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June 2019

Lornsword Winter Chronicle

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Tower Five
Release Date: 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Lornsword: Winter Chronicle'

by Cody Medellin on May 30, 2019 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Lornsword Winter Chronicle is a story-driven, fantasy action strategy game that brings flair to the action strategy genre, complete with fast-moving combat.

Pre-order Lornsword: Winter Chronicles

Real-time strategy games are plentiful on the PC due to the number of commands you can easily conjure up with the standard keyboard and mouse. It's a different story on the consoles, since there's the matter of trying to stuff every command possible on a controller. There's also the matter of trying to give the player enough power to feel like a battlefield wizard while simultaneously not dumbing down things so much that the strategy aspect is lost. Lornsword: Winter Chronicles is a new real-time strategy game coming from some of the people who used to be at Creative Assembly, so the pedigree for the genre is already there. What's interesting isn't the fact that it is scheduled to arrive on consoles after the PC release — but that they recommend using a controller instead of the standard keyboard and mouse.

Our preview build differs a bit from the version that's expected to go to Steam Early Access at the end of the month. Namely, that Early Access build will get a new campaign chapter, which, if it's comparable to the chapters in this build, while be quite lengthy. Our build featured enough cut scenes to provide a good idea of the story, with the player as a regular warrior who's rising through the ranks of the army via circumstance and uncovering a plot concerning the misuse of elements to gain eternal life. The story starts off well, but the mythology will please those looking for something deeper than the game mechanics.

Speaking of which, Lornsword retains a good deal of things that are paramount to almost every RTS title. Gold and food are your main resources, with the former being good for building construction and upgrades while the latter is needed to make buildings that produce troops. One of the first things you'll want to do is establish mines and take over farms to keep production high. There is no population cap, but the fragile nature of the troops means that you'll want constant production. You can set up the behavior of any troops coming out of specific outposts, so they can immediately go on the offensive or defensive, and the fog of war is constantly in play for any unexplored areas.

From there, things get very different very quickly. For starters, your commands aren't coming from an unseen force but from an actual commander on the field. While you can use your right analog stick to move the camera to see the rest of the field, your character needs to be physically present if you want to initiate any orders, like establishing mines or performing building upgrades. Your presence is also needed if you want to ferry troops to specific places, since almost all of them won't go on their own unless seven of the same type from one building have been produced. Whenever you pass by them, you can hold down the Right Trigger to have them start tagging behind you, getting up to around 15 total troops. Once you reach your destination, you can hold down the Left Trigger, so they can be free and attack. It feels a little like Pikmin in this way, minus the ability to specifically target an enemy force or building.

Since you're an actual commander, you aren't just a human cursor. You can also attack enemies or buildings on your own, and you can conjure up elemental troops, which is a fascinating new wrinkle. Depending on the designation of the altars at your base, you can call up troops based on one of the four elements. The drawback is that the troops take up a significant portion of your stamina, and they only last a little while before they disappear on their own. Thus, a good portion of each mission will be spent deploying elemental troops to get a battle advantage, running to the base to replenish your stamina, and waiting for the cooldown meter to expire before deploying more troops.

Based on what you can do, it starts to make sense why a controller would be used. Although the same things could be done with a keyboard and mouse, controlling a commander directly feels rather natural with a controller, and with designs to make this game available for consoles, the hard work of control conversion has already been done. On the other hand, genre veterans will lament how direct targeting of units means you'll hope that the AI is good enough to know what needs to be attacked. They'll also miss the fact that because you're controlling a person instead of a cursor, the speed with which you can dart across the battlefield and issue orders just isn't there, so skirmishes can feel very slow compared to genre contemporaries.

Even if the concept of using a controller for an RTS game seems strange after learning about how this title plays, consider that Lornsword also offers drop-in/drop-out co-op using a split-screen instead of using separate screens and two machines. All of your resources and mana are shared between players, so everyone needs to be mindful of their partner having enough resources. At the same time, the ability to pay attention to two pockets of battle at once or split tasks is always useful, and it's great to see the option for those who are looking to increase their local co-op library.

Graphically, the cut scenes are rather eye-catching due to the use of various colors and shape chunks to create something that resembles people. It is more abstract than defined, but it does a good job of making the game stand out. On the field, the graphics are more traditional, albeit on a smaller scale. The use of thousands of tiny hexagons to create the battlefield is certainly an interesting artistic choice. Sound-wise, the battle sounds are typical, and the game currently has no voice acting, but the musical score is interesting since it doesn't go for the usual suite of battle themes. Instead, the soundtrack is mainly composed of melancholy tones. One wonders if the soundtrack swings toward something more adventurous as the levels go on.

As it stands now, Lornsword: Winter Chronicles is very intriguing due to its approach to real-time strategy via unconventional means. The presence of a directly controllable soldier on the field does well to reel in those who are more used to action games, and his ability to attack makes him more than just a human cursor. The simple command system works well to give yourself the feeling of deploying strategies, even though the game can act well on its own. The presence of co-op gives the game a leg up on other titles, since the option is so rarely offered. Lornsword is already worth checking out when it hits Early Access later this month, and we're hoping that the game progresses well enough to warrant a full release later this year.

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