As the Might and Magic series continued expanding its horizons, Crusaders of Might and Magic attempted to saturate the series for all its worth by introducing a half action, half RPG into the mix. Borrowing from the Requiem: Avenging Angel engine, Crusaders makes use of a third-person viewpoint with the mouse being the easiest way to look around. The rest is keyboard controlled, from using potions and casting spells to controlling your character and checking the inventory. In a nutshell, the game's graphics and fighting elements are great, while the game suffers in most other areas.
Crusaders is visually appealing, with various bright colors, real time dynamic lighting, mip-mapping, special effects and a high amount of frames per second -- provided you have a high-end system to make it all work. As well, the textures and details in the models and background are top-notch, particularly if you're using a high resolution. There is a cool flame effect coming from the torches, but this is the only apparent visual that's affected when you enable high-quality animated textures from the options menu.
The best part about the graphics take place during the casting of spells, with bright and vibrant effects emanating from Drake's hands. Also, the chunks of blood and guts flying off enemies as you attack them makes it worthwhile to hunt down more monsters. As well, Drake looks very tough when he puts on new armor! Another area to take notice is whenever you've killed an enemy and at the same time received more experience points, a horn theme sounds and you'll witness a near 360-degree spin-around while everything is frozen in time. Can anyone say, The Matrix? Unfortunately, clouds and bodies of water don't animate in this game.
While the graphics are dazzling, they aren't revolutionary. The drawback is obvious as faster gameplay is sacrificed for better visuals. In addition to this setback are the extreme glitches and clipping problems in the game. On some levels you can see a bunch of huge, mirrored-like rips in walls, floors and ceilings. In others you'll notice plenty of seams without closure. Almost all the time characters body parts sink through walls and other objects, and there's a strange, transparent graphical breakup of Drake's head or body when the camera angle is close-up to him. Of course, this is pretty minor stuff compared to the other distractions that actually affect gameplay. One of these is the fact that a lot of objects have no collision, and some are even illogical -- fruit baskets, bowls and bottles stay afloat in midair after you've broken the tables or benches underneath! Another problem that affects gameplay occurs when you have dropped your weapons or other inventory near a wall or down a sloping hill; the items disappear into the crevice or sink into the ground, lost forever!
Things like these are unacceptable, and it doesn't end there. The camera control is awkward at times, forcing you to face the front of Drake while you're walking forward and he's walking towards you. Some other games like this have the same problem. Also, when you're about to talk to a character, he or she faces you by spinning towards you without moving their feet or legs. Another bug occurs in the Eastern Stronghold where you meet a peasant who looks like the other peasants but he's half the size! All of these problems make the game less realistic and not taken too seriously, and all of the bugs mean the game isn't solid.
Another point about visual presentation: the text. The fonts for the text fields in Drake's status screen as well as general dialogue text are very generic. They aren't always clear on a lighter background because the text is white without distinct outlines; even text in the Quest Book doesn't stand out. Another flaw is that your map isn't clear. You are shown a coin of Drake's head to indicate your current location, however there is no other function.
For some reason there is no support for gamepad controllers or force feedback joysticks. This would've been a nice and convenient feature. It would also have made the game much more enjoyable during fight sequences if you could feel the vibration of an enemy slashing your chest, or the hard-hitting smack delivered to an enemy by your wicked War Hammer. On that note, controlling Drake is pretty simple except when a group of monsters attacks you from all sides, making it unfair to escape. There seems to be a slight Tomb Raider feel to the game as you climb, jump and flip your way through the levels.
The sound department is another interesting area. The effects of slashing at your opponents trigger pretty cool sounds that give out a gutsy hack or a skin-tearing slice, no matter what weapon you use. The metal clanging of the shields is also another cool effect. On the other hand, the attempt at environmental or ambient sounds is good but a bit overdone. And the music, although nice and moody, plays randomly rather than synching with your actions or situation. But the worst part about the sound are the voiceovers. Sure, a few of the voice acting is good and Kevin Conroy (of the 90's animated Batman series) is pretty good, but most of the voices are ridiculous. Even Conroy's is a bit lagging when he sounds as if he didn't care about recording his voice for this game.
Yet the most pathetic of voices come from the peasants and knights, which were performed by mainly the developer's employees! There is a lack of emotion among other things. There is also a cabin that holds two peasants both named Casper! These aren't fun to listen to nor do they matter because talking to most characters in the game is useless. They don't exactly give out concrete or pertinent information that would help you in your quest.
Speaking of quests, there are some mini-quests in the game that have to be completed before some of the larger events. One of these quests involve stealing the Horn of Shattering and returning it to the mining Dwarves' leader, Prince Dain Stoneheart. In order for you to steal this item, you must encounter and kill off four large Ogres who are protecting it (although it's actually on one of them, but you don't know which). As you kill the one who has the Horn of Shattering, the game pauses and loads while it says that you received the item. There's no music and no reward to indicate that this is an important item other than the text that tells you that it is!
Now speaking of pausing and loading, there is plenty of that to go around in this game. In fact, everywhere you transition between levels of the same world it loads a different-looking area with different colors. Sometimes it loads a totally new place as if you traveled to another land when you just walked immediately from the other side of the road! Some areas have an excuse for the next level to look entirely different, and that only happens when you face a door or portal that is supposed to lead outside or inside another area. But the transitioning for most places is ridiculous; they could have at least included a cut scene to pretend that you actually traveled to a completely new area.
What's really interesting is the fact that you can attack and kill innocent characters and then collect their gold without being punished by any means -- not even a decrease in experience points! Nonetheless, the "unimportant" characters deserve to die anyway since their voice acting is horrendous. Except for this game, I have never seen any other game to my recollection that claims to have RPG elements, but allows killing innocent characters without retribution. A funny sight to see is when you've attacked one of these characters (but not enough to kill them), they start posing defensively before running away a few seconds later -- too fast for even Drake to catch up with them! It would probably be more challenging if they stood and fought Drake, however.
On that note, challenging is a term that should be used sparingly in Crusaders. The easy level is a piece of cake while the hard level is nearly impossible to complete without using cheat codes! The lands are vast but mostly empty in the easy level, but the hard level gives you dozens more enemies per world. The hard level also increases the amount of blows you have to perform on your opponents. Throughout the course of the game you increase strength, stamina, intelligence, endurance, speed and experience points. There are spells and potions that will temporarily increase health, armor class, "resistances", speed and other interesting attributes. If you've drained your Mana, waiting around or taking Mana potions and crystals will revive your status. You can even buy weapons and other items from merchants to stock up.
The inventory screen allows you to drag and drop items from a "trash bin" grid at the far right of the screen to your own inventory (at the far left). It is a pain to have to drag everything all the time, and the only items that can be double-clicked to automatically obtain them are the spell books and gold coins.
"Please, please! Check out my fine wares," the annoying merchant boasts.
A ridiculous waste of time is when you've purchased armor from a merchant, you can't drag it onto yourself right away; instead you have to drag it to your inventory storage grid first. It takes a bit of time to get used to the inventory screen because at first you'll think you've lost an item except you only forgot to scroll down with the arrows onscreen (they're hard to see). Some of the other items can be rings and shields that will help protect Drake. It's too bad the game doesn't allow him to wear helmets or another set of pants!
Some of the spells are either interesting or useless. One of the better ones such as the Fireball fries your enemies from a distance; some are even heat-seeking! The Soul Drinker drains an enemy's health and transfers it to you, with only one catch -- you can only use it against living flesh. Oddly enough, you can drain a friendly character's energy and get away with it! The Heroism spell increases the speed of your character so that he can fight and run faster. Another one is the Lightning Bolt spell which targets multiple enemies! And the last of the best spells is the Spectral Ally, who becomes a ghost partner to help fend off enemies alongside you. Just make sure you don't attack your ally if you don't want to make trouble!
All of these spells become newer spells that are more dangerous as you collect the same ones. They build on top of each other up to three levels high. In other words, Fireball becomes Flame Strike, and then a level two Fireball becomes a Meteor Swarm, which is very devastating. The rest of the spells however, are pretty useless because you can't get them cast in time, nor would you care since they are pretty weak compared to the aforementioned ones. The HUD display onscreen keeps track of what level spell you have prepared, or whether you have potions ready for use or not. It also shows your health and Mana status.
With respect to the huge levels, detail and story, Crusaders of Might and Magic falls short of most RPGs and even action-adventure games due to all the bugs, lack of options and uninteresting features in the game. However, it does deserve to have a look for its visual eye candy, great fight engine, amount of items and weapons, and other decent areas of the game. So if you're a hardcore RPG fan, this is not your game. However, if you're the casual action-adventure or fantasy player, and especially if you're a Might and Magic fan, Crusaders will serve for the time being until a better game takes its place. Hopefully by that time, the minimum and recommended requirements will actually reflect honestly.
Graphics: The graphics are certainly nothing new for the millenium, however it does have some nice animation (including a Matrix-like effect), interesting special effects and highly detailed models and architectures. But none of this is achieved without the right mix of CPU power, 3D acceleration and willingness to forgive some of the glitches and collision detection problems. The cut scenes (including the ending) are also dull and boring with uninspiring scripted camera angles; sometimes the camera never pans around and you have to watch Drake talk to others from afar.
Sound: Audibly, the sound effects are pretty clear and there are definitely a lot of channels. The music is catchy too, but is often played at random times and has a tendency to "pop". Also, the sound effects aren't always realistic or accurate to the area you're stepping over. The character voices are clean and loud enough for the most part, but unfortunately most of them contain horrible acting that doesn't really aid your player in any way. As well, Drake sounds like he's bored all the time.
Enjoyment: The fighting elements are the most fun, especially when attacking a whole group of enemies! But everything else just seems to be mediocre at best. There should have been more interactivity when conversing with non-player characters (NPCs). Instead you hear just one little speech from each of them; this definitely isn't even close to a real RPG. Also, the transitions between levels take forever on slower systems.
Replay Value: There is little replay value since going through the game once is enough to know that there's no other reason to play other than to hack and slash anything and everything in sight. Though there are three difficulty settings, the easy level is too easy while the hard level is too hard. It would also have helped if there were a multi-player option.
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