels primary goal(s) can take upwards of a half hour, while going through and completing every objective and exploring the entire level can take an hour or more. Most of the levels take place in various countrysides made up of hills, valleys, small villages, and the odd enemy encampment, while other levels involve you attacking or defending castles. Levels that are largely made up of towns and settlements are more fun to play through than their rural counterparts, since the latter tend to put you in one linear valley after another. Every once in a while you have the option to jump on a horse you find and ride it, though not long after you do you'll find yourself soon jumping off again since the horse riding has not only stiff controls but attacking from horseback is almost totally ineffective. Hopefully Enlight will tweak the horse riding before the game hits shelves.
Both friendly and enemy soldiers have fairly unintelligent AI. Upon walking into an enemy camp you will sometimes see a group of enemy soldiers grouped in a military formation, weapons at the ready, only to rush at you in one unorganized, uncoordinated group and become halted by a single tree in their path. When the lay of the land is clear enemy soldiers will simply rush straight at you in a suicide blitz, regardless of whether or not its that soldier against only you, or that soldier against you and about ten other soldiers. Friendly soldiers suffer from the same lack of tactics, but thankfully they stick by your side rather than run off on their own and get killed.
About halfway through the game the player has the option to control their forces via an RTS style top-down mode. Control in this mode feels bit more relaxed as you can more effectively manage all of your forces without having to worry about directly controlling one of your characters. However, there is no base building and other than the occasionally exception what forces you have at the beginning of a level are all you will have until the end of it. Thus, it's all down to proper management and leadership of your forces, using them strategically (Like not sending archers into melee combat), and keeping a clear head.
Graphically Joan looks fairly aged right off of the bat, though not nearly as bad as what that may imply. Character models have a decent amount of detail to them, while the textures on them and everything else in the game look a bit blurry and washed out. Joan of Arc does have a grass effect that other games would do well to study and is probably one of the better effects in the game, which is a blessing considering the countryside levels make extensive use of it. Arrows leave a white trail behind them while in flight, while special moves give your weapon a blue glow. Though both friend and foe are constantly hitting and getting hit with swords and axes there is no gore in the game whatsoever, which doesn't detract from the gameplay but may irk a few people.
In the audio department Joan wields a few good pieces of music, as well as an array of sound effects that thankfully don't sound like they were directly taken from a sound library. The title song is probably one of the better tracks, and sets up the mood of the game. Other songs are much less powerful but equally good, staying mostly in the background so as to not get annoying while also giving the game a good aural backdrop. Sound effects such as the sound of battle aren't as loud as one would expect, and are actually much more subdued than what you would hear in any other game, which does make battle seem much less impressive than if you heard the full effect of shields and swords clashing.
Joan of Arc does have a good deal of polish to undergo in a few key areas, but even after that it still may not be enough to rouse many gamers. Few people are familiar with the legend of Joan of Arc, and even those that are or gamers that just want to play an action game set in medieval times will find the gameplay relatively uninspired compared to other titles. All things considered, Joan of Arc will probably appeal mostly to those who have at least fleeting knowledge of the French swordswoman the game is inspired by. Here's hoping that the rough spots in the game are smoothed over, a few extra coats of polish are applied, and Wars and Warriors: Joan of Arc becomes worthy of bearing the name of one of the most noteworthy women in history.