In the year 1149 the King returned from the holy crusade and rewarded six of the bravest knights, who fought in the campaign with him, with land and wealth. Five of them rode to their castles and the sixth one was off to Sherwood Forest. This is naturally Robin of Locksley, better know as Robin Hood.
As you might imagine, the king was killed and the country is in chaos. There is no rightful heir to the throne. The crown itself disappeared. Now the Saxons and Normans are accusing each other of treason and are raising armies to take over the realm. Robin, your old friend, pleads you to do the same and ensure that the new leader will be strong, brave, just, noble, handsome and possibly even literate… in other words – you!
You can assume one of the four characters of the game and you’ll get a random castle (there are five possible starting positions). From then on you need to raise your army, conquer territories and defeat the members of the opposite tribe. So if you’re playing a Saxon knight, you need to defeat all the Norman knights and vice versa in order to become the next sovereign of the kingdom of England.
Needless to say, the more territories you have, the more income you’ll get from them and that in turn means you can raise a bigger, better and stronger army. There are two points you need to know about the army you control. When you recruit, you can only raise the army at the home castle. If you want them to attack, you need to transfer them into the campaign army, which is the mobile one. Besides attacking your army needs to defend the territories you already have, thus you can purchase defensive structures. When two armies meet on a piece of land there is a combat and you can partially control the progress of the fight. You can give orders to your troops, but can not intervene in the fight directly.
This doesn’t mean you don’t get any action going on, though! There are jousting tournaments, where you need to get your opponent off the horse (if you’re good at it, it’s also a good way to gain land from opponents), then there are sieges, where you control the catapult (you can’t attack enemy castles without at least one) and there are sword fights when you’re storming the castles to rescue fair maidens (at least rescue them from the other guy, what happens between you and her after you save her is all up to you).
As you have probably gathered by now, the game is a combination of a strategy and arcade action games, with more emphasis on the strategic part. It’s a great concept that many games afterwards followed (and some became quite legendary in their own right, like Centurion or Supremacy).
The game features 16 colour EGA graphics and some fanfare sounds and it uses either the joystick or the keyboard as the interface device. It runs too fast for the modern machines, which is especially noticeable when jousting or sword-fighting, so you’ll need a tool to slow it down (I strongly recommend the DOS emulator DOSBox). So the game used the full potential of the yesteryears PC and they’ve done it quite well. There is a lot of attention to the detail (just watch the background during the jousting), but without neglecting the gameplay.
Defender of the Crown is definitely one of those games that Cinemaware can be very proud of, and it is very commendable that they decided to release it as freeware, especially when the newer version (it came out in 2002) saw the light of the day. I guess it’s great promotion for the company and they have nothing to be ashamed of with the original, it’s still very enjoyable. You should however try the new game as well – I found it even better.
Review by: Sebatianos