When I was presented with the opportunity to play Tower Five’s Lornsword Winter Chronicle, I was sceptical. I’d never been a fan of strategy titles in any regard and had often considered them too complex, or too slow for my liking. However, I offered the game a momentary chance and decided to watch the trailer – what harm could it do?
Okay, I thought, let’s give it a go – early impressions are that it looks fairly decent.
It would be many hours later when I declared Lornsword a great success: it had won me over, engaged me and thoroughly impressed me. I went into the game not expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised at the production value Tower Five had achieved, given that this is their first outing and they’re by all accounts a miniscule gaming development team. In fact, I’m led to believe that everything was done in house, with Lornsword being published, developed, marketed and distributed entirely by the tiny French team.
Lornsword is quite basically a story-driven action strategy title; it’s not overly complex but isn’t rankled with simplicity either. The player will assume control of a grizzled, gruff and gallant military general, charged with assuming control of a wide variety of battlefields. One of the key aspects that is handled so well in Lornsword is that these battlefields are very well designed and offer a sizeable platter of choice for the player in terms of approach and play style. As the easy-to-follow story progresses, the protagonist will embark on a journey from arid desert, to icy mountains, and from rolling plains, to lush, green landscapes. These environments are pleasing to the eye and open enough that a player can decide how and where they want to go, and what they want to achieve when they get there.
An attribute I found quite pleasing is that Lornsword does attempt to mix the objectives up enough that you don’t feel the game is stagnating. There may be objectives to strategically wipe out individual encampments of enemies, or to effectively defend your base against marauders for a set period of time. It’s an enjoyable mixture and progresses with great gusto. This brings me to another fine point for Lornsword – the curve. As I stated previously, the strategy genre is one I’ve avoided for fear of being overwhelmed by the complexity of lording over an entire battlefield, or army. In Lornsword, this absolutely is not the case, as the game opens with the most basic of requirements, and progresses mission by mission, unlocking more and more as you go. It’s a difficult game, that’s for sure, but it eases you in and allows you to find your feet before you tackle the tougher objectives.
As previously mentioned, Lornsword was developed by a very small team, but that doesn’t seem to have taken anything away from the overall value of the title. The game employs the still-art tactic for cutscenes, but it is voiced – and quite well at that! The art itself is charming and unique, and fits in very nicely with the overall aesthetic of the game. In terms of dialogue, it’s quite basic but gets the job done. The only drawback (and this is most likely a personal one) is that the quality of the written text or subtitling isn’t accurate in places and could definitely have been better formatted.
So, what of the strategy aspects?
Lornsword places you in the thick of it, with a wide array of components at your disposal to sway the tide of battle. I’ve always been a “get stuck in” kind of player, but Lornsword firmly advocates staying out of battle and letting your troops and spawns do the fighting for you. You’re tasked with constructing your battle elements, guard towers, resources and such, and capturing those that are in the hands of the enemy or left abandoned. The player must accurately and effectively manage their food and money or face the consequences of an army that cannot rebuild, or the need to destroy that which you’ve already created.
The combat itself is enjoyable, if a touch “rinse and repeat”. The player can employ a variety of units to do their bidding, from ethereal elemental summons, to stock standard foot soldiers wielding bows or swords. This is where the tactical elements apply, as you’ll need the right tools for the job, so to speak. Should you leave your headquarters relatively undefended so you can install offensive points closer to the enemy camps, or should you have a strong home base and an arduous journey each time you want to fight? These are some of the decisions the player must make. There’s one main downside to the combat and the missions themselves, and that’s a rather weak and unforgiving checkpoint system. If you die in combat, you’ll almost certainly be starting that skirmish from the beginning, regardless of how far you progressed.
Surprisingly, Lornsword has another trick up its sleeve in the form of multiplayer, but more specifically, split-screen multiplayer. It’s an element in games that is rarely seen these days, and it’s something I personally have missed. At the drop of a hat, a second player can enter the fray, fighting hand-in-hand with the initial player, sharing in their resources but having the same abilities to build and command troops. There are certainly times where this would be a bonus, as the later missions can become very strenuous, with multiple points needing to be attacked or defended almost simultaneously.
Overall, I’d say I had a very enjoyable experience with Lornsword Winter Chronicle. In fact, it was potentially an insight into the strategy genre that I sorely needed, as I’m well aware it’s a rich and multi-faceted genre with decades worth of highly-reviewed games. Ultimately, Tower Five have done a fantastic job with Lornsword, and have created a game that is pleasant to look at and a thrill to play. Whether you’re a master tactician or a frontline soldier, you should find something in Lornsword for you. I’ll warn you – the game does have a higher price point than you might be expecting, at £24.99 on Steam as a representative example. Personally, I wouldn’t charge so much for this game, but it does have length and replayability, so you can be the judge.