Mila Jovovich has nothing on this foxy, little representation of St. Jehanne D’Arc. She has the look of Shannon Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she has the voice of Bart Simpson, so it’s sort of a cold splash of water in the face when one does hear her speak which, thankfully, is not often.
Joan of Arc offers one single player campaign. This is surprising since the game’s construction screams out for some sort of multiplayer option. The campaign starts off small and in a strictly third-person action perspective that is somewhat reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors.
Joan and her ever growing circle of companions hack their way to various objectives, accruing new items, weapons and experience points, allowing them to level up within a simple character building system. Survival is the initial order of the day, as Joan halts the English advance on the few, remaining French cities. Joan and the other 'hero’ characters will earn flashy and destructive new combos as they desperately hack through hordes of enemies.
These other heroes are taken from the history books as well: Jean De Metz, the Bastard of Orleans and Etienne de Vignolles (La Hire) to name a few. All bring a different fighting style and personality to the story. La Hire is a tank, the Duke of Alencon is a magician with the halberd and reminds one of a martial arts master, while Joan is the most well-balanced fighter with the strongest leadership trait.
After a few missions, the RTS aspect of the gameplay is presented when it comes time to besiege English-held castles. It is most galling that these RTS portions of the game are rudimentary at best and downright unplayable at worst. Though it is possible to switch at will from a classic RTS, isometric point-and-click view back into third person ass-kicking mode, I found that, unless I needed to assign a target to my siege weapons, I was much better off just continuing on in third person with my heroes and their attached armies.
Joan of Arc allows, and even requires, one to regularly jump between each of the heroes. Many missions will have the various heroes and their supporting troops branch off to complete different objectives. While the AI will handle the other heroes in a battle, the AI-controlled heroes will not accrue nearly the experience that they would with the human player in control of them. In addition, the AI controlled hero does not possess an adequate self-preservation instinct. They will not heal themselves, so the player has to jump to a hero in trouble, heal them, beat off the surrounding hordes and then jump back to another hero.
It is not clear whether this is just the result of poor AI or if it is an artificial and cheap way to try to compel one to control each hero as much as possible. The irony is that the character building system already acts as an incentive to jump between the heroes.
Missions escalate in difficulty and complexity at a nice pace. Presenting a fairly linear approach, the game does a decent job of keeping the repetitive hack and slash gameplay refreshing by adding new enemy units and a good number of boss battles with English generals. The problem is that some of the objectives in any given mission are not presented very well, nor are they very well-constructed.
An example of this is evident in a very early action mission where Joan and Jean De Metz are responsible for repelling and English siege of Orleans. The objectives are specific in that one must counter the English attack, not allow them access to the city and also defeat the two English generals. This was all well and good, and there were a couple of options for completing this mission. Take Joan and Jean outside the gates and engage in melee combat, or take Joan up on the parapets with some explosive arrows; thereby disabling the English siege weapons before they could break down the walls. The problem with the latter option was that the remaining English troops crowded under the archway by the closed portcullis like so many cattle at the slaughterhouse. It was necessary to open the gate so that Joan and Jean could wade in and complete the main objective of defeating the English generals, but in so doing, they had allowed the English into the castle and failed the other objective.
In order to complete most mission objectives, you’ll need some supporting troops. Regular French troops, various levels of infantry, archers and siege weapons, can be assigned to each of the heroes. The number of troops that a hero can lead is directly proportional to that hero’s leadership attribute. However, the AI and pathfinding for the regular troops is downright retarded. Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting for stooge infantry to unclog doorways and gateways so that the hero can get out of an enclosed area.
The only thing more dumbfounding than the AI is the environment itself. Apparently, Joan can lay the smack down on every Anglo-Saxon on the continent, but she can’t jump over a knee-high fence or an ankle-high boulder. One can imagine the trouble that the proliferation of these mundane props cause when one is engaged in melee combat. Add in the ubiquitous, non-translucent trees, and one will spend a lot of time fighting blind as ones hero is hemmed in by a fence, boulder or her own troops while stuck behind a giant oak. Though it is possible to move the camera around, one does not generally have a lot of time to monkey with it when surrounded by English Polemen.
The maps themselves are typical of any RTS game, but they are loaded in portions as one progresses through them. This requires a wait of anywhere from 5-15 seconds. Although this does not sound like a lot of time, repeat several times (or even during a hot and heavy melee battle) and it becomes a significant frustration in very short order.
If ever a game screamed out for another 6 months to a year of additional development, it would be Wars & Warriors: Joan of Arc. With a little more TLC and polish, this game could have really been something. As it is, I would have to relegate it to the vast pile of poorly executed great ideas. It’s a slow time of year for new releases, so if you’re craving a little hack-and-slash, this offering does present some moderately entertaining swordplay, but the lightweight strategy elements aren’t worth the trouble. If you can get past the numerous frustrations, I can honestly say that this game has some intangible appeal, so you could probably wring some fun out of it, but not much.