Average folks aren’t having a great time in Crown Wars: The Black Prince. English Prince Edward has just rocked up and subjugated vast swathes of the French countryside. Banditry is widespread, and there are demon-worshipping cults operating in the shadows.
Taking place in a historically grounded yet playfully twisted version of 1300s France, Crown Wars: The Black Prince is coming to PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC on March 7. In this single-player strategy title, you’ll head up one of four noble families responsible for bringing peace and order to a land beset by bandits, English invaders, and occult horrors.
During a hands-on preview build of Crown Wars, I got to try Artefacts Studio’s upcoming historical outing for myself. While the game has some solid foundations, I felt that the strategy title still required polishing when it comes to presentation.
Old time battles
At first, Crown Wars: The Black Prince seems to share a great deal with the likes of XCOM 2 and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. You are responsible for a squad of do-gooders whom you send out on missions to rid the land of evil. You do this with turn-based battles that take place on a grid. On a given turn, you move and attack with members of your team; then, the enemy has a chance to respond. Rinse and repeat until you achieve the objective or die trying.
Artefacts’ upcoming tactical outing does more than simply ape the XCOM 2 formula, though. Subtle but welcome additions pepper the game’s strategic landscape, making for mechanics that support the game’s gritty historical setting.
Melee opponents make attacks of opportunity, punishing you for leaving close quarters. This immediately means that you’re forced to screen your ranged units, keeping things spicy and placing a welcome emphasis on party formation and positioning that goes beyond merely trying to keep your soldiers in cover.
Weapon types drastically affect your characters’ fighting styles, too. Halberds let you attack multiple targets, while longswords can reliably pierce armor, and axes can be used to reposition enemies. 13 different weapon types can also be mixed and matched across the game’s six classes, offering ample opportunity to tweak your characters. Classes are also customizable, with two separate skill lines, which you can pick from whenever you level up. Even with the limited options on offer in the preview, it was clear that Artefacts is serious about player agency when it comes to building your squad.
Securing your domain
Crown Wars is more than just a squad tactics game. As leader of a noble domain, you’ll have to manage your noble estate while also responding to issues in your territory by dispatching groups of your soldiers.
While I can’t speak for how sophisticated these systems will turn out to be in the long run, I was impressed by how much they reinforced Crown Wars’ novel premise. Like dark fantasy roguelite Darkest Dungeon, there are various facilities that your castle offers. There’s a barracks for unit management, a research lab, and a chapel where your injured characters can recuperate. Though essentially little more than a menu screen. The Gregorian chants that greeted me when I first visited my recovering soldiers helped ground me in the medieval mindset. Artefacts has done a fantastic job of preserving the unsavory religious zealotry of the time, making for an immersive experience.
In an era centuries before mass transit, logistics becomes an issue, too. Your squads have to march out to missions, forcing you to plan ahead as your map slowly becomes populated with more issues that require your attention. Planning these excursions adds another element of decision-making, making for a delightful layer of additional complications.
Your domain is upgradable, too, allowing you to invest in different facilities as you develop your foothold and acquire more resources. Though the true test of these systems will require more than just a cursory preview, it all seems promising at these early stages. While the tactical battles are very much Crown Wars’ centerpiece, there’s plenty on offer here to appeal to fans of broader strategy, too.
A tarnished blade
Unfortunately, the preview build suffered from several glaring issues, which shook my confidence in the title. First off is the voice acting. While most of the dialogue during battles is adequate, if slightly on the bland side, the deliveries during the game’s prologue were comically poor, bordering on the ludicrous. Though charming in a ‘so bad, it’s good’ sort of way; it seems unlikely to me that this is the feeling Artefacts was going for. Should the rest of the campaign have acting this dicey, it could spell trouble.
On top of this, the build’s keybindings were broken to the point where I had to play the entire game using only a mouse. While I should stress that the build I was using absolutely isn’t the final product, it’s concerning that the developers dropped the ball on this essential element.
While the game’s animations are weighty and pleasing for the most part, there aren’t very many of them. What starts as a pleasing execution animation to signify your victory over a bandit becomes a chore to watch on repeated viewings. The user interface (UI) can be clunky at times, too. It’s easy to end your turn having forgotten a unit or two - a problem that could be prevented with a simple warning.
That said, the game’s March 7 release is still a reasonable way away. That means there’s still time for Artefacts to address these problems before the game’s release. What’s more, the foundations of Crown Wars have plenty of promise. The variety of weapons and classes on offer is fertile ground for a rich harvest of compelling strategy and satisfying decision points. Despite its flaws, the refreshing premise and strong strategy elements mean I can’t help but root for Crown Wars: The Black Prince. All that remains now is to see if Artefacts can give the upcoming game the polish it needs ahead of launch day.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.