Most military leaders watch the battle from afar, deploying tactics, judging manoeuvres and assessing the battlefield. The majority are cold but calculated individuals, who see their men as mere cannon fodder in the grand scheme of war that plays out beneath their feet. Many games follow this trend of you controlling the field from behind the ranks. Titles such as Halo Wars or Command and Conquer spring to mind. Lornsword Winter Chronicle aims to break that mould. Instead of being a tactician of war, you are a leader who charges into battle with his comrades through direct control. Lornsword Winter Chronicle opens up the horrors of war in front of your very eyes… which ultimately is its downfall.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle is a personal story. As Corun Lan Ka, you are forced into an ongoing war at the price of leaving your family. Starting off as merely taking orders, you quickly grow in strength as you’re able to control the battlefield to your whim, directly controlling the outcome of each skirmish.
The story of Lornsword Winter Chronicle is told extremely mundanely. Missions begin with a cutscene which can be quite lengthy. Cutscenes are nothing more than a few visual images and voice acting; nothing that makes you invested in this world. Much like a military tactician, it’s cold and detached, unlike Corun, who provides the emotional hook of the story as a man who just wants to be with his family. These are the story beats that shine, but are lost through a sea of exposition and plot-heavy dialogue. Lornsword Winter Chronicle is more interested in its world than its protagonist.
Having such an uneven pace carries across to missions as well. Little to no plot is conveyed once a mission is started, resulting in both not feeling interconnected and built by two separate parties. It’s unfortunate, as Corun is an interesting lead and the world plays second fiddle to the emotional backbone of the story.
Once in a battle, you take direct control of Corun, which is against the normal standards of RTS games. Instead of having a tactical overview of the map, you control Corun to explore the map how you see fit. Though a tactical overview can be used, it doesn’t pause the battle and can waste valuable time in reaching a destination. It’s clear Lornsword Winter Chronicle wants you to feel the real time effect of your actions and the overwhelming nature Corun feels on the battlefield. It’s a bold choice full of interesting concepts, but feels under-cooked in the grand scheme of the idea.
Predominantly, the main objective is to ensure your base is safe. Missions do tend to spring other tasks to progress forward, but it always falls back to ensuring a solid defence on your stronghold. This is done through building defences, gaining soldiers and a solid amount of battlefield management. Lornsword Winter Chronicle is a tough game. It doesn’t shy away from this fact and is made clear a few missions in. If you lose your concentration, battles can quickly venture south and you can lose the fight.
You are given a set amount of coins to purchase defences and barracks to deploy more troops. Additional coins can be scavenged by taking over gold mines, and buildings also require food to operate, so pillaging local farms will reap in further income. Placing these buildings is vital, as a constant onslaught of enemies will attack wave after wave.
Buildings can be upgraded to become stronger and fend off tougher foes. Building management is rarely interesting though. Holding down the Y button will slowly form the frameworks for your building, once placed you then choose what you want to build by standing on a specific tile. Having such a close-up view of the battlefield results in having to rush around, trying to quickly decipher the best possible location for a building while consistently getting attacked. Tactical view is there, but since battles still progress in that view it’s more of a hinderance. It’s also incredibly irritating to have to restart building when attacked, as each attack knocks you out of the animation. This can make heated moments infuriating as you’re losing troops and must quickly build up your defences to retaliate.
This brings us to the troops, which is the most tedious aspect of Lornsword Winter Chronicle. Barracks deploy troops which can be recruited by rushing past and holding the right trigger. Up to a certain amount can only be held at one time which means battles become a boring attrition. An early battle resulted in Corun rushing to the top of the map, deploying them to attack, having them rush back down and repeat. It’s a boring cycle and makes battles feel uninspired and slow. Units die far too quickly with the only real means of victory being from surrounding the enemy base in barracks, hoping your soldiers will automatically attack.
You can use summons which give your units an elemental effect. These are stronger and more efficient, but come in small numbers and take so long to recharge that they don’t affect the ultimate tide of the battle. You can hurry back to your base to reclaim some charge, but this just adds to the tedium of going back and forth.
Your last means of attack is Corun himself, who possesses a sword and can invite himself into skirmishes. You are incredibly underpowered though and have an extremely limited move set; merely flailing your sword around and hoping for the best. There’s no satisfaction to fighting and it all feels extremely clunky. With this, it begs the question of “why is this game placed from his perspective”? The story lacks intrigue and the control of Corun is bland and basic. Lornsword Winter Chronicle feels challenging based on the systems it’s put in place, not due to the battle itself.
However, one thing that Lornsword Winter Chronicle absolutely nails is it’s score. The soundtrack sweeps with such grandeur. A booming orchestra will punctuate the chaotic scenes and invoke a feeling of adventure. It plays like a classic fantasy expedition and, despite how bland the gameplay may be, enhances the experience above the mundane. The Lord of the Rings inspirations in its sound is apparent, but welcomed.
Lornsword Winter Chronicle on Xbox One is a game with ambition and great ideas, but ultimately it’s poorly executed. The management systems are simple, yet irritating to command; the control of Corun is basic; and the story has glimpses of heart, but no emotional thread to hold onto. Lornsword Winter Chronicle attempts some new elements to the genre, but in this case loses the battle.