Review | History: Great Battles Medieval
Truly great battles
Format: Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC | Genre: RTS | Publisher: Slitherine Software| Developer: Slitherine Software| Release Date: 01/10/10 | Price: £39.99
A century of war, this sounds like a job for Greg Giddens. Raising his army and marching forth in HISTORY: GREAT BATTLES MEDIEVAL.
AT FIRST glance History: Great Battles Medieval resembles the likes of grand strategy titles such as Victoria and the more mainstream Total War series. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this resemblance is in core concept and aesthetic alone. Featuring an extremely user-friendly interface and set of command options, History: Great Battles Medieval is hugely accessible yet a challenging and fun RTS title.
The fat of empire management has been omitted and instead History: Great Battles Medieval concentrates entirely on the conflicts of the Hundred Year War between England and France. Footage taken directly from the History Channel introduces each battle for either side’s lengthy campaign with a narrator setting the scene. The result is an excellent mix of education and interaction with one unfortunate letdown; the footage itself looks appalling. It’s pixelated and grainy, and for a channel with an HD option, this feels like a huge oversight and glaring issue with the presentation. That’s not to say the visuals elsewhere are fantastic – it’s austere in all areas – but fortunately the presentation is easily forgiven due to an exceptional experience.
From the map screen you choose whether to proceed with the story missions – based on actual battles – and a set of optional secondary missions, many of which can be replayed to your heart’s content. These secondary missions prove crucial to your progression as more than a little grinding is required to raise a force large enough to progress beyond the initial few missions. This affects the pacing negatively. If you want to crack on with the campaign you’ll be disappointed, however, to its credit the secondary missions have a decent variety of objectives, from settlement raiding to supply escorts to keep you entertained.
The grind is to gain gold and to promote squads with experience. Between battles you can then recruit new squads, and spend skill points and buy new equipment for current ones. The scope is impressive. The further you progress in the campaign more pieces of equipment become available to you, including a huge variety of weapons. Before long you’ll have a vast army of multiple infantry, mounted, and cannon squads all ready to find glory in battle. The most impressive aspect of all this army management is its ease of use. A radial menu allows you to perform all required actions and is laid out in a simplistic and informative manner. It’s remarkably intuitive.
The simplicity of the army management is mirrored in battle but that’s not to be confused with a lack of tactical variety. Moving and understanding yours and your enemies force is a simple task. Archers are effective against lightly armoured units, cavalry are effective against archers - if they can get near enough – and infantry run the gamut depending on weapon and armour loadout. Each squad is moved individually and when commanding them the game pauses, allowing you to take your time and survey the battlefield. Tactics come into play via a large variety of factors. Terrain can hinder a squad’s movement, squad positions affect combat readiness, cannons have a narrow field of fire, and fatigue affects travel speed and combat efficiency. Additionally you have tactic cards you can play at any point in battle, each having a different effect, for example increasing attack strength or rallying a fleeing squad. All together these factors form a dynamic battlefield that requires constant vigilance, against the A.I it’s invigorating and challenging, and against a human it’s even more exciting and entertaining.
A.I skirmishes and online battles are played in a tug of war style, with the first player to win a set number of consecutive battles winning overall. It’s as addictive online as it is in singleplayer, and rarely feels repetitive. You can fight on the same map with the same two armies time and time again and experience entirely different battles each time.
History: Great Battles Medieval is easy to pick up and play yet challenging and tactical enough to support longevity. For those looking for a deeper experience the focus solely on battles will be slightly disappointing – and it’s certainly no visual masterpiece – but there’s no denying the strength of its combat mechanics and the entertainment it so effortlessly delivers.