From the depths of Black Isle Studios, responsible for such previous titles as Fallout and the Baldur's Gate series, comes Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, a game which was actually initially named Fallout Fantasy, but is now a totally different franchise in a totally different time frame (1588 A.D. to be exact). Although the PC game market is far from lacking quality RPG titles, Black Isle have promised new depths and boundaries to be explored with Lionheart. Can Black Isle provide fresh action for RPG fans, or is it too little, too late?
The very first action that Lionheart requires you to undertake is the making of your character. Provided are a few inbuilt, pre-made characters to choose from, but it is far more fun to click "custom" and set about making your very own sword wielding, magic casting, blood gurgling beast. Unfortunately, the amount of visual customizations is very poor, you are restricted to a handful of pre-made head types and body types, which then has the option of color changes. Obviously visual detail as far as characters are concerned is not a huge priority over at Black Isle.
Upon choosing your outfit and appearance, you can then go about customizing your warrior with his or her own traits. Almost every strength comes with a weakness, for example, quicker strikes results in better attack speed but it also drops your attack accuracy down a considerable amount. It seems that almost every strength you choose from has a weakness almost completely canceling out any advantage, so choose wisely, as you'll need to keep in mind what traits your character possesses so you can improve your weaknesses as you progress through the game.
While the actual storyline is something I'd prefer to un-spoil, I can say that it is quite a compelling story from the very beginning. During your character customizations mentioned above, you must chose one of three spirits which infest your body, each providing an advantage in one of the three types of magic - Divine magic, Tribal magic and Thought magic. These influences, and the ones previously mentioned, make Lionheart a very un-linear game, which means the actual gameplay remains relatively unique and the replayability is quite exceptional.
Another aspect that makes the storyline complete is the excellent voice acting. Many, many games are plagued with good visuals, great gameplay, but horrible voice acting. Some games even forget voice acting altogether and just leave text inplace for character interaction. Not Lionheart, however. While some conversations didn't seem to have a voice library (whether this be a bug or not important enough to worry about), most of the conversations have real voices in conjunction with text, and on top of this, the voices were convincingly acted out, and brilliantly chosen - it would not be far fetched to say the basis of the effectively established characters is the voice acting.
Lionheart features a system called 'SPECIAL', which was found in the Fallout series. SPECIAL is basically the name of the character development system, an acronym derived from "Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck", which make up the elements that define a character. What it does is use the pre-chosen and evolving skills and traits to determine the weaknesses and strengths of a certain character. While this is certainly impressive on paper, the actual implementation of SPECIAL is really not very special at all, many RPG titles feature similar and sometimes stronger systems which never experienced the same amount of hype 'SPECIAL' did. Lionheart uses SPECIAL well, but it is not really a feature, it is a requirement that is expected of an RPG.
When it comes to the actual in-game action, Lionheart doesn't really have anything overly impressive on show, and unfortunately, the most essential part of any RPG is the actual gameplay. Don't get me wrong, Lionheart doesn't necessarily have any specific factor which destroy's its gameplay, it just doesn't seem to have anything special or unique that sets it apart from the rest, and in this day and age, for an RPG to be successful, something is needed to attract and create the fans and supporters of the series. I'm not saying Lionheart won't have any fans, because for many people I suspect a solid, basic RPG action is just fine, however for experienced and seasoned RPG players, there is just nothing specific or significant Lionheart can provide. Despite the implementations of previously successful features like the SPECIAL, Lionheart seems to be a product of hype, and while the basic elements have lived up to it, the more important elements have not.
For an RPG, Lionheart actually looks reasonably good, specifically the backgrounds, which are pre-rendered and feature great detail in almost every aspect. Whether you are walking on timber slats, each painfully representing its own unique rendering, or whether you are passing through the dark and dangerous woods, the environmental detail looks great and does wonders for the atmosphere factor. However, compared to many other RPG's the graphical quality overall is not necessarily impressive, characters look a little blurred and spell casting is not special either. It was said the characters were converted to 2d from 3d with anti-aliasing applied in the process, however it is my opinion the AA has done more bad than good. Lionheart is easy on the eyes, but it doesn't look like a game from the year 2003, perhaps graphics are not of great importance here, but it certainly would have helped aid the relatively repetitive and common gameplay.
Like just about every previous RPG for the PC, Lionheart only really requires handy mouse work, with left-click instigating movement to a desired location, interaction with other characters, picking up items and more, while right-click is the shortcut key to letting your selected spell loose. The only problem I have with this is that should you accidentally slip your finger onto the right-click button in an area restricted from magic use (Barcelona, for example), you'll be hunted down by the guards, no questions asked. Perhaps it would have been best to implement a system which forces right-click as the magic casting button during battle, and disables its function while passing through areas which forbid it.
Selecting different operation modes like "attack" and "sneak" etc is very easy and very convenient. Pretty much everything is accessible from a menu permanently located at the bottom of the screen, so there is no need to remember keyboard shortcuts to access anything. All in all, if there is one distinct area Lionheart excels in, it is the simple versatility of the control system.
After receiving what has to be a disappointing reception for Black Isle from early previews and reviews, I really can not agree with the majority of complaints and statements that suggest this game is a failure. Sure, it has been done plenty of times before, and in some regards, it has been done better, but Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader is still a solid RPG experience. I personally do not play a huge amount of RPGs, so maybe my perception of Lionheart is influenced by the fact my opinion is not that of an expert's, but regardless of how I judge it, the fact remains most of the strong elements that make an RPG great are found here in Lionheart, it just doesn't stray much further beyond those. This is certainly not an ideal opening to what is a probable series with future additions to come, but it is certainly not a failure by any means. It is my opinion that most RPG fans will atleast get their money's worth with Lionheart.