Crusader Slot: Overview
Crusader is a serious minded slot which focuses on the final effort of the Crusaders under Edward I to hold Acre against the Mamluks in 1291. Pretty niche, and who were the Mamluks? Apparently they were a group that ruled Egypt in Syria from the 13th to the 16th century until the Ottomans arrived to do them in. So no, Crusader is not a traipse across Europe to the Holy land, collecting coins along the way.
Crusader is a slot that borrows elements from previous ELK Studios releases such as expanding reels and the historical theme, but on the whole it's a fairly unique game with a rather original theme although it has been done before by Blueprint Gaming in Valletta Megaways. The Crusades often failed to live up to their romantic connotations. Instead, a soldiers life often alternated between periods of starvation and being slapped around by the heathens, while struggling to survive in diseased ridden cesspits. Sound like a nice place to spin for wins? Let’s do it.
Spoiler alert, the Crusaders failed to hold onto to Acre against the opposing army. This battle was a turning point for the whole Crusade ventures that continued for a while, but with ever diminishing results. It’s dismal theme, and the spirit has been captured by ELK in Crusader's background, depicting a fortress on a hill at night with sombre red and dark tones. On the whole, the graphics are decent, but not ELK’s finest work.
Let's get on to the technical side of things. The grid starts out with 5 reels, 4 rows, and 26 paylines, but this can be extended during the bonus round that we will look at in a moment. For now, bets need to be settled, and players can set conventional stakes of 20 p/c to £/€100 per spin, or activate one of the four betting strategies pre-programmed by ELK.
Heading over to the paytable which is crawling with gold-encrusted, religiously tinged symbols of the Crusades. Well, barring the low pays that are your standard Q-A royals that do have a knight-ish font to them. The high pays are made up of three different cross symbols, a dagger, a box, and a chalice/grail as the most valuable at 10 times the stake for five of a kind. All pay symbols can land stacked as can the wilds which substitute for any other pay symbol.
As always, ELK are generously transparent with their numbers which is always highly appreciate by us. Key facts and stats driving the game include a math model with fairly high volatility ELK has rated as 8/10. This is tempered somewhat by an official hit rate of 21.2%, though this figure seems a little generous compared to what turned up during testing. One positive note is a solid RTP of 96.1% evening things out somewhat in the long run.
Crusader Slot: Features
Crusader's features are quite simple and all involve the Crusader symbol in some way. The first thing to know about the Crusader symbol is that it is wild and can substitute for any other regular pay symbol. It appears only on the 1st and 5th reel and lands either fully or partially in view. If partially in view, it triggers a Respin for each position it is nudged up or down until coming into full view. If two Crusaders cover both reels simultaneously, they trigger the bonus game and 8 free spins.
In Free Spins, the wild Crusaders on the outside reels remained locked in position for the duration of the feature. Also, a new symbol, an arrow enters the game, called the Expansion Symbol. Whenever this symbol lands, it adds one free spin, and also expands the reels by adding one extra row. The grid maxes out at 12 rows high, increasing win ways in the process up to 98 at the most.
Crusader Slot: Verdict
Stock provisions, because Crusader can require a siege mentality. Waves of dead spins and small wins pound against the walls before much action from the features kicks in. When they finally do, they can be surprisingly useful, although the nudging wilds generally aren't game-changers. They are there more to keep bankrolls somewhat buoyant and help with player engagement while waiting for the main event to drop. The Crusader wild tends to turn up on the 5th reel a lot too, making it harder to land winners than from the first reel as you'd imagine.
Land both Crusaders symbols though and things do get interesting. How often this happens has been omitted from the official game sheet unfortunately - something ELK used handily to list and which is a deviation from their transparency. The game's full potential gets a chance to be unleashed during the bonus game, with single spin wins of up to 980 times your stake possible with full grids of the chalice symbol.
With both 1st and 5th reels locked wild, a good number of wins can pile up. And yet, while the bonus round can be fun, the expanding reels feature was more exciting and effective in some of ELK’s previous slots. The overall potential is a let-down too, with a top prize capped at 2,500 times your the stake. This is the same amount as Ecuador Gold, another slot with expanding reels, and likely the least desirable one in the Gold series, so that tells you something.
In the end, the Crusaders lost Acre and eventually ended up stumbling back to Europe. The same goes for Crusader the slot. It puts up a valiant fight at times, but would have been a lot more interesting if ELK had armed it more heavily. Tuning the features, or adding something extra, or easing back on the capped potential would have helped. Once you’ve landed the bonus round and seen what it can do, it's easy to wave the white flag and turn tail.
ELK dust off the expanding reels feature for Crusader, which would have been a lot more effective if not handicapped by the limited potential.