Braveheart is a faithful re-creation of the 1995 movie starring Mel Gibson. In Braveheart, you take control of a Scottish clan of your choice in an attempt to prosper and lead Scotland into a new age.
Two types of gameplay, real-time strategy and 3D tactical combat, are featured throughout the game. The real-time strategy is necessary to build up an empire and focuses on trading, diplomacy, resources, and maintaining an army. The 3D combat contains epic battles allowing the choice of controlling a whole army from a distance or each individual soldier in the army in man-to-man combat.
Players are placed in complete control of one of several accurate 13th century clans, each with different strengths, weaknesses, and goals. The unique gameplay mix allows the player to focus on what he or she does best, either battles or strategy.
Take a game that involves in-depth, turn-based strategic city management and a 3D tactical combat system. Now make it totally open-ended so that a player can focus on playing it in whatever style they want. Want to use political subterfuge? You got it. How about strong-arming the opposition? Yep, you can do that too. So can your enemies--and believe me, they will. Base the game on Mel Gibson's Braveheart and give the players the option to kick some serious English tail. Sound like a winner? It sure does...but there's a catch. Throw in a host of unimplemented features that are, for some reason, documented in the manual. Add several bugs and you've got a recipe for frustration. More so because the game seems like it ought to be so good.
Braveheart challenges the player to unite the clans of Scotland and carry the war home to the English. You must master tribal politics and clan warfare. But before you can even begin to get familiar with the intricacies of 13th century kingdom management, you'll have to battle your way through an unreliable interface that seems like it should work but just doesn't. There's no doubt that the flavor of the game is perfect. The developers, Red Lemon, are from Scotland and the game is "officially" sanctioned by the Clan Association of Scotland. You can run into Wallace, Bruce, King Edward and other characters from the story. The realism is there, but the gameplay isn't.
The sixteen clans in the game are each unique and modeled with an eye to historical accuracy. Over time, you'll begin to know the weakness and strengths of each of your opponents and allies. Clan Cameron for instance is great on the battlefield but are totally inefficient in times of peace. Campbell, on the other hand, prefers to rely on intrigue and their close ties with the English to rise to power. The clan you pick makes a huge difference in terms of starting location too. Once you've made your decision, you're dropped into a tiny Scottish settlement circa 1296. For those of you who prefer to get things moving a little quicker, there are a few accelerated start options to help you get the jump on the competition.
The 3D tactical portion of the game is a whole lot more fun than the strategic town management portion. And the best part of the combat side of the game is the variety of camera angles. Although they're a little limiting at first, once you get to know how to use them, you'll be able to zip around the battle with relative ease. There's a soldier's view cam that allows you to look through the eyes of any of your troops. This is great for increasing involvement in the game but does very little to help you tactically. Worst of all, you can't actually take control of the soldier directly. In all the pre-release info of the game I kept thinking how cool it would be to actually be one of those soldiers and start busting heads personally. The other camera views are chase type modes that put you directly behind the soldier selected. Last of all is a free floating camera. Sadly, it's tied to the elevation of the last soldier camera and there are no separate controls for height. Otherwise camera control is pretty straightforward and surprisingly versatile.
In terms of appearance, the graphics are pretty good. That is, if you play the game only a few times. I can accept that all the soldiers in an individual unit look the same. It helps to differentiate them from other units. But none of the cool armors that you spent all that time building and distributing are even apparent on the battlefield. That's less important for your own troops but it really matters whether the enemy cavalry are dressed in padded tunics or chainmail. And there's no way to tell. There's also an upper limit of 150 soldiers on the battlefield at once, so one soldier in the 3D display may represent 3 or 4 actual soldiers. I really wanted to see those big battles, but the game even jerks a little in the mid-sized battles. Things aren't much better when it comes to terrain. The pre-release hype mentioned that every mile of Scotland and northern England had been accurately mapped out when in fact, it's very hard to tell one clan territory from another from the 3D view. As a result, there are very few chances to use terrain to your advantage. Most of the fights take place out in a wide-open space--even when you're sacking a town. There are some stunning variations when it comes to weather and time of day. The snow and storm textures in particular are amazing.
But the fights themselves are very shallow. Despite the inclusion of controls for formation, most combats degenerate into one massive clump of friendly and enemy units killing each other. There's no finesse here and even if you try some sophisticated maneuvering, the computer player will invariably mush all his troops together and come at you. While this may be historically accurate, it's boring as hell after your first dozen battles. I feel that the combat system has so much potential but it's impossible to actually try anything fancy here. There are so many genuinely impressive options for controlling your army but in the end, formation and tactics are just incidental to the outcome of the fight. Equally bad is the fact that you can't set the opening formation for your troops. The computer just plunks them down in lines. Why the hell are my longspear carriers in the back! What's the point?
There are a lot of troops in the game and that's where your decisions really pay off. Knowing which weapons work best against other weapons is the key to winning battles. Keep in mind though that you'll be facing two opponents--Scots and English. Each group has unique weapons. Scots have exclusive use of the claymore, long spear (good against cavalry), broad axes, short bows and clubs. They're not so much about using the cavalry themselves. Most Scottish horses eventually wind up on the dinner table. The English have the big advantage here. They also get great swords, pikes, longbows and crossbows. While there's a lot of variety to the menu, it takes forever for your armorers to "discover" new weapon types. You'll be clubbing it up for a while, my friend.
Soldiers aren't the only guys you can move around the map though. Your Leaders are very important. Without a leader, an army can only do three things--move, garrison and guard. To initiate attacks, raids or ambushes you'll need to assign a leader to your forces. As an added bonus, most leaders are real head bashers and can take on their share of enemy forces. Leaders are also responsible for training your troops. Gotta show them villagers how to swing a club, you know. The training of your armies is not handled very well. You recruit green troops from your surplus population. As they practice, they get better. But if you change their weapons or reassign them, they lose all experience...even if, and I stress this, you changed their weapons accidentally. Or even worse, you accidentally disband the whole freakin' unit. I was begging for one of those annoying "Are you sure?" prompts.
Leaders are also responsible for your diplomatic relations with other clans. You can send leaders on these missions, but they're too valuable...and entirely too scarce. You're better off sending a Messenger. Messengers don't have access to all the diplomatic functions that leaders do, but they get quite a few more. Messengers can initiate alliances, ask for loans and ransom captured leaders. Why other leaders can't do it, I'll never know. The down side is that your messengers can be killed. So can your leaders now that I think about it, but you can send an army with a leader; you can't with a messenger. Still, it's worth it. The English will slaughter you if you don't form alliances. Problem is, most of the enemy clans are so aggressive that forging a reliable alliance is next to impossible. Scouts and spies are also at your disposal. Scouts map out uncharted territories. Spies infiltrate towns and allow you to enter a 3D rendering of the enemy town. Generally spies are seen as pretty dishonorable folk. Likewise the players who use them.
The entire town management interface is great on a level of general concept, but the implementation of these ideas falls short of the initial promise. First off, management is a complicated affair and you feel like the game is fighting you every step of the way. There were several features that I was never able to use. Once I did puzzle out the controls, I often found the results to be disappointing. Part of the problem is that there are so many icons and they're not laid out in the most logical manner. Hardest of the 9 production areas is the town workers screen. There are nine areas in which your workers can...work. Four of these areas are based on pulling resources from the surrounding land. Farmers farm, miners mine, quarriers quarry and foresters forest. Wait, that's not right, is it?
The other five types of worker take the raw materials produced by the first four and make other commodities. You have builders, bakers, armorers, tailors and jewelers. It's the allocation of workers that caused me the most frustration. First of all, you have an idle workers pool. When you add workers to a project, you'd think that they'd come from this pool. Not from other projects, right? The manual agrees with you. But in the game world things function differently. Workers are pulled from all projects proportionally. This can really cheese you off if you've spent 15 minutes balancing out all your projects. Fortunately you can lock each area so that the number of workers remain constant.
A handy auto-management feature is included within the campaign. You can even set individual towns to use their own judgment while you take personal control of the production in the towns that are a little more important. The auto-management interface is a triangle. Each side of the triangle represents one aspect of production--military, trade and people. By dragging a small dot from one area of the triangle to another, you change the priorities of the town. Even on auto-manage, you can make small changes to a town's production. The big limiting factor here is that towns won't help each other in auto-manage mode. If one town is short on grain or meat, nearby towns will let 'em starve. And it's not the smartest program either. In one of my towns, 400 of the 500 workers were placed on idle status for no good reason at all. Since there's no autoroutes for trade caravans, you'd do good to let the AI handle this aspect of town management for you as well.
I feel bad after playing this game. I really, really wanted to like it. It has all the elements of a great, life-consuming game. There's the open-ended structure, lots of room for management, lots of room for fighting but ultimately the game just doesn't work right. Eidos has already released a huge patch for the game and I'm still having problems. Forget about the lack of an intuitive, easy to understand interface. The game obviously has some serious technical shortcomings that aren't going to be solved immediately. Better to have held off release until the game had been tested a little more. I might even forgive a premature release if it was Wild Wild West or some other more recent property. At least then you can rationalize it based on cross marketing. But the movie here is 5 years old. Another six months wouldn't make that much of a difference.
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