I typically aim for 4 reviews per month, so when I recently hit that mark earlier than usual, I decided to use the extra time to jump into something a bit more expansive that would likely take longer than a week to play through. Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader had been sitting around on my desktop for 8 months, so it seemed like the perfect game for the occasion; a cRPG that user reviews claimed devolves into more of an aRPG later on, I pictured it being something like an Arcanum that eventually turns into more of a Sacred. That didn’t quite end up being the case. Instead, its flaws were apparent from the very beginning and only became worse the further I played. The beginning city that I saw constantly praised? Depressingly bland, it turns out, with a long sewer section on top. To be fair, Lionheart’s cRPG elements didn’t disappear from the game, though its primary focus is definitely on soulless dungeon-crawling instead of reactivity. Add in some terrible design decisions, unclear mechanics, suicidal companions, and terribly uninteresting writing, and you have a recipe for a game best left forgotten.
The story here is uninspired and incoherent
At the beginning of the game, I was totally on board with the premise: Richard is tricked during the crusades into completing a ritual that basically unleashes magic into the world, and his and Saladin’s forces team up against all of the magical evils that flood into the world. By the time your playable character—a descendant of Richard’s distant enough to have no claim on the throne—shows up, the Inquisition is cracking down on magic in their uniquely heavy-handed way, with the Knights Templar still existing and being a slightly less crazy alternative. Magic is forbidden in the starting city of Barcelona and those touched by magic are forced to hide it for fear of being persecuted. There’s an underground group of wizards called Wielders that still exists, but they’ve been driven underground by the fanatics.
And then nothing is done with it. The story is depressingly ordinary, the typical “find the magical MacGuffins to stop some mysterious evil figure from using them for evil” plot that we’ve seen a million times before. There’s some interesting stuff littered between, such as a visit to a town of meat-rejecting Cathars who follow a Daeva (explained to be demons engaged in an endless, stalemated war against the more benevolent Divine Spirits) of lies who’s turned away from that role to pursue a higher form of existence. This part of the game is actually surprisingly enjoyable, and the tension between the Cathars and the groups opposed to such “heretical religions” was communicated incredibly well. There’s also a brief detour into a town sacked by Rock Titans that allows you to engage them diplomatically to learn their history and a little history of the world. It’s never enough, though.
For example, it’s claimed that the Daeva of lies turning away from the conflict caused one of the spirits opposing her to turn evil to balance things out, yet that makes no sense since she didn’t necessarily become good so much as remove herself from the equation entirely. She even outright states that she seeks to transcend concepts like good and evil, so one of the Divine Spirits turning evil isn’t really much of a balance. It’s also stated that the Daevas can die, and you have the opportunity to slay a number of them throughout the game, and yet it’s never explained how that balances out. Then there are the Rock Titans, who give you bits of information about how the world used to be filled with magic in the time of Atlantis before it was sealed away (and apparently forgotten) thanks to a powerful sorcerer who covered the world in a flood. This is never explored again, nor does it factor into anything, and yet it’s front-and-center material that could have instead focused on a more relevant topic in need of fleshing out. For example, who is Ahura Mazda? I looked it up and he appears to be important in Zoroastrianism (which a lot of the Daevas and Divine Spirits have been directly ripped from), but I can’t find a single mention of him in my screenshots of the game despite capturing every line of every piece of dialogue that came up during my playthrough. The only exception to this is at the very end when I boosted my speech skills to see how the ending changes if you talk the final boss down instead of fighting, where my character brought him up randomly. This came out of nowhere, and since I had never heard of this figure that my character was suddenly knowledgeable about, the whole thing fell apart. This is Lionheart’s writing in a nutshell—lots of religious things thrown at the wall, but no effort put into making any of it coherent.
Then there are the characters
Apart from the former Daeva of lies, Lionheart’s characters range from boring and useless to needlessly shoehorned in. The boring and useless characters are everywhere, and they rarely have anything interesting to say (but they’re fond of giving out fetch quests, so yay if you like tedium). The shoehorned-in characters are rarer, but terrible in every way because they’re all historical figures crammed into the game to try and make it interesting. Instead, their presence is just groan-inducing. You have wizard Leonardo Da Vinci. Zombie Joan of Arc. Alien tree Nostradamus. William Shakespeare’s fetch quest. Some historical figures will even accompany you, instantly turning the game into a giant hassle of an escort quest because of how stupid and suicidal your party members are (more on that later). The Assassin’s Creed games are fond of sticking historical figures in the middle of their stories in cringe-inducing ways, but Lionheart is even worse because of the sheer volume of these characters and the magnitude of their superfluity.
The mechanics seem solid enough at first
Everything you’d expect in a cRPG-type game (and aRPG-type game) is here, with the sole exception of pickpocketing. You have items that can be equipped, lots of stats to manage that give you a great deal of flexibility when designing your character, the ability to sneak and lockpick and use speech skills to avoid fights (though only rarely), and lots of loot. You’re mainly dealing with health and magic during combat, with both regenerating at a rate dependent on your stats and capable of being refilled by red and blue orbs either littering the world or dropped by enemies, and everything mostly works the way you’d expect it to in this regard. One of several weird things I discovered, though, was that the game defaults to enemy health bars and names being off when you load a save, so you have to turn them back on by hitting the Tab key every time you decide to play the game or reload to an earlier point. This becomes important later on when harder enemies look identical to weaker enemies. Another strange thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any way of highlighting things that can be interacted with; dropped items can be highlighted with the W key, but that doesn’t work with switches and such in the background, which sometimes turns the game’s labyrinthine dungeon areas into a hassle as you mouse over everything looking for something to use.
The more I played, the more weird design decisions I came across. For example, when lockpicking, you have three chances to pick the lock before it becomes “too complex” to pick. Those three chances are random, though, so if your lockpicking skill is high enough that you can pick the lock, quicksaving before your attempt allows you to quickload over and over again until you succeed. Alternatively, you can keep a few skill points free after a level-up and put one point into your lockpick skill to effectively reset your chances with the lock as necessary.
Then the rules go out the window
I could live with the weirdness of lockpicking or not being able to highlight switches, but that’s just a small taste of the stupidity to come. The first moment where I began to realize how unfair the game wanted to be was when I first faced the Goblin Khan. This is a boss-type character, and he’s basically a really tough goblin who has a room full of helper goblins. Since dealing with groups isn’t feasible early in the game (at least, it wasn’t despite me leveling up my one-handed melee and evasion skills) and the only way to survive is to lure one or two enemies to you at a time, I got the Goblin Khan to follow me into an area where I had two companions waiting. Despite all three of us wailing on him and my character being strong enough to massacre the goblin village just outside his cave, his health regenerated faster than we could damage him and he quickly killed all three of us. Eventually I figured out that his entourage was giving him that health regen (let’s just put aside the stupidity of them restoring his health despite not being part of the fight, or this mechanic never being used again) and tried to go after them while ignoring the Khan, but that got me killed even faster as the entire group bashed my head in.
Knowing what I know now about the game, there are two options here. The first is the one I chose, which is to obtain a special weapon called “The Everlasting,” which does 25 points of damage when used against a goblin even if the weapon doesn’t hit them. You can either buy this for an exorbitant amount, or murder the person who owns it in a frustrating battle that requires luck and savescumming more than skill. Anyway, once you have this, the Goblin Khan and his friends go down remarkably easy. This is clearly the intended solution. The second option is to kill his entourage one at a time, running out of the cave each time and waiting for your health to slowly regenerate before running back in and repeating the process. This is tedious and probably technically cheating since enemies can’t follow you through area transitions, but it’s feasible regardless, and you’ll definitely be doing a lot of that anyway if you want to keep any of your companions alive. Either way, engaging the Goblin Khan in a straight-up fight is practically impossible at that point in the game, and this section is set up to be needlessly frustrating.
Things get even worse from there
A practically immortal boss is annoying, but Lionheart manages to delve even further into cheapness after that. One boss is a Wererat who teleports in helpers to attack you. That’s not even the annoying part, though you should absolutely expect that little trick of magically teleporting enemies to be reused over and over again the further you go (see the embedded video below for a particularly egregious example). No, the annoying thing is that if you kill the boss while one of its helpers is alive, it possesses its body and gets a whole new life bar. You have no way of knowing this. It’s never brought up. You have to figure it out in the middle of a chaotic fight, and if it spawns a new helper right before you score the killing hit, then too bad—do it all again. There’s even a boss who’s literally invincible until you run away, talk to someone about it, get the magical item needed to kill it, and then run back. Naturally, there’s no indication that you need to run away and find some convenient item that makes that boss vulnerable. That’s Lionheart for you.
You can’t use healing potions willy-nilly
Let’s start with the positive of items: you can pause combat and use them at any time. A strength potion, a fire-resistance scroll, healing potions—you can use every item you have at once if you want to. That’s not very smart, though, because you need that stuff for the harder boss fights; I used every healing potion I had in the final boss fight, and that’s even after talking my way out of the penultimate one. You sometimes find one or two potions in chests or hidden in the ground (discovered using the surprisingly helpful find traps/secret doors skill), but you’ll still only have enough to use them sparingly during boss fights and some astoundingly cheap late-game sections. What this means is that you’re often relying on the weak healing spell (if you even have it) and your natural health regeneration between fights, and that means you’re spending a huge portion of the game standing around doing nothing. Lionheart is between 30 and 50 hours long, and if I had to guess, I’d say that between 5 and 10 of those hours are spent standing around.
This game is 3-5 times slower than it should be
After the Cathar town, you find yourself in the crypts, and this is the worst part of the entire game. The beginning of the end, this is the point where you stop coming across friendly towns full of people and quests and everything and almost everyone instead wants to kill you. You go from half-baked area to half-baked area caked with the blood of 2,000 filler enemies as places that should be interesting (such as England and a Persian desert) are instead shown to be mere backgrounds for mobs of enemies to attack you in. The crypts were the worst of this, however, effectively serving as a sprawling second sewer level with multiple levels and tons of enemies. It was here that I became acutely aware of the target window (opened by pressing T); I found that I could consistently hit some enemies, while my attacks would miss 19 times out of 20 on other enemies, and it was only when I started to mess around with this screen (which is never explained in-game except for when you mouse over your chosen setting) that I realized that it allowed me to slow down my attacks to be more accurate or speed them up to be less accurate. Effectively, you have to keep switching between slow attacks for some enemies and fast attacks for others, which is incredibly inconvenient.
Once I finished the crypts and discovered that the rest of the game was comprised of things just attacking you, I was done. I seriously considered giving up the game, but instead decided to use Cheat Engine’s speedhack feature to make the game faster. It was only when I sped the game up to 5 times its normal speed that I realized just how slow the game is at its default pace and how much less irritating it would have been if I had played the entire thing at that speed. I haven’t figured out a way to record videos while using the speedhack, sadly, but suffice it to say that it makes fights much less of a hassle by reducing the amount of waiting around you have to do afterward. The game should be at that speed by default, honestly.
Let’s talk about idiot companions
Early in the game, I saved a young bear who then became my companion. It was a beautiful moment. Then I moved down to attack some goblins and the bear died in the altercation. It was then that I realized that there’s no way to revive your companions. That’s hardly the only limitation, either: you can’t direct your companions to attack certain enemies, you can’t share healing items with them (though there’s a rare potion that heals allies near you), you can’t equip them with better items, and you can’t tell them not to attack every enemy they see. The only things you’re able to do are bring them with you past area transitions, tell them to stand in place (at which point you have to pray no enemies wander nearby, because they’ll follow enemy after enemy straight into the heart of danger), and dismiss them outright. Since they stay put when you dismiss them and you can have them rejoin at will, dismissing them is often the best way to keep them alive. It goes a little like this: you enter an area transition and your allies come with you, but it’s clear. You tell them to hang back, then single-handedly clear out the rest of the place, though you might occasionally lure an enemy to them if it proves too difficult to handle on your own. Then you use a new area transition, and it turns out enemies are there. Your allies run straight at them and are almost immediately on the cusp of death, so you quickly go back to the previous area and dismiss them while their health regenerates. You go back through the area transition to defeat everything on your own, then go back to un-dismiss your companions.
Rinse and repeat a hundred or more times. Now, you may be wondering why I even bothered having companions around if they were such a hassle, and the answer is simple: to have cannon fodder in case the final boss ended up being incredibly difficult. I had 4 companions by the time I reached the end of the game, and all of them indeed distracted the final boss (and his teleporting friends, naturally) long enough for me to bring it down. It was still a pain and required every single potion and scroll I had, so it’s safe to say that my melee-focused character wouldn’t have been able to succeed without them. At least, not without knowing that you can stop the teleporting enemies by turning on the find traps/hidden doors skill mid-battle and disarming some magic thing that’s nearly impossible to see in the indecipherable visual chaos that is combat. That’s something I only know about because I looked up a walkthrough after I finished. I hate this game.
Bugs and miscellaneous stupidity
You’d think that I’d have exhausted the list of things that are wrong with this game by now, but we’re still only scratching the surface. For one, the game crashed on me quite a bit early on. One crash that was reproducible was having my find traps/hidden doors skill on as I exited an area transition and immediately located a hidden treasure in the new area. That only happened in one spot, fortunately, but the other crashes were much more annoying. The worst were the crashes during saving; the first crash during saving didn’t affect the game, but the second time it happened, it actually corrupted my save. There’s an autosave that ensured that I wasn’t sent too far back, but this is still completely unforgivable.
And in the list of things that have no reasonable justification for being a thing, clicking potions fast enough will cause you to use more than one with a single click. This is so indefensibly stupid that it blows my mind. Why would you take potions, of which there are already not enough, and make it possible to waste one or two accidentally by clicking too quickly? I saw all kinds of things like that which have no reason for existing, too. At one point I attacked a goblin, only to watch his friends disappear into thin air. They never came back. Spontaneous combustion? Alien abduction? Stupid bug? It’s impossible to know. Speaking of bugs, there was a part of the game where an NPC spawned outside of the playable area, getting stuck in a chasm in the process. Then there was progression partway through the game, where a NPC told me he’d mark a new spot on my map, but nothing seemed to show up. It took me 30 minutes of wandering before I realized that it had been marked on my map, but the new location was a dull gray symbol that blended in to the squiggly “mountain range” symbols on the map (see screenshots below).
We’re still only getting started with Lionheart’s problems. Some characters have terrible draw distances, which is an incredibly weird thing to encounter in an isometric game that uses sprites. Then there’s the fact that many characters have generic names when you mouse over them, with their actual names only showing up once you engage them in dialogue (so prepare to click on every identical NPC, just in case they’re the one you’re looking for!). Another problem early on in the first sewer section is that it’s not always clear what you can and can’t walk on, and the guy you need to find for a quest is hidden behind a shadowy path that doesn’t look traversable. Then there’s morphological filtering, which needs to be off or else the graphics melt into a blurry mess. Sometimes dialogue boxes get cut off by the screen and parts become nigh-unreadable (see the screenshots at the end for an example of this). The last thing I’m going to mention isn’t the last problem I noticed, but it’s certainly the most universally annoying: you can’t click anything too far away from where your character is. You have to click a spot near your character, so moving around areas you’ve already visited is needlessly annoying because you’re unable to click an area transition and walk there. Instead, you have to click a spot closer to where your character is standing, then scroll the screen and click another spot closer to where they’re standing, and then 4-5 clicks later click the area transition. It’s totally pointless and feels incredibly limiting.
Actually, I lied. Two more things—you can’t overwrite saves for some reason, so you have to make another save with the same name, then go in and delete the first one to accomplish the same effect. Talk about an idiotic oversight. The second thing is the game’s unwillingness to be consistent. Sometimes dialogue boxes freeze combat, but in the crypts, an undead Templar engages you in conversation immediately after an area transition while nearby enemies start killing your companions. If you try to attack them, you exit out of the conversation and make all of your undead Templar allies (if you allied with them like I did) hostile. I didn’t even know there was dialogue here at first, and only figured it out when I reloaded my save to figure out why they were suddenly hostile. Expecting you to not only resist the instinct to defend yourself, but also read through dialogue and answer a character’s questions correctly while being beaten to death is just terrible design.
Lionheart does some things right
As unbelievable as it may be, there are things in this game that are actually designed well. For one, quicksaving and quickloading are easy and can be done at any time. In the middle of an in-engine cutscene? Quicksave! Talking to someone and worried about choosing a certain dialogue option? Make a save! In need of a certain item but worried a chest doesn’t have it? Quicksave before opening it and try again until its randomized contents end up being what you need! And yeah, chests are randomized for the most part, allowing you to savescum to get a better item. Some treasures will always be of a certain type, however. Some chests will always contain nothing but gold, some will always have a scroll, some always carry weapons, and so on. Once you find these, it becomes even easier to find what you need. One interesting thing is that items can have various beneficial effects stacked on top of them, from effects that increase your chance to hit to various types of extra damage. Personally, I found it best to look for a weapon with the “vampirism” effect (which restores your health with each hit), another weapon with the “heartseeking” effect (the ones toward the end of the game had a ~20% chance of doing an extra 41 points of damage, which is huge, especially if you want to get one of the endings that require you to kill someone who’s walking away before they reach a portal), and some armor with the “wound constriction” effect (which restores a small bit of health whenever you take damage). Gauntlets and boots that speed you up and/or increase one of your key stats are also a huge plus.
Another thing the game does right is that dead enemies are dead forever. Cleared a room of baddies? Congratulations—they’re dead forever. Apart from the very end of the game where a small handful of areas are filled with new enemies, you’ll find that dead enemies never come back to life. Even more amusing, the things they drop remain in place. Killed a wolf at the beginning of the game and left its red health-restoring orb behind? Well, 20 hours later you can return and use it to get some health back. That’s pretty cool, and definitely a rare thing in gaming.
After looking online and experimenting a bit on my own, I’m confident that there are three endings, though that’s pretty generous considering it’s really just one ending with tiny dialogue differences. The ending most people will get is to fight the final boss, then watch as he disappears into a portal. I won’t spoil anything, but this ending has a pretty terrible flavor and is a disappointing climax to an already disappointing story. If you have boots of speed (or use a potion of speed), however, you can run up and kill him before he enters. It might be easier with magic. Either way, I recommend saving as soon as the cutscene starts so that you have as many shots at this as you need. The ending you get after that is slightly better and more positive, though only slightly. The last ending is the one you get by boosting your speech skill way up (I had it at around 185; you should be fine if you can get it to around 160 and then equip some armor with the “oration” property that raises your speech skills) and then convincing the final boss not to fight you. This is almost identical to the second ending, with the only difference being the dialogue you get from two of the nearby characters. Better than nothing, I guess.
Dull graphics, repetitive music
Lionheart is a bland-looking game. Black and gray everywhere. The later areas are slightly more visually interesting, but they also manage to be some of the cheapest parts of the game, so you’re unlikely to appreciate them in the middle of all that annoyance. The game is quite a bit better when it comes to the music, though its soundtrack repeats a lot and is a little too understated for its own good. Personally, I got sick of it after awhile despite how well it fit the world. The music also had a weird habit of restarting for no obvious reason as I walked around (mostly toward the beginning of the game), which got to be incredibly grating after awhile.