June 17, 2024
Despairingly trite and a chore to play, Crown Wars: The Black Prince is a throne not worth fighting for. The Finger Guns review:

Crown Wars: The Black Prince is so quintessentially my wheelhouse, it may as well be the wheelhouse. Turn-based combat in a fantasy medieval setting with light base-building? If you could distil me down into a video game essence, this would probably be it. I’d hoped this would be a Game of Thrones seasons 1-4 love affair, instead, I was cursed with seasons 7 and 8.

I’m going to be completely upfront with this review – I disliked almost everything about Crown Wars. From the terrible dialogue that would be an insult to call parody, to the unbearably time-wasting and miserable turn-based mechanics, there’s little to love. I went in hoping for a diamond in the soggy battlefield mud, only to find the diamond was fake.

So join me, if you dare, as we delve into this rusted and busted armour to find out what makes Crown Wars just that irreparable.

Crown of Flaws

Crown Wars: The Black Prince is set in France during the ongoing rampage of the Hundred Years War. You take up the helm of one of the available factions currently scraping by in the conflict. So begins your supposed journey to… win? Survive? Quite honestly, it’s hard to describe much more than this. Crown Wars does a poor job of setting out the lay of the land and an even worse job at forming a cohesive narrative.

Immediately from the tutorial mission, you’ll discover that cutscenes are acted in a fashion even a secondary school drama class would scoff at. Voice acting is universally laughable, to the point you’d probably not be surprised if it was AI pretending to be human. Part of this is obviously the writing itself, which is… not good. Even so, the delivery is more shocking than the electric transformer scene in Crank.

All of which leads to a story that I barely found anything to invest myself into. Events supposedly happen in and out of missions, but you’ll find it difficult to care or even follow. I mostly moved from objective to objective and made up my own story instead, it was better this way. I appreciate that effort will have been put into trying to make this a drama-filled experience, but the drama is weaker than a knock-off soap episode.

If Game of Thrones had been made on a budget of 5p and only had Kit Harrington staring blankly at people, it would likely still have been better. Whether it’s better than seasons 7 or 8 is a debate I don’t even want to contemplate.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince review

The Bore-bonic Plague

So, Crown Wars: The Black Prince’s story is certainly blunt and permanently sheathed, but what of its turn-based combat? Well, not much better, to put it simply. It’s a straightforward XCOM-like setup with half and full cover, action and movement points, with abilities and classes to utilise. You move through maps that are somehow small yet too large, killing everything, capturing someone or escorting a person.

The foundation is sound enough, but as soon as the battles get going and you have to actually interact with it, Crown Wars becomes more stuck than a fully armoured knight in a waterlogged field. The tutorial is horribly unwelcoming for newcomers, owing to how it basically doesn’t tell you how to do anything. Luckily, I’ve played many games like this, so I could muddle through. If you’re not accustomed to the genre though, don’t expect Crown Wars to help you at all.

First impressions are important, and Crown Wars is as welcoming as an axe to the skull. The controls are messy and at times, non-functional. Want to use your mouse to move the camera? It’ll get stuck. Try to use WASD? W activates overwatch for the selected character, despite it being binded to camera movement. Wish to make your knight, you know, face the dude with a big freaking sword, you can awkwardly click 600 times to make the arrow turn up.

Virtually nothing in Crown Wars: The Black Prince functions smoothly or without some aggressively frustrating issue making it as comfortable as a knife in the armpit. Over a few different play sessions, I always dreaded having to try and battle the controls more than anything else. Some of this will likely be patched or improved over time, but it lays down a pretty tattered flag as an initial impression.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince review

Prince of Inertia

Once you fight through the controls, is there a decent set of mechanics to engage with? To an extent, Crown Wars: The Black Prince has the right ingredients. Unique and varied classes with their own skill trees are a treat. Enemy encounters that are challenging and require superior tactical knowledge to overcome? Great. Focus on elevation and strategic placement to emerge victorious? Wonderful.

I bet you know what’s coming though – that’s right, a big, Zweihänder sized but. Ranged classes can’t do enough damage against the damage sponge enemies you face, making them redundant. Encounters are challenging less because of the smart AI, but rather because overwatch is worthless as opponents have so much movement they can always circumvent it.

Missions in Crown Wars: The Black Prince are consistently a slog. What makes it all worse is the constant use of move limits, upon which hitting 0 means restarting from a save or the level altogether. The maps are sometimes filled with massive spaces of nothing, wasting your turns as you search for the last blasted enemy party to fell. Waste too many, you’ll need to restart the level if you haven’t save-scummed.

The abilities and use of environmental weapons like ballistae and trebuchets is a delight. Sadly, it’s impossible to enjoy these aspects of the game without some problem rearing its head and two-footing you like an angry mule. After just five hours, I was already pretty much done with smashing my head against the game’s monotonous wall.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince review

Last Bastion of Hope

Between the fruitlessly laborious incursions into missions, you’ll return to your Domain. Here, you can patch up injured squad members, improve your equipment, develop new items and even hold prisoners for buffs or a ransom. This is one area in Crown Wars that mostly manages to do well, as the domain hosts a variety of interesting systems to develop.

The upgrades for each section of the Domain are relatively bland, almost always just unlocking an extra tier of the aspect that the area deals with. However, researching more powerful equipment or creating stronger formulas of consumables is a nice way to feel a sense of progression. Which you’ll absolutely need, given the Crown Prince’s ever-growing difficulty (and frustration) curve.

Squads must be managed efficiently, as embarking on missions takes time for them to reach and return from. There are side missions you can complete for extra resources to upgrade your units before major battles, meaning you can farm your way to victory. If the core gameplay wasn’t so painful, this would make a really fun gameplay loop.

I think it’s fair to say I certainly didn’t find that fun gameplay loop, making most of this arbitrary for me. However, if you can see past Crown Wars’ many, many flaws, you will find a relatively layered game to sink some time into. I would probably question your sanity, but we all have our quirks.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince review

Turn-based Flopbat

Visually, Crown Wars is fairly basic and relatively uninspired. The maps are traditional medieval-themed villages, towns and small encampments. Some story missions take place in more unique locales, which is nice, but the graphics are nothing to write home about. Animations are often blocky and wooden, though enemy finishers have a gory flair about them which is fun enough.

I suffered a couple of crashes on different missions, while the framerate was prone to shuddering like one of my party taking a serrated arrow to the knee. The user interface can also be cluttered and deciphering what abilities do what when text boxes are overlapping can also be a pain. Again, the presentation and performance are on the whole okay, but it’s marred with niggling problems that permeate through the game.

Which sadly, is the overall trend of the entire game. Part of the issue is that I’ve just come from reviewing a far superior version of this game in King Arthur: Legion IX. There are simply far better, more technically proficient games of this type available to play instead. Crown Wars: The Black Prince needed a longer development cycle and more feedback from players before releasing.

Like the Hundred Years War itself, it drags on for far too long. There’s no real winner in war and that applies far too aptly for Crown Wars too. Playing this title simply isn’t a pleasurable exercise, it’s a slog through the mire and the mud to an ultimately unfulfilling goal.

Marred by dysfunctional controls, tired turn-based combat and an abysmal story, Crown Wars: The Black Prince is a dire knight. There are glimmers of the game that could have been within its broken and fractured armour, but this warrior is wounded beyond repair. There are simply too many other games in this genre that are more deserving of your time, and money.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince is available May 23rd on PC (review platform), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.

Developer: Artefacts Studio
Publisher: Nacon

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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