Released in Europe under the title KnightShift, Once Upon a Knight is divided into two modes -- a real-time strategy mode and a role-playing mode. It tells the story of a noble and honorable prince who was sent to another dimension by an evil spell. Now, years later, the prince is able to return through a magical portal and is ready to drive the evil from his land.
Three campaigns are available in the real-time strategy mode. Each campaign takes place in a different geographical location and features a variety of tasks, such as rescuing a princess or slaying a dragon. During each campaign, the player's character will gain experience, allowing them to level up and receive access to new weapons, armor, and magic items. Players can create new characters and buildings in this mode as well. A multiplayer option allows up to eight players to have real-time battles over the Internet.
The role-playing mode features a greater selection of maps, weapons, quests, and enemies. Character development is more in-depth too, allowing users to choose their skills, manage inventory, and hire characters to aid them during their journeys. Users can play this mode alone or connect to the Internet for network matches.
Once Upon a Knight features more than 80 characters and creatures, over 20 missions, and hundreds of quests. Players can also create their own maps and campaigns with the included game editor.
Role-playing and real-time strategy seem like two genres that would blend well together. Allow a few important characters to go on quests to gain levels and powers, while building a base into a powerhouse resource center. The secret to a successful mix, as it was done so successfully in Warcraft III, is to make one genre or the other your primary focus. When you try to make both genres equally, what you get is Once Upon A Knight, which is a rich-in-story but light-on-gameplay RTS/RPG from Reality Pump Studios.
Once Upon A Knight's campaign mode introduces Prince John, a generic hero prince who is kidnapped by the evil Valtamand (which sounds a lot like "Voldemort" when you hear it in a British accent) and escapes when Valtamand's spells go awry. The three campaigns begin with Prince John trying to regain his throne. Most of the beginning quests have little to do with the base-building that is sacred to real-time strategy games, and instead focus on one or more adventurers traveling throughout the world to solve a puzzle or find an item. The adventures can take place above and below ground, and when the situation involves both at the same time, it's a nightmare trying to keep track of your units. Those opposite of your current view can die very quickly and before you're even aware of it.
It would be a mistake to think these quests constitute role-playing, however, because although your creatures can gain levels, you can't add skill points or abilities to them. They simply get better without your input. The units will even fight and heal themselves (if a healing area is nearby) without your input, so sometimes you're watching the game rather than participating in it.
The base-building is also simplistic in Once Upon A Knight. Cows provide you with resources in the form of milk, and milk is your only resource. Why cows, you ask? Apparently, cows are funny. Unfortunately, they're really not (everyone knows monkeys are where the real humor's at). The game only has twelve structures and twelve creature types (including the aforementioned cows), so your choices, even with upgrading, are very limited. This lack of a significant technology tree tends to make for a rather dull real-time strategy game as you quickly run out of new things to build or new units to create. Taken together, the two elements that make up the campaign mode fall short of a completely compelling game.
In case you finish the campaigns and want more, Once Upon A Knight includes a skirmish mode and an RPG campaign. The skirmish mode is standard for real-time strategy games, base-building, and destroying all enemies being the prime game types. It plays exactly like the base-building section of the campaign mode.
The RPG campaign includes both standalone games and a multiple chapter story. You can select from a class, such as barbarian or knight, and when you gain experience points you can add to certain abilities and skills. The RPG mode is more of an adventure game with RPG elements than true role-playing. As with the RTS campaign, the role-playing portion of the game leaves you less than satisfied. Combat is simplified and the lack of serious role-playing means it almost entirely follows an endless loop of "attack, pick up treasure, raise character stats."
If, for some reason, you can't get enough of Once Upon A Knight, the game also comes with a map and scenario editor for both the RTS and RPG portions of the game. For casual gamers, the editor may be intimidating, but the CD-ROM includes an editor manual that should get anyone started.
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