Written by  :  kbmb (435)
Written on  :  Aug 27, 2003

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Lionheart almost hit the mark -- but ended up whacking a wandering pedestrian instead.

The Good

Erm...sorry about that. I couldn't think of a reasonable metaphor.

Lionheart is one of the more original games I've played as of late. It takes a different approach to the genre by throwing you into an alternate history setting in which magic has completely changed medieval Europe. This alone made me enjoy the game -- even in its most frustrating moments, which I'll mention in a second.

Along with the unique alternate history setting, you'll meet (and fight or ally with) several historic characters, including Leonardo De Vinci, Gallileo, Shakesphere, Cortez, even Don Quixote. And the dialogue and voice overs are top-notch.

Lionheart uses the SPECIAL system which was used in Fallout, Fallout 2, and (sort of) Arcanum. This system allows you to make a character in which can really become anything he wants. You are not stuck being one single class from start to finish, and you can excel in any one or more skills. Meaning, if you want to be a smooth talking merchant type character, you certainly can be. Want to be a magic-casting brutish thief? With enough work it's certainly possible. For me, I chose to be an unarmed necromancer who dabbles in the field of thievery. And, as with the Fallout series, you begin by choosing your traits and every three levels you gain perks. This makes the game all the better. Some perks you can only gain by completing special quests.

There are four "races" you can choose from, and three spirits to choose from who guide you as you progress in the game. This adds diversity and replayability, as your race and spirit will have different effects throughout the game. As I chose the "Feralkin" race, very few people had respect for me...which usually ended up in a fight of sorts.

The graphics in the game I thought were very good, though others would disagree. Barcelona in particular -- and the surrounding lands -- looks very, very good. I didn't even realize the game was running at 800x600. It did its job.

The first half of the game (the second half I'll get to in "the bad") is your standard modern CRPG. Quests aplenty, some easy, some harder, your usual romp through the sewer, etc. This isn't really good or bad. In a sense, it's getting tired, since EVERY RPG nowadays has this sort of start, but I enjoyed this one a lot more, since utilizing the SPECIAL system, different routes can easily be taken. For example, there was a merchant who would insult me based on my Feralkin races, and so I threatened to bash his head in if he said another word. Because of this, he refused to sell to me, so I proceeded to lockpick his chest and steal everything he had. Unfortunately, my sneak skill was pretty pathetic, so he attacked. I knocked his skull in, and took all his loot. After that, I was marked as "Merchant Killer", by the "Underground". Not really sure who or what the "Underground" was, but it was a neat trait.

Your first real task in the game is to join one of the four factions in Barcelona. While I joined the Knights of the Templar, who fight for justice, honor, and all that crap, I decided to go start trouble with the Inquisition. One particular quest I received was to free a certain prisoner from the Inquisitor's Chambers, and since, as I mentioned earlier, my sneak skill was the sux0r, I had to just go in fists swingin'. And that lead to trouble, but after some work I dealt with the pesky Inquisitors, freed the captives, and even freed a demon who granted me a perk for my efforts! The Knights never found out (perhaps because I left no witnesses?) and I made it my own personal quest to wipe out all Inquisitors I found. Unfortunately, that also meant destroying potential allies.

You are mostly alone in the game, but allies can join you. You don't have any control over them, other than to tell them to stand still, or to unsummon them, but they're still useful. I remember Cortez, a madman searching for some figment of his imagination, a Templar Knight and a summoned Soul Reaver fighting hordes of war dogs on the battlefield. It was great fun.

Speaking of magic, the spells in the game are quite good. There are three doctrines of magic, with four schools of each. Did I get that right? Doctrines and schools? Well, anyway, you are not limited to any school or doctrine, but you can only get the higher level spells by putting more points into that particular one. In theory, though, you could be an insanely powerful spellcaster, if you play the game long enough. That would be interesting to see. The spells range from your standard "magic missile" type spell, to summoning creatures undead or just from ethereal planes, to buffs (or de-buffs) and so on. Pretty much the standard, but there is some variety here. And I loved that I could be an unarmed necromancer in the game. I don't know many RPGs that would allow such a combination.

Also, at least for the first half of the game, you really don't *have* to fight anything. You get 3/4 (I believe) experience just for sneaking by a monster, and you get experience for finding traps, secret doors, talking your way out of trouble, etc., just as it was with Fallout. So if you want to play that diplomatic sneaky stay-out-of-trouble character, you can...well, at least, until halfway through the game, in which you are screwed hands-down. Read "The Bad" to see why.

Because of a random item generator based on your level, you could have some Diablo-esque episodes playing this game, always searching for that rare and powerful item. I've not played multiplayer, but from what I've read, the more people in your party, the harder the monsters are and the more there are. I think a group of three of four running through the game would be a lot of fun.

The first half of the game is really great. Standard quest-and-kill stuff, with a lot of Fallout-like freedom. Great graphics, random items, and wonderful dialogue and voice overs...

The Bad

But the second half of the game absolutely sucks.

Did I mention the combat in "The Good"? No? Well, that's 'cause it fricken sucks. Hands down, worst combat in any RPG I've played. And what really sucks is that the second half of the game is nothing BUT combat. I'm not talking about a lot of combat-heavy quests. I mean, you have ONE quest, and you do nothing but FIGHT for the next twenty-give-or-take hours of the game. I didn't mind fighting so much in the first half, because it was for a purpose. It was a pain in the ass, yes, but the random items, the quest experience and quest plots made up for it. But second half...no. Just, no.

Combat comes down to your ability to click on the enemy. That alone is half the task, since every single thing you fight moves at roughly 99.977% the speed of light. Sure, you can pause the game. And while the game is paused you can switch inventory around, change your spell quickslots, do other stuff, but you cannot issue commands or even target an ememy while paused. Also, your allies are pathetic fighters. Useful when you're fighting stuff you can kill, but once you face a hard foe, your allies are dead before you realize it. Combat simply sucks, and the second half of the game is just that. Not even the random items can save you from it.

And it seems the developers didn't think the game was difficult enough, since once you reach that halfway mark, the difficulty skyrockets. Once you reach that point (unless you discovered the most powerful character skill combination...though an unarmed necromancer was fun to play, I doubt it's the most ideal fighter combination) you'll be spending most of your time healing. Fight, run away, rest. Oh, no, you can't "rest". You have to sit there while your health and mana slowly regenerates. I sort of aided myself in this by having armor and weapons that increased my healing/mana regeneration, but not enough to make it very acceptable. I actually had a book on my desk ready for when I have to go rest, as I could finish a few pages by the time I was ready to fight again.

Money's not much of a problem in the game. Once you reach halfway, you won't find many merchants for quite some time, so your best chance is to find anything good to use will be in chests or on monsters. But once you do find a merchant, you're still screwed, since every merchant in the game has about 1-3 healing potions -- not nearly enough to help you.

Also, there really aren't enough spell quickslots. Even as a necromancer, I used five of the slots at a time, and my primary skill was unarmed combat. I can't imagine being a wizard-like class as my primary skill, since there just aren't enough quickslots. Plus, once you're out of mana, you're pretty screwed, and mana potions are almost as rare as healing potions. Fortunately, monsters usually leave a mana-thingy behind, but you have to *kill* a monster before you get those.

Now, here's where I must shame myself. I had to use a trainer. This makes me a huge hypocrite, since I'm always getting on everyone's case when they resort to such methods. But I reached a part in the game that was absolutely impossible to beat. See, I had to run through a temple (I couldn't stop running due to a river of acid chasing me down) while about fifty to sixty archers and spell-casters stood on the edges (where I couldn't hit them) and fired down on me. Even if I DID have the healing potions and protection scrolls to reach there (and considering how conservative I am with those things, I should have!), there were even more bad dudes waiting for me there. I don't know how anyone was able to beat this (I read on a forum that people used speed potions and had some really nice armor -- which I didn't have) but it would simply be impossible for me. And there was no option for me to "return at a higher level" because monsters never respawn, and I make it a personal duty to clear every map of every monster in sight. Here's the funny thing - even with the trainer which enabled my health to regernate at an "insane" speed, I still died several times before finally being able to race to the exit of the map. It was that difficult.

Also, the animation sort of sucks. There are maybe two variations of each type of animation, and they're not very good. Your character looks as bland as any of the (human) enemies. You can't even tell your own race except when you have your helmet off (I could tell I was Feralkin because I had a mohawk.)

Also -- music and ambient noise is completely missing through most of the game. I expect to hear birds and/or pretty foresty music when I'm out in the wilderness, and the drips of water and sludging around in the sewer. Instead, I heard music very occasionally during certain points, and ambient sounds that were so very quiet I wondered if it was my computer making odd noises.

And the ending is absolutely awful. There are (I think) a few different endings, depending on your choices in the game and how well you do at the very end, but the one I got was just one of those "The evil has gone away...for now! But he'll be back! Stay tuned for the sequel!" type endings, and that just sucks. Also, there are *no* cinematics in the game. Now, the voice overs and dialogue were great, but as gamers, we're accustomed to a little eye-candy reward for beating the game, and at least one for the intro. But alas, just dialogue and voice overs. I guess it's not that bad, but I would have liked to have seen more.

Come the end of the game, I didn't feel like much of a hero. Just a nobody who kicked some ass and went home.

The Bottom Line

Lionheart came so very close to being a great game. Its original setting, the use of the SPECIAL system, the great art, and dialogue and voice overs make the first half of the game great. But come the second half, it completely goes downhill from there. Not just on a downhill slope -- it dives off a cliff. And lands in a bed of razors. That are on fire. While some snob pours gasoline on it. And then a big bird flies by and takes a crap on it. And some other bad stuff happens. It's that bad, man.

With a part of, like I said, three or four people, it might not only make the second half bearable, but even fun. But this game probably isn't going to stay on my hard drive long enough for me to find out. Indeed, I might play through the first half again, as I really enjoyed it. How will a Sylvant archer do in the same situations? I might see...but once I reach halfway, it's gone. I ain't going through that again.