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Defender of the Crown is a Strategy game set in Medieval England. The player takes control over a young Saxon man (either Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Cedric of Rotherwood, Geoffrey Longsword or Wolfric the Wild) wishing to become the king of England after the previous king (King Richard) was murdered by a Norman traitor, and the crown has been stolen. After being recruited by Robin Hood to fight for the good of the country, the player starts out with only one castle and ten soldiers and must build up his force to take back the crown and avenge the king's death by fighting against several Norman factions.
The main gameplay revolves around a Risk-style board of England in which players defend their territories from the Norman Factions, and partake in ruthless conquest in a bid to take over their territories. Amassing larger bands of troops increases the players chances of success. Many territories contain enemy castles. Upon launching an attack on a castled territory, the player must lay siege to the enemy castle by firing boulders at the castle wall from a catapult. The player can also decide to raid enemy castles for loot, which he can then use to strengthen his forces.
In addition to this primary gameplay, several side-missions exist, including:
- Rescuing captured princesses: The player will occasionally receive a message from a damsel in distress, asking to be rescued from an enemy castle. The player must raid the enemy castle, sword-fighting towards the princess at the top of the castle. Upon the successful rescue of the princess, the player's character will marry the princess. There is a brief scene in which the shadowy figures of the character and the princess are seen seductively approaching each other, and their shadows are seen passionately kissing.
- Jousting matches: Occasionally invitations to rival factions tournaments will be received, in which the character must engage their rivals in mounted jousting battles. The player must line up their lance with the centre of the opponent's shield in order to knock him off the horse. A monetary prize is granted to the winner, which can be used to benefit your military conquest. The hero can also hold his own jousting tournaments from time to time.
Upon successfully completing the game (by defeating all the Norman factions) it is revealed that it was in fact Robin Hood who stole the crown. He did this in order to provide the hero a platform to prove their worthiness to become the new king of England. Robin returns the crown to the hero who is crowned king, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Defender of the Crown was released on many different platforms. The main differences between platforms were the huge graphical differences. The Amiga version boasted the most technically proficient graphics and was heavily praised as one of the best looking games in 1986. The ports to the NES and DOS were the least graphically desirable versions of the game due to the limitations of the hardware.
Some gameplay differences also existed. The original Amiga version was rushed due to financial constraints on the developers, so several planned features (most notably attacking options such as flaming projectiles for the catapults and disease-based attacks) were absent from the final product. These features were included in some of the later ports of the game, including the Atari ST version.
- Defender of the Crown was branded as an "interactive movie" and described by developers as a homage to several classic Hollywood movies, specifically Ivanhoe & Robin Hood.
- Five pages of the game's manual are dedicated to discussing the legend of Robin Hood and his historicity.
- At the time Defender of the Crown was the largest game ever released, taking up 1.5MB. For this reason, the tape version of the Commodore 64 release needed to be edited to remove several pictures, including pictures of Robin Hood at the start of the game.