who has seen the movie Braveheart will recall the amazing
combat scenes: English troops advancing in lines, the
only sound their earth-shaking, relentless marching;
A rag-tag army of Scotsmen, woad-painted and armed with
long-unused weapons, making a last-ditch bid for freedom;
The grim aftermath, as women search the bodies for husbands
and sons who found freedom only in death. In one memorable
scene of a cavalry charge, muscles ripple in the horses
flanks, chunks of sod fly from their hooves, and steam
plumes from their mouths, as the Scottish troops wait
until the last possible moment to brace long spears
against the attack. Yes, Braveheart is my favorite movie.
So, when I heard a game based on it was in development,
I had high hopes. Large-scale historical combat, the
struggles of my ancestors, and the chance to kick some
English arse! But, could anyone make a game that would
do all that?
developer Red Lemon Studios was willing to try. Not
just another piece of movie tie-in fluff, Braveheart
was in development as Tartan Army prior to the acquisition
of the movie license. Offering an ambitious mix of real-time,
large-scale 3D combat and historically-based strategy,
Braveheart is part Scotland sim, part all-out clan warfare
chaos. Its an unusual combination, by turns complex
and remarkably straightforward, as the challenges of
clan management give way to simple kill-or-be-killed
on the battlefield.
reading the manual, I felt a bit intimidated by the
number of commands, tasks, and details to keep straight.
Also, it turns out the manual is often vague, sometimes
contradictory, and discusses several features that didnt
make the game. So, my first stop was the tutorial. I
was greeted by the pleasantly accented voice of Angus
MacFayden (Robert the Bruce in the movie) assuring me
he would explain the basics of town and military management.
The tutorial is a sort of Simon-says (Angus-says?) affair
where you are told to click a certain thing and cant
proceed until you have. This shouldnt be difficult,
but since most buttons have graphics rather than text
labels, it can take a while to hunt down the Military
Screen icon while your advisor patiently repeats himself.
That aside, everything went smoothly until I reached
the trade portion of the tutorial. No matter what I
tried, my caravan refused to budge. I restarted the
tutorial thinking I must have messed up somewhere. Same
problem. About the fourth time through, I realized I
needed to assign my caravan to a destination not visible
on the map without scrolling, which Angus hadnt
bothered to explain. Otherwise, the tutorial is nicely
put together, but not that informative. It does a decent
job of explaining combat and the cameraman
concept in 3D mode, but is a bit sketchy on some details
of town management.
starting a campaign, youll be prompted to select
a difficulty by choosing the number of AI clans and
their disposition. (The number of clans selected doesnt
indicate the total number of clans youll encounter,
just the major powers). Next, the game options screen
lets you choose things like extra resources, additional
territories, and simplified trade, for a harder or easier
game. Moving on, you select one of fifteen playable
clans, with Angus telling you about each one. Clan choice
has a major effect on the game due to each clans
traits, relationships with other clans, and location.
Clan Scott, for example, starts near a large English
territory, and may face conflict right away. Islanders
like Clan MacDonald are protected by the sea, but may
have trouble expanding. Each clan starts with two leaders
whose stats (leadership, combat, stealth, etc.) can
be customized. Many of these leaders, such as Robert
the Bruce, Stephen Feherty (the crazy Irishman), and,
of course, William Wallace, should be familiar from
the movie and/or history,
much was made in previews of Bravehearts large-scale
combat, the real meat of the game lies in its strategic
portion. While the 3D combat is fun and sometimes quite
impressive, its possible to play an entire game
without fighting more than a handful of live
battles, thanks to an auto-resolve option. The strategy
game, however, requires thought and attention, and is
certainly where youll be focusing most of your
time. Bravehearts learning curve can be steep.
It took a good three days before I was comfortable with
the interface and able to play with confidence.
you learn where everything is, the strategic interface
is easy to navigate and keeps Braveheart from suffering
the thousand-window syndrome of many strategy games.
At the bottom of every screen are twelve buttons used
for moving among the various information and management
screens in the game. These are divided into seven clan
screens and five town screens. The clan screens are
mainly informative, offering a quick overview of your
whole clan. The town screens are where actual management
takes place. Whereas the clan screens cover your entire
clan, the town screens apply to individual settlements.
first thing youll see on the General Map is a
map of Scotland with your starting territory and a few
surrounding territories in various colors. The rest
of the map remains blacked-out until you send scouts
to discover new areas. An areas color
indicates its current attitude towards your clan- green
for friendly, orange for hostile, etc. Beside the map
is a box for general information about a selected area..
Left-clicking a settlement shows the goods that town
has for sale, and, if you have a spy present, will display
things like population, number of armies, and wealth.
Ctrl-right-clicking on a town allows you to enter it
in 3D mode and admire your buildings and happy, kilt-clad
citizens. This only works for your own towns unless
you have a handy spy in another clans settlement
to look for raid targets and such. Definitely one of
the most important screens in the game, the General
Map is vital for planning who to attack, ally, or trade
with, keeping track of troop movements, and keeping
abreast of clan relationships.
Settlements screen gives information on all the towns
and villages you are aware of. As your scouts discover
new territories, a list of known clans will appear at
the bottom. Selecting a clan will list all settlements
belonging to that clan. For any town where you have
a spy, or one you have a close political relationship
with, there will be information regarding population,
tax rate, town morale, and related data. From here you
can also enter spy mode for any town where
you have assigned a spy. The general map will then be
displayed with that areas political relationships
shown instead of your own. For example, if you as Clan
Keith are at war with Clan Innes in an adjoining territory,
spy mode might tell you that your neighbor Clan Forbes
is also hostile towards them. So, attacking Innes could
improve your relationship with Forbes and perhaps even
lead to an alliance.
remaining five clan screens arent as vital as
these first two, and need to be consulted only rarely.
The Leaders screen is simply a scrollable display of
all the leaders in your employ, showing stats, wages,
and location- not especially useful unless youre
looking for someone with high stealth to lead a raid,
for example. The Armies screen gives a summary of all
your armies including their number, rank, leader, location,
and current activity. The Production and Stores screen
lets you view the goods your towns are producing and
their quantities. The Trade and Messenger Routes screens
show your currently active trade caravans and messengers
and their activities.
five town screens, as mentioned, apply to specific towns
rather than your whole clan. These screens are where
most of your actual management work is done. The Main
Town screen is an exception to the rule- its purpose
is to provide an at-a-glance overview of a town. Here
you can view worker allocation, construction progress,
goods in your stores, and other general information.
Though you cant perform any management tasks on
this screen, the auto-management feature can be turned
on here. A triangle represents the three major aspects
of town management: military, trade, and people. A dot
within the triangle can be positioned to tell the auto-manager
what priority it should give each aspect.
auto-management feature is one of the first areas of
Braveheart where problems arise. Certainly, humans will
always be better managers than any AI. The manual even
states this and suggests you manage major towns manually,
while putting less important settlements on auto. Actually,
it should have read You may wish to set some of
the towns you care nothing about on auto-management
While auto-managed towns do fine for a while, they tend
to self-destruct eventually. Auto mode rarely, if ever,
assigns tasks to builders and armorers, who need specific
instructions to begin work. Though the management AI
is supposed to decide what weapons to make, it tends
to have your armorers still building low-end spears
and clubs long after they are skilled enough to make
better items. While you can check each settlement occasionally
and assign projects as needed, this can be frustrating
when controlling a large number of towns. The auto-manager
also seems to assign only a minimal number of workers
to a task- enough to keep the townspeople fed and clothed,
but with little surplus. With auto-management on, I
often checked my worker screens only to discover scores
of idle peasants in each town. By far the worst problem
with the auto-management feature is its penchant for
imposing ridiculous tax rates. In keeping with the spirit
of things, Ive decided that all the auto-managers
are secretly working for the English as part of a plot
to tax Scotland out of existence. Taxes in auto-managed
towns are often between twenty and thirty percent, though
Ive seen as high as 43%. With these insane tax
rates, youre guaranteed to see morale drop, inevitably
followed by population as angry citizens leave town.
Workers screen is divided into a number of areas representing
different aspects of production and resource gathering,
along with an area for unassigned workers. On the right,
several buttons bring up graphs predicting how aspects
of production, such as livestock, food, and weapons,
will behave over a period of time. The time scale can
be cycled through one, three, six, or twelve months
in the future.
profession areas let you turn idle peasants into productive
citizens by assigning them to useful tasks. These are
split between land workers, who produce raw materials,
and goods makers, who create useful products from the
raw materials. Land workers are responsible for farming,
forestry, mining, and quarrying, while goods makers
produce food, clothing, weapons, armor, and jewelry.
Builders dont really fit into either category.
Each task can be assigned a limited number of workers,
indicated by blue shading. Clicking or dragging in this
area or assigns workers to that task who are indicated
by tan shading. If you dont have the required
land or resource type needed for a skill, that entire
area will be greyed-out, preventing allocation of workers
to that task. Supposedly, adding workers to a profession
draws first from the idle population, and only then
begins taking workers away from other tasks. However,
in actuality, increasing the number of workers in one
area will draw workers from all other areas proportionally.
profession had a detail box which tells you what the
workers are making and in what quantity, their skill
level, and, in some cases, lets you to make more specific
assignments. A few examples: The Builders detail box
allows you to order the construction barracks, watchtowers,
and later even castles. The Farming box has a slider
bar for balancing production priority between livestock
and grain. A slaughterhouse section where you can butcher
livestock produces an amusing cacophony of barnyard
sounds when the bloody knife button is clicked. In fact,
its hard to resist killing off your herds just
for the fun of hearing those pained moos and baas!
Bakers make farm produce into foods like bread, cheese,
and, of course, haggis, which is made from meat and
grain. (Meat and grain? Well, I guess thats technically
true, but its more delicately than I would have
worker allocation system is certainly unique, and was
probably intended to simplify life by allowing adjustments
to your entire workforce at once. It also seems to have
been designed to deal more in general proportions than
specific numbers. While this may sound good in theory,
in practice its one of the most confusing and
frustrating systems Ive seen to date. It is possible
to place a lock on any profession, preventing unwanted
reallocation of workers by the auto-manager or due to
manual adjustments. However, Ive found I often
have to lock down all but one profession, make adjustments,
then repeat the process for each profession to get the
results I want. The ultra-touchy controls add to the
frustration and make moving specific numbers of workers
quite difficult. If I wish to take fifteen miners, for
example, and return them to the idle worker pool, it
can take a good half-minute of dragging back and forth
to get the right number moved. The Town Trade screen
controls the sending of trade caravans, as well as letting
you designate items for sale. Caravans can be drawn
by horses, oxen, or even peasants, and may be assigned
a guard if raiders are a concern.
trade auto-manager does a much better job than the production
AI and makes dealing with dozens of trade routes much
easier. It does have a tendency to buy goods that arent
really needed, though. Since most of my towns are inland,
I dont bother having my bakers make fish pies,
and am content even if I havent a single fish
in my stores. The trade manager, however, seems to worry
my people arent getting a balanced diet and insists
upon buying fish by the wagon-load . An option to take
items off the auto functions shopping list
would have been nice. Also, while the AI usually does
a fine job and only sells goods you have an excess of,
I would have liked an option to change goods for sale
while still letting the manager handle other aspects
of trade. Whenever I was trying to build a keep, the
auto-manager decided I didnt really need all the
stone Id saved up and sold it, delaying construction
until I could restock.
the Military screen, the manual states: Manipulation
of items on the military screen generally involves picking
things up and dropping them on or in things. Despite
the fact this reads like a sentence intentionally composed
to say absolutely nothing, its actually quite
accurate. Picking up some peasants allows you to form
a new army or add them to an existing army. Armies can
contain up to 150 soldiers arrayed in ten units of up
to fifteen identical troops. Peasants start armed with
pitchforks, and though theyll fight in a pinch,
they arent very good at it and dont gain
experience. To turn them into a real fighting force,
youll need to give them equipment by, you guessed
it, picking up things (weapons, armor, and shields)
and dropping them onto the peasants. Your peasants are
now transformed into spearmen, longbowmen, even cavalry,
and can gain experience from combat. They are also now
ready to be assigned missions.
armies can take only a limited number of actions other
than movement. Guard and garrison duties are similar-
guards defend a town or caravan, while garrisons are
posted in watchtowers, stockades, and keeps. Placing
troops in training takes them out of active service
for an extended period and allows them to gain experience
by practicing their skills.
be effective at most missions, an army needs a leader
to rally around. Unfortunately, though leaders from
other clans will sometimes join you, good leaders are
hard to find. Many have really poor stats, and are not
worth holding onto, especially at seventy or eighty
pounds a month. Combat missions, obviously, send your
army to attack a city or stronghold, with the fight
played out in 3D mode or auto-resolved if you prefer.
Diplomatic missions send an army to present a gift,
demand surrender, offer peace, etc., depending on your
relationship with the clan youre approaching.
Patrols can either spot and intercept troops entering
your own lands, or be sent to ambush trade caravans
in non-owned territory. Finally, covert missions are
night operations where ten or fewer men enter an enemy
city to raid storehouses, rescue prisoners, assassinate
leaders, or destroy goods and structures.
spies, and scouts are also assigned missions from the
Military screen. Messengers function much like diplomats,
but carry less influence and have less chance of success.
In addition to ransoming leaders, asking for loans,
and seeking information, messengers are the only ones
able to propose alliances, (rather than diplomats, as
you might expect). Ive already discussed spies
quite a bit, so here Ill simply warn that spies
remaining in enemy territory too long can be discovered
and killed, while spies found in friendly territory
can worsen clan relations. Finally, scouts travel to
unexplored areas and return with information on new
territories and towns, which are added to your map.
military interface has some nice features, like color-coding
for instant recognition of an armys status. Creating
and equipping armies, assigning missions, interrogating
prisoners- basically all military tasks- are handled
on a single screen, nicely laid out and not nearly as
cluttered as it sounds. There are, however, some rather
clunky aspects to the interface. Left-clicking a soldier
or item picks it up, while click-and-holding will continue
picking up more. A double-click grabs an entire stack.
Thus, picking up a single item is easy, but trying to
pick up two or three often results in an accidental
double-click picking up the whole stack. Trying to pick
up soldiers by click-and-holding is also challenging,
as you tend to zoom right past the number you want.
Its also easy to unintentionally disband armies,
turning your entire force of elite soldiers back into
unarmed peasants without so much as an Are you
sure? Messengers capable of taking orders to an
army in the field would be nice so that diplomats, for
example, wouldnt have to march all the way home
after a mission. Speaking of diplomats and messengers,
many diplomatic functions dont seem to work very
well, meaning its usually easier to just kill
everyone you encounter- not my idea of grand strategy.
large-scale, 3D combat is an great idea, but loses much
due to poor execution. Certainly, it has moments of
brilliance, but overall is disappointing. The idea is
to let players control large forces in a 3D environment
with accurately mapped terrain, weather effects, and
realistic troop formations. This succeeds up to a point,
but doesnt come close to what Id hoped for
or what the developers originally promised. The predicted
maximum of 800 men per battle has been reduced to 150,
with soldiers in excess of this number representing
multiple units. Even with this reduction, the sight
of that many life-sized troops running around
is impressive, at least the first few times. Sieges
are especially exciting, as you move your war machines
into position and assault huge castles. However, standard
face-offs quickly become tedious due to lack of variety
and control problems.
possible to view the battlefield from almost any angle
and a number of different points-of-view by assigning
a soldier as your cameraman. The Battle
camera gives an almost infinitely variable view of the
battlefield, allowing both scrolling and changes in
elevation. The Soldiers view is basically a first-person
look at the field through the eyes of your cameraman.
The Follow camera also gives a first-person perspective,
but from slightly behind and above the cameraman. Finally,
the cameraman can drop the camera at a point on the
ground. Each of these perspectives has its good points,
but it tends to take a great deal of switching camera
modes to move around, especially in hilly or heavily
biggest problem with Bravehearts 3D combat is
the dismal enemy AI, which presents no challenge whatsoever.
In addition to often attacking with too few troops,
the computer doesnt use terrain features, formations,
or strategy to its advantage. Since no army can have
more than 150 members, the computer cant even
overwhelm you with superior numbers. So, basically every
battle consists of the AI troops lining up in a neat
row and waiting for your troops to swarm them. In fact,
you can often decimate a unit completely before the
next one will bother joining in. Since battles can get
so repetitive, its tempting to use the auto-resolve
option, but doing so results in many more casualties
than actually fighting it out.
multiplayer game, which should be featured on Mplayer
soon, promises a bit more of a challenge, allowing up
to four humans to compete with custom armies. All types
of weapons and armor are available, but must be purchased
with a limited number of points. Time of day, weather,
and battleground can also be customized. Also available
from the multiplayer menu is the option to pit your
army against up to 3 AI opponents at once, selected
from a huge number of clans or the English. Unfortunately,
all my attempts to play a TCP/IP game online were unsuccessful.
Numerous attempts resulted in time-outs before the game
was joined, lock-ups, or failure to see the hosted game.
Of the two games we got all the way into, the first
froze completely, requiring a reboot, and the second
crashed to the desktop immediately. Also worth mentioning,
the chat interface is terrible, allowing only short
phrases to be typed, and skipping half the letters unless
you press each one carefully and sometimes repeatedly.
Hopefully any networking issues will be corrected by
the time the game appears on Mplayer.
hard-core strategy games arent always known for
their graphics, Bravehearts interface graphics
are very nice and show a lot of care. Most everything
is visually represented, with even the tiny goods graphics
well-detailed and clear. Soldiers equipped with various
types of weapons each have their own unique graphic
and are easily distinguishable even though they are
less than an inch high. A number of movie clips from
Braveheart are included, (though due to the movie-player
the game uses, I was unable to get sound with them).
Other details like the Celtic knotwork trimming, weapons
pictures, and leader portraits add appeal to a visually
pleasing strategic interface.
the 3D graphics dont stand out nearly as much.
While the terrain is nicely rendered, there isnt
much variety or detail other occasional snow fields
or hills. Though there are A staggering 650,000,000,000
polygons in the landscape alone! there is still
noticeable pixelation up close, especially on the ground.
Satellite data of Scotland was used in creating the
terrain for perfect geographical accuracy. However,
since most players of the game probably havent
memorized the layout of Scotland, this ends up seeming
a little unnecessary. Buildings, both in town view and
on the battlefield, lack detail and tend to be quite
blocky. Soldiers on the battlefield are
hatchet-faced, block-headed, and generally not appealing.
Otherwise they are reasonably well drawn, with kilts,
armor, and weapons all represented. There are even a
number of different hairstyles noticeable on close inspection,
but overall, Bravehearts Scotsmen look pretty
much alike. The graphics in general are passable, and
serve their purpose, but wont win any awards.
Red Lemon had originally planned Braveheart as a 3D
accelerator-only game, but upon hearing from their sales
team that 3D accelerators have yet to fully saturate
the market, they changed their minds and included
a software engine as well. Ironically, the software
engine is, in my experience, so terrible that only those
with accelerators will really be able to enjoy the 3D
portion of the game, anyway.
far as sound goes, theres not much to discuss.
Music consists of a single piece of Celtic-flavored
music, which is lovely, but gets old since its
the only thing you hear. Sound effects for the Workers
screen are nicely done, with hammering sounds for the
armorers, animal sounds for the farming section, etc.
As far as battle sounds, soldiers acknowledge commands
with a belch-like Okay, and say I
cannae! if a targets invalid. (Apparently
thats supposed to be Scottish-sounding, but it
really isnt) During combat, a generic metallic
noise represents weapons clashing, and injured men groan
occasionally. Where are the sounds of marching armies,
thundering hooves, warcries, and lilting Scottish accents?
Your guess is as good as mine.
addition to these issues and the interface problems
Ive covered, Braveheart has its fair share of
bugs. One particularly annoying feature in the release
version started your enemies far across the battlefield,
forcing you to spend literally ten minutes hunting them
down. In the process, it was possible to hit the edge
of the field, causing your entire army to abandon you
and forfeit the battle. While the version 3.22 patch
addresses this and a number of other concerns, there
are still a few creepies lurking in the code. All the
multiplayer issues I mentioned were post-patch, and
Ive had a number of random crashes, though they
are especially common when attacking strongholds- in
fact about every other attempt at a siege results in
the movie was an emotional roller-coaster that had me
crying one minute, cheering the next, and snarling at
Longshanks repeatedly. Braveheart the game is similar.
At times, I hated the silly thing and was kicking myself
for volunteering to review it. (Currently, Im
cursing because this article is around 800 words too
long!) Other times, Id fire up the game to check
a detail and find myself absorbed for the next six hours.
This game can definitely test ones patience, but
when you form your very first alliance, or siege your
first castle, it all seems worth it.
general concept of Braveheart is excellent, and offers
a refreshing new combination of genres and some truly
innovative features. Unfortunately, poor execution in
several areas keeps this from being the game it should
have. Perhaps the game was released just a bit too early.
Or, perhaps, the game simply tried to do too much and
please too many different types of gamers. Making such
a broad game is an admirable ambition, but the result
is a game where no one aspect is quite perfect. Still,
if you can get past the bugs and problems, Braveheart
is definitely worth a look. Alba gu brath!