Crown Wars: The Black Prince Review

'tis but a medival XCOM, or is it?
Crown Prince header artwork

It’s all too easy to brand any turn-based isometric strategy game where you get sad about your soldiers dying as being an ‘XCOM-like’. Take Crowns Wars: The Black Prince as an example, almost straight away the game was pigeonholed as a medieval XCOM. A suggestion that the game is nothing more than XCOM Enemy Unknown with a hasty reskin and a half-hearted change of environment. Thankfully, Artefacts Studio has been anything but lazy and Crowns Wars: The Black Prince is very much its own game.

Set during the Hundred Years’ War – actually 116 years long – Crown Wars casts the player in the role of a feudal lord, desperately trying to survive in the chaotic madness of medieval France. The campaign begins after King Edward III’s successful invasion, in which the King of France was taken prisoner. This power vacuum results in a turbulent kingdom stuffed with rival factions, roving mercenaries, and desperate war bands – the perfect setting for a video game then. Crown Wars loosely follows historical events, but things take a more fictional turn when an evil conspiracy is uncovered that the player must defeat.

The setting of Crowns Wars: The Black Prince is slightly fantastical then, and while it’s not the dragons and giants of high fantasy, you can expect to see cursed English soldiers, alchemists lobbing poison potions, and the occasional fighting bear. All of these over-the-top shenanigans are tempered by regular historical notes and analysis from the developers, the smart integration of which puts other bigger developers and publishers to shame.

Crown Prince tactics

The plot, delivered as it is in a series of short cutscenes and text boxes, takes second place to the action strategy on offer. Sure, this is a turn-based game, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it offers a lethargic experience. In contrast to many of its contemporaries, the soldiers, knights, and archers of Crown Wars positively race around the battlefield. Indeed, it comes as a shock when you discover that your Hunter can clear a vast distance, vault a few haystacks, and still have enough movement points left to thwack an unsuspecting mercenary on the bonce.

The speed is what makes the gameplay of Crown Wars so enticing; grand strategies are not conceived with iceberg-like deliberation, but tactics are instead implemented with pace and verve. Attacks can quickly switch from flanking, to feints, and fake-retreats as your small squad of four to six characters dance around a level. For a turn-based game, the dynamism on offer here is intoxicating in its urgency.

Crown Prince castle

This contrasts with the home-screen elements, in which you do up your castle with all those lovely resources you’ve gathered over numerous battles. In return, you’ll unlock new character classes, single use items, and a plethora of weapons and armour. Unlike XCOM, where time is of the element on the campaign map and a playthrough can quickly run away from you, there is no need to rush in Crown Wars. Campaign missions will sit patiently waiting for you, allowing the player to go off and complete skirmishes, raids, and rescues to level up their characters.

As such, expect a certain amount of grinding here, as you have to get your team of fighters up to the required level to take on the next storyline quest. Very un-XCOM-like, but enjoyable in its own way, as investing in your warriors is well worth the time. Indeed, with both avatars and the weapons they use unlocking wonderfully varied abilities, high-level characters can prove unstoppable demons of gory violence.

Crown Prince squad

Controls on the console are decent enough, though occasionally a bit fiddly, but it’s with the player camera that Artefacts Studio is most successful. You can effortlessly zoom in to admire your Paladin’s left butt cheek in all its armour-clad glory, before sweeping upwards to a distant top-down birds-eye view of the entire battlefield with a casual swipe of a thumbstick. The level of camera control is frankly glorious. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said when it’s the enemy’s turn, as the camera fails to show anything you might want to see, regularly missing enemy attacks to show you a church wall or a bit of tree. It’s bizarre that the camera falls apart so spectacularly, and it certainly hampers a player’s ability to identify threats during the enemy turn.

Enemy AI is similarly… interesting, let’s say. Occasionally concocting some bracing strategies, all too often the foes you face are overcome with complete idiocy. When using area of effect attacks they will often friendly fire three of their own warriors to hit only one of yours. They will also expend action points running pointlessly around, leaving them without an attack when they finally get into position. You’ll also have to contend with far too many game crashes – on PS5, at least. Thankfully the auto-save system is robust, so little player progress is lost.

There’s definitely a lot of patching to be done here, particularly to get the challenge to the level that devoted strategy enthusiasts expect. Which is clearly where Crown Wars is aimed, as it makes little attempt to explain its systems to genre newcomers, expecting the player to figure things out through prior strategy-game experience or trial and error. Definitely not one for those new to the genre.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince is not just a medieval XCOM, it is very much its own thing. A turn-based game offering fast and frenetic strategising, it's hamstrung by weak AI, an inconsistent camera, and too many bugs.
  • Fast and dynamic combat
  • Fantastic camera during player turns
  • Interesting historical analysis from the developers
  • Sometimes dodgy enemy AI
  • Awful camera during enemy turns
  • Frequent crashes

1 Comment

  1. Wasn’t aware of this game but “medieval XCOM” piqued my interest. Sounds like it needs a bit more work though.

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