Crown Wars: The Black Prince – PS5 Review

Tactical RPGs can feel both appealing and impenetrable to me. I love the idea of playing a tabletop general but I’ve never quite had the acumen to fully embrace the genre. Crown Wars: The Black Prince is the latest one to come my way. Artefacts Studio has been prolific over the years but this historical piece at least seems to have a solid foundation.

The story takes place within the 100 Years War and a dethroned King means there’s a power vacuum. It’s a great setup with the many warring factions of France (and the English) vying for control. There are some historical titbits, as you progress. It’s largely text dumps related to your home front but it’s nice to see the setting grounded within place and time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay entirely within reality. There’s some occult meddling going on which results in a more prominent villain. Whilst you’re still largely in a medieval conflict, there’s room for the occasional paranormal activity. I don’t mind it. For the most part, units have a sense of restraint and objectives remain sensible.

How the tale is presented is a little hit and miss. There’s the occasional cutscene which looks fine but it can be lumbered with some voice acting that lacks a confident delivery. It’s not bad enough to be charming so I’m left grimacing more than I should. Aside from that, there’s monologues accompanied by static imagery that does the job well enough between missions. It’s not spectacular by any means. At times it can be boring but the gameplay has a much sharper focus.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince is a difficult, tactical game that might point to an immediate comparison with X-Com: Enemy Unknown. The similarities are there but the setting and execution differs enough to set them apart. Yes, there’s a home base you need to upgrade but there’s less of an emphasis on looming external time pressures. Story missions will mostly remain ready when you are and it does allow for more time to prepare. Resources are your big constraint but there’s a market available to ship supplies in. Stuff like wood, metal and hide are used for weapon, armour and building upgrades so it’s important to keep track of your stocks.

Outside of the metagame, the boots on the ground battles are where the real meat lies. You begin by picking a house and a difficulty. The former influences your starting units and a couple of other goodies. Typically, the choice will give you more of a particular unit so I picked one that would favour my intended style of playing. The level of challenge comes in a traditional easy, normal or hard variety. I opted for cowardice and, as a relative novice to the genre, I wish there was something more granular on offer. The luxury of having no deaths on my conscience was nice but the reduced enemy stats still led me to a tricky time.

Initially, you can form a team of four companions to take on missions. I tended to strike a balance with the group and the starting pool doesn’t allow for focused efforts like a foursome of Beastmasters. Hiring new recruits can make that a possibility but that becomes available after a brief tutorial. The training wheels aren’t on for very long and I don’t think the game does a great job of explaining mechanics to new players. Indeed, it takes a few hours to fully open up.

Battles are turn-based with each team taking their turns. There’s no worrying about initiative so the flow of a battle can be followed easily. The player usually goes first so there’s time to scout the area before blows start trading. The classes on offer include ranged archers, sword-wielding crusaders and potion brewing alchemists. Some units compliment each other well with crossbow units also able to use traps to great effect. Beastmasters come with the added bonus of an animal to bring to the battlefield. The beast is a free unit so it can sometimes feel an obvious choice when trying to even up the numbers.

Units come with their own set of abilities and levelling them up can lead to more being unlocked. Recruits can feel disposable but the lack of a pressing need to rush into battle does allow for you to bolster the ranks before pivotal story missions. Missions themselves can take half an hour or beyond, depending on the objective. There’s a solid variety with escort missions, captures and assassinations offering more than just wiping the opposition out. Autosaving is frequent but the option to manually save also provides an opportunity for a do-over, should things go sideways.

I find that tipping the scales in my favour was more preferable to trying to damage multiple enemies. Of course, firebombs and poison flasks are a great way to stifle more than one opponent. If there’s an obvious point of entry, it can be worth laying that down as they approach. I liked thinking on that level and the player camera does allow for an overhead perspective. Enemies can be hidden by terrain so the free movement helps keep track of where everyone is. This can fail in a couple of mission types. Skirmishes task you with eliminating groups of enemies and I’ve had situations where these can be wide apart. When dealing with limited turns, that travel time can feel vital. Random elements like that can hamper your progress.

The AI can be mildly self-destructive. Each of the different factions will favour different tactics but I found they all had a tendency to instigate friendly fire when using flasks. Pathfinding can also be a little fiddly. Movement will be picked on a path of least resistance but sometimes it’s worth taking the long road to avoid damage en route. On a technical level, I’ve had one crash so far but the more pressing concern is how performance can chug when switching turns. Loading into missions can also take a surprising amount of times.

Whilst I don’t think it’s a good entry point for newcomers, Crown Wars: The Black Prince did offer enough tactically to keep me engaged. The technical issues can be ironed out and I do find the units to be fairly balanced. It’s nice not to be regularly bothered by external time pressures but that does seem to result in an early grind that, in my mind, feels essential to get a foothold in the game.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince
6 Overall
+ Challenging combat.
+ A game I could mostly play at my own pace.
+ Has good mission variety.
+ Autosaves regularly.
- Has some technical issues regarding slowdown and loading times.
- The story isn't great and it's not told very well.
- There's an early-ish grind that can slow the pacing down.
- Not that welcoming for newcomers.
It's not my favourite genre but there is at least something to Crown Wars: The Black Prince. Being able to tackle missions at my own pace was refreshing, although I was still learning from failure. As tough as battles can be, there's a balance to the units and a definite preferred way of playing with strength in numbers being emphasised. The technical hitches are a problem but regular autosaves does mitigate any lost progress. Unfortunately, the pacing can be hammered by an early grind and a game that is not always the best at explaining its systems.

About Mike

Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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