Gamers love XCOM. After the series’ own resurgence in the 2010s, the genre has exploded. Even Super Mario and his Rabbid pals have gotten in on the action. Twice. And while there’s plenty to choose from, few have proven quite as compelling as Crown Wars: The Black Prince.

Developed by Artefacts Studio, the minds behind Garfield Kart, Crown Wars: The Black Prince is so similar to XCOM in its delivery that it makes titles such as Gears Tactics look like a completely different genre. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Especially when it’s delivered as comprehensively as it is here.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince screenshot

The gameplay works out on two fronts: the battlefield and castle management. The first will be very familiar to anyone who’s ever played skirmish turn-based strategy games of the XCOM persuasion. You have a variety of troop types to take into battle, each of which can perform differently. Maybe they can move more squares on map grid. Maybe they can attack at range. Or multiple enemies at once. Or heal companions, and so on. The variety of abilities is simple fantastic, but they’re slowly fed to the player to allow you to actually learn about each one before moving onto the next. The key success being in carefully using these various troop types and abilities to maximise your efficiency for any given objective.

While the turn-to-turn gameplay is largely the same whatever the objective, the overarching win conditions will vary. You could just kill all the enemies as expected, but some missions will simply has a key target to assassinate, for example. Some missions will see reinforcements called in. Others will demand you successful reach an extraction point.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince screenshot

Successfully completing a mission will see your troops individually gain XP, in turn able to learn new abilities. This is organised via your barracks with your castle; part of the second element of Crown Wars: The Black Prince‘s gameplay loop. Managing your army and researching new armour, equipment and so on not only costs resources, but also takes in-game time. Once you’ve selected your tasks, you can head to the map screen and look for a mission to embark upon, then pass time until your selected squad reaches said mission. All the while anything you’ve set to task within your castle will be progressing.

The game soon becomes a balancing act of completing missions to gain resources, then spending those resources to enable you to win harder missions. A few missions in and you’ll be navigating between multiple tasks. Levelling-up, healing casualties, researching new technologies and upgrading your castle after almost every fight. And of course, there’s a permadeath mode for the brave amongst us.

Despite the comprehensive and addictive nature of the gameplay loop, there are some questionable choices. For example, the game features a fantastically colourful and cartoonish art style, but is let down by the wholly unnecessary gushing of blood. Crimson spurts from wounds on near-every impact, in a wildly over-the-top manner. The tone of this violence simply isn’t in-keeping with the art style, regardless of how or where damage is caused. This can be turned off however, and we certainly advise you to do so.

Crown Wars: The Black Prince screenshot

Odd visual choices aside, Crown Wars: The Black Prince is a hugely compelling game. It’ll start off pretty slow, but it needs to in order to reveal its full depth. Adding in new rules and opportunities with carefully crafted pacing, rather than throwing everything at the player all at once. There have been few XCOM-alikes that have managed to deliver an experience so close to the original yet also managed to retain its own style. There’s not much on show in terms of innovation within the game, but adding more layers of what already existed will be enough to convince genre fans its worth their time. It’s a game that does exactly what it set out to do, and delivers on expectation in spades.

Categories: Games