Wars & Warriors: Joan of Arc Review

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Publisher: Enlight
Developer: Enlight

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, GeForce 2/ATI Radeon or better video card, 1.1 GB HD space, 4x CD ROM, Windows 98 or more recent operating system

Joan of Arc is most famous for being the serious movie role that pretty actresses take in order to legitimize their careers, when all it does is show how bad they look without fancy makeup. She is second most famous for leading the resistance against the English invasion of France in the Hundred Years War. Wars & Warriors: Joan of Arc focuses on the historical Joan of Arc, but it will take a strong person to play through the whole game without picturing Milla Jovovich sporting a bowl-cut. Especially now.

Carrie Gouskos

Wars & Warriors: Joan of Arc is a third person hack and slash game set during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453). You control Joan of Arc (from the latter years of the war) and a few other commanders, including her real life companion Jean de Metz, leading troops into battle against the "dirty English dogs." If you learn anything from Joan of Arc it is more likely to be choice name-calling than history, so keep a pen and paper handy and prepare to be the master of the schoolyard insult. There are other elements of gameplay, but the majority of Joan of Arc consists of battling waves of enemies. Combat is broken down to two essential buttons, a light and a heavy attack that correspond to the left and right mouse buttons, respectively. In different patterns, these two buttons can execute any number of combination attacks. This translates into a whole lot of button mashing, because despite there being a number of ways to intentionally execute combos, the most effective technique is to mash both buttons as frequently and as fast as you can. While this isn't often desirable, it ends up being so much fun that it actually carries the game's other weaknesses. Add in about a billion enemies and you have yourself a game.

Tasks in this mission based game usually fall into one of two categories: kill and take over an enemy town, or protect and save the occupants of your own. Much of the game is just a combination of these two elements, and although the order and presentation is varied, the game could have benefited from other mission ideas. In fact, it could have benefited with a few more of a lot of things. While Joan of Arc makes ambitious attempts to include other types of gameplay, none of them are executed thoroughly. Had any one of these features been successfully implemented, Joan of Arc could have earned a cross-genre moniker.

A Dash of RTS, A Pinch of RPG, But Needs More Salt
(And Perhaps Less Chicken)

The title has some aspects of a real-time strategy (RTS) game – with a push of a button you can switch from the third person action view to an overhead view where you can rearrange your troops. Although this is a neat feature, the RTS gameplay isn't nearly as fun as the hack and slash. The poor pathfinding abilities of your troops makes maneuvering in the RTS portions very frustrating. In a flirtation with historical accuracy, that means you'll only be able to rely on your own character. The terrible artificial intelligence for your allies is forgivable because the enemy AI is just as bad. Each group of enemies usually consists of the same type of fighter, whether they are polemen, archers, or heavy infantry. A commander leads each enemy unit, but there is no significant strategy in aiming for him first. Everyone except for your character (sometimes even you) gets stuck on boxes and fences and has a pretty rough time maneuvering around trees and hills. Since there are tons of enemies everywhere and the meat of the game is fighting rather than maneuvering, this isn't as bad as it sounds. Still, it would be nice if the game were more strategic. Most of the strategy comes from switching between Joan and the other commanders. You'll need to do so to make sure everyone stays alive, because without your help they don't have long life spans.

There are minimal role-playing game (RPG) aspects to the Joan of Arc. You can allot points gained each level to your health, strength, or defense – but aside from increased hit points, higher attributes provide little noticeable effect. The most obvious result of upgrading is the selection of new combo moves that you can purchase. Those moves make the button-mashing battle increasingly fun as you face more enemies. You can distribute the benefits of level gains for the other commanders as well. Health and stamina are replenished by food – mostly apples and bread that are found on enemy soldiers and in (surprise!) wooden crates throughout the levels. Would Joan of Arc really be sneaking into alleyways and breaking open wooden crates that don't belong to her in order to get her hands on a smoked chicken? Probably not, but this isn't true role-playing and she needs the chicken. Other nifty finds are amulets found on tougher enemies and in harder to locate chests. Amulets hugely upgrade health, weapon strength, melee defense, etc. So, to the extent these attributes truly factor into gameplay, it's best to find as many of the amulets as you can. These can also be shared among the commanders.

Fun, But Simple Fun...

Fundamentally, the gameplay is just too linear. From the mission requirements to the layout of the levels, you don't feel like there's any freedom to explore. Constantly hitting buttons to fell enemy troops isn't enough to draw you completely into the world. It would have been nice to travel across the forest instead of only on beaten paths, and run in and out of a few houses that weren't specifically designated for you enter. That would have made Joan of Arc more engaging and seem part of a complete world.

Technical aspects of Joan of Arc, such as the menu system, demonstrate how ably the developer and publisher Enlight can pay serious attention to detail. The comprehensive menus provide mission debriefs, grades on each commander's performance, lists of objectives, and a record of every notice received in the whole game. Navigating through the menus, looking at the town descriptions and reading the background stories really exemplifies Enlight's good work. If they could bring that same skill to elements of the gameplay beyond the basic brawling, Joan of Arc would be a really solid title. At present, it's a hack-and-slash that gives your hand a workout and tells a great story, but underachieves as both an RTS and an RPG, preventing it from becoming a top tier title or more than a simple, entertaining action title.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 23, 2004 10:28 PM.

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