Page 1 of 2Despite the limitless nature of imagination, many RPGs are based on a clichÃ© high fantasy setting, usually based on medieval Europe. Of those that aren't, most still find their inspiration in an equally familiar science fiction environment. Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, released back in 2003 by Interplay, is one of the few titles that try something different - it is based on an alternate history version of Renaissance Europe.
During the Third Crusade, Richard Lionheart unwittingly tore the fabric of the universe by his executions of prisoners after the Siege of Acre, which released magic and demonic creatures upon the unsuspecting populace. The story picks up four centuries later, with the player taking the role of one of Richard's many (bastard) descendants. He is thus thrust into a world where the Spanish Inquisition fights magic users, the Mongols are actually goblins invaders and Shakespeare is a down on his luck writer, who lost his muse (actually a fairy).
The game starts in a slave pit outside Barcelona, from which the player escapes with the aid of his spirit and the timely arrival of Leonardo da Vinci. Barcelona itself is amidst war preparations, as the Armada prepares to sail against the heathen, magic-using English. Many famous historical figures populate Barcelona, including Faust, Galileo, Guy Fawkes, Cortes and others, while da Vinci and Nostradamus play a more significant part in the storyline. Magic has left its scar on the world, and citizens of Barcelona will look down on the player's character if he displays traits of the Taint. Regardless, the player must join a faction - the Knight Templar, who guard sacred relics, the narrow-minded Inquisition, and the Wielders, a banned, prosecuted sect of magic users, are the available options.
Played from an isometric perspective, gameplay is perhaps most reminiscent of Diablo. Yes, unfortunately, Lionheart is at its core a hack and slash game. While Barcelona is filled with interesting quests, and important choices are ruthlessly thrown on you (something lacking in many RPGs), most other areas have nothing but enemies. The wilderness around Barcelona maintains some semblance of design, but as soon as you pass the first town in France, it's predominately monsters. Of course, there's more depth than Diablo in some aspects - searching for hidden doors and caches is an important element of the game, as well as unlocking of various treasure chests, but Diablo wins with the sheer number of combat skills offered. Unfortunately, that is a key element of the hack and slash experience, and Lionheart just can't compete.
Character development is based on the SPECIAL system, complete with the Skilled/Gifted trait combination we all loved in Fallout. There's a choice of race (pureblood, or one of the three tainted types of humans) plus a mandatory racial trait, but skill tagging and rising costs as you invest points remain. Skills are divided into five categories: one combat, three magic and a thieving category (involving lock picking, sneaking, speaking and finding hidden objects). The magic skills are further divided into four branches, each of which offers five spells. Perks offer a wide range of bonuses, though you will probably run out of meaningful choices by the end of the game.