Lionheart Has Lots of Heart
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Depending on your point of view, Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader is either a thinking-man's Diablo, or an action gamer's version of Baldur's Gate.
Lionheart is an RPG that places you in Europe in 1588. Historically speaking, many things look as they should in Barcelona, where you spend much of this single-player adventure. Even the Spanish Armada is getting ready to invade England out in the harbor.
But the coolest aspect of this RPG is that it is an alternate history setting, so lots of things are different too. The main difference between the Lionheart world of 1588 and the actual historical counterpart is the fact that magic was brought into the world during the crusades in the Lionheart world. From there, lots of things became a lot different.
Basically, King Richard, The Lionheart, was tricked by one of his advisors into murdering 300 Arab captives. This dark act opened a rift that let spirits pour into the world. These spirits found that they could not exist in our world by themselves. So they had to bind themselves to objects. Some chose rocks or trees. Others chose humans.
When a human is bound with a spirit, a sort of symbiotic relationship develops. The spirit gets to stay in the world. The human, through channeling his spirit's energy, gets to cast magic. But not everyone likes magic. The Spanish Inquisition was formed to imprison and persecute people who enjoy, or are cursed, with this symbiotic relationship, of which your character is one. You can even choose to play another race, as magic has so polluted some bloodlines that new human-like species have been formed. However, don't expect a warm welcome from most people.
Not to give too much away, but the plot of the game has you inheriting a very famous spirit. Unfortunately this makes you a target for a lot of bad people.
The game is played in a top-down interface and looks very good. The graphics are integrated well with the sound too. When you walk beside a row of flags, you hear them flutter in the breeze for example. When by the water, you will likewise hear appropriate sounds. In a dungeon if you hear air whistling, you are probably near a secret door.
The really nice historical aspect of the game is that instead of meeting your standard NPCs, you interact with a lot of famous people. Many of them will hire you for a job, or even actively work against you.
Different people you meet in the game include Leonardo DaVinci, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Students of history may be a bit annoyed that some of these historical figures did not live in the same time periods. Grand Inquisitor Torquemada for example, who can become an ally or a nemesis to you, is a central character even though he actually died in 1498. Cortez however can explain his longevity: in this world he actually found the fountain of youth. The gameplay is very non-linear and the overall plot is highly engaging, not to mention all the sub-plots with historical significance, like helping Shakespeare get his muse back. All this serves to build an intricate and interesting world to explore.
The one slight negative I will say about this part of the game is that it is a teeny bit overdone. I mean it seemed that every alley in Barcelona housed some famous person from history, just waiting for me to find. I was fully expecting John F. Kennedy to roll up in PT 109 and ask for help fighting the Japanese. But I will admit that my mind tingled a bit when meeting most of the famous people, even if they were virtual.
Character development follows the Fallout 2 system, where you add points into different skills, and spend less experience buying up "tag" skills. Plus every few levels you get a "perk" which gives you an extra skill or ability. This allows for very detailed character development, so you can create exactly the type of character you like.
The overall interface of the game however, is a bit lacking. I know many role-players that started the game but never finished it because of the way combat is handled. For one, your party members - when you are lucky enough to have one - are worthless. They walk too far behind you. By the time they get up front, the battle is all but over. Plus they are very weak and prone to dying, so much so that I almost never took anyone into my party.
The Diablo-like combat seems out of place in a game that tries to be a deep RPG adventure. You are talking to Shakespeare one minute, and clicking like mad the next. If anyone should know how to do combat correctly, it's Black Isle since they brought us some of the best RPGs ever created. Perhaps they were trying something new with Lionheart, but my sore wrists and fingers don't like it. Going through a nondescript cave filled with hundreds of almost-but-not-quite-as-tough-as-me monsters is not my idea of a good time. Fight, then rest for a few minutes, then repeat is not the recipe for an epic RPG.
Although Lionheart tries to straddle both worlds between action and role-playing, it may end up alienating both camps. Action gamers won't like to be bored with all the historical interaction and non-combat quests. And role-players will tire quickly of the endless combat.
I enjoyed Lionheart immensely. But it won't rank in my top ten favorite games of all time, where several other Black Isle titles reside. But the game is worth the money, so long as you know what to expect going in.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.