Oh, Swords and Sandals: it all started off so well. Not only were you a series whose first two titles brought us some gladiator action without frills or superfluous content, but your fourth title somehow made up for the shambles that was Swords and Sandals 3. It is with much regret and sadness, therefore, that I must report on the latest game in a franchise that appears to be coughing and gasping for its few final breaths while developer 3RDsense desperately attempts to revive their ailing creation. On the surface, the latest offering appears to have all the silliness and fun of the first two games, but proceeding beyond the menus makes it obvious that things have changed substantially. Instead of turn-based skirmishes fought on a one-on-one basis, the game involves commanding an entire army to conquer lands and fight grand battles. It’s a little like Hex Empire though with 1/10th the intellect and not actually any good. I’ll elaborate.
Far from the engaging and brutal battles fought between two simplistically-animated and poorly-illustrated (so poor that it was charming) fighters of the first few games, Swords and Sandals: Crusader attempts to take a broader approach by allowing you to command an entire army in an attempt to conquer the lands around you, encountering occupying forces as you go. The home screen in Campaign Mode consists of an overview of the terrain that you must conquer, using the mouse to scout out and invade neighbouring territories and expanding your hold on the region. Clashing with the opposition involves switching to a battle scenario where you and your opponent are stationed on opposite sides of the screen and have to do all the opponent-ey stuff that usually happens in such a situation such as battling to the death and shedding a large amount of blood for the most minor of territorial gains.
The battle scenarios themselves are as raw in terms of aesthetics as the franchise has ever been, and they are controlled in the same manner as well. A banner at the top of the screen contains the action buttons that correspond to your different units that include titles such as the crown guard, silver circle knights, bowmen, an archangel with supernatural powers, and of course the king at the centre of it all. By clicking the button that corresponds to each unit you can make them perform a cautious, normal, or ferocious attack, moving turn by turn until one of the armies has ceased to be. The game goes on in a conquer, battle, repeat manner until nausea at the banality of it all sets in, which is actually very soon after starting.
The game allows you to upgrade your armies’ attributes as you go along in the same manner that you were able to improve your gladiator in previous games. You can improve various features such as the size of your army and special powers in battle like your meteor strike and war drums, each designed to improve your armies’ performance in one way or another. There’s nothing wrong with the upgrade process, it’s just that I struggled to involve myself in the game for long enough to be able to benefit from these improvements.
I desperately wanted to enjoy Swords and Sandals Crusader, but I ended up being bitterly disappointed at it, partially because the format is wildly different to the 1 vs. 1 manner of the previous titles (and nobody likes change), but mainly because there are so many games out there that do this format a hundred times better. Hex Empire is superior to this game and it doesn’t even allow you to fight any actual battles, and games like Forge of Empires offer up a brilliantly detailed real-time strategy game that wipes the floor with the attempt of Swords and Sandals to emulate a grand-battle and territory-snatching scenario. This was a wild disappointment for me, but there are some people that actually like this kind of thing; all the more for them, really, but I just can’t get on that wagon.