The follow up to Fantasy Wars that improves upon the formula.
Elven Legacy is a turn based strategy game made by Russian 1C Company and published by Paradox Interactive. The game is a follow up to the mildly successful strategy game Fantasy Wars that it hopes to improve upon. The setting is still traditional fantasy with orcs and elves so let's see if this new attempt achieves turn based strategy greatness that eluded its predecessor.
Like any tactical or strategy game a good tutorial is important to quickly and easily familiarize players with how to play the game. The tutorial in Elven Legacy starts off in Russian. We didn't know why since were reviewing an English product here but thankfully the speech is backed up by English text so we assume this is a bug that slipped through during the translation process. Continuing the tutorial will play several videos that are in English and will explain the various game elements. These videos unfortunately cannot be paused and move along at a brisk pace. The switching between English and Russian combined with the fast moving videos makes the tutorial almost more confusing than helpful. Veterans of turn based games will pick things up easily but novice players will be unnecessarily confused.
After the introduction the story begins with you playing as a hero named Sagittel of the pointy eared elves. You have witnessed a human mage casting ancient spells that the elves claim as their own. Since this apparently is a big no no, you pair up with another elven named Gylven and are tasked with hunting this mage down. The games story is told through a mission based campaign. Prior to each mission you see a map of the world and chose which mission to take. At times your path will be linear and other times you will have a choice of which battle to fight or at least the order in which to fight them. Each mission begins with a story narrative and lets you chose your desired difficulty from one of three settings.
After the narrative you are taken to the unit management screen where you can see all the units you have, can purchase new units if you have the funds, upgrade existing units to more powerful ones if you can afford it and a choice is available, equip your heros with items and artifacts you may have found in previous missions and sell old units if you feel they are no longer useful. Once you have made your choices you proceed to the battlefield. At the start of each mission you are tasked with deploying your units on the battlefield around your starting town or camp. Each mission has a preset maximum amount of units that can be deployed at any given time. Players can own more units but they are kept in reserve until a slot opens up should you lose a unit in battle. Once your units are deployed the fight begins.
Each mission map is beautifully rendered in full 3D. Superimposed is a hexadecimal grid where your units are positioned upon and move through. Unlike games like Heroes of Might and Magic there are no grouped armies and all units including heroes are moved independently. Each unit can move a specific distance each turn and/or carry out an attack. Once all your units have been moved and have performed their actions you press the end turn button. It then becomes the enemies turn to move their units and perform their actions. This process repeats until you either complete your objectives and the mission ends or you fail and are forced to restart or reload a save game. Your objectives are listed in your quest log that you can access to remind yourself of what you need to accomplish. On the map will often be a faint arrow pointing to where you need to go for easy reference. The map has a fog of war which hides enemy units from you until you are close enough. This standard feature in most RTS games is optional and can be turned off but the effect whereby you can only see enemies within a certain distance of your units remains so disabling this option just removes the terrain darkening effect.
Units are divided up into several different categories. The first are heros which are the most powerful units at your disposal and should be kept alive at all times else you risk having the mission fail. Melee units such as spearmen are those that fight at point blank range and are subdivided into either offensive or defensive units. Ranged units such as archers are those that can fight either in melee range or can attack from one or more hexes away without risking counter attack. Mounted units such as cavalry are also melee units but play under slightly different rules than the regular melee troops. Air units such as airships and dragons can take up the same hex slot as a friendly unit or can fly overtop enemy units and attack from above. These cannot be attacked by melee units but are vulnerable from ranged troops. There are magic wielding units which can fight either in melee or cast powerful spells to assist friendly troops or hurt your enemies. And if all that wasn't enough choice or variety there are also war machines such as catapults.
Once your units are within striking distance of an enemy unit you can left click on that unit to have them perform their attack. If a unit suffers a significant amount of damage they may flee away from their attacker. This demoralizing effect goes both ways and can be beneficial in assisting to save your units or dislodging an enemy from a well defended place. You can take damaged units and press the rest button to end their turn and restore their health. If a unit takes too much damage their health will go down permanently. Placing the unit close to a friendly town allows you to purchase reinforcements for that unit which restores their health to maximum. The enemy units will also take the opportunity to heal themselves at times so it becomes important to finish them off in a single turn else you risk having your efforts nullified. Speaking of friendly towns, besides your starting town or camp there are often others present on the map that you can capture. These range in size and may have multiple units guarding them. Simply moving your units into the town will claim it as yours, earn you some gold for your efforts and give you the benefits such as the ability to purchase and deploy reinforcements at that spot on the map.
Careful positioning of your units and proper target selection is important in maximizing your offensive and defensive capabilities. For example, attacking a melee unit that has a ranged unit beside it will result in that ranged unit assisting their comrade and dealing additional counter attack damage. All units have an engagement radius around them meaning when you move up to an enemy you cannot move past them until they are defeated with scouts and specially trained units being exempt from this rule. This allows you to block enemy units from attacking weaker units by simply keeping stronger units out front at all times. Terrain also plays a key role in affecting combat. Having your units standing in water greatly lowers their defense while having them stand on hilly terrain will give them a defensive bonus. Units can be trained to take advantage of other terrains such as bonuses when being in a forest.
Partial unit moves are not permanent and pressing the backspace key reverts your unit to their starting position of that turn. This is a welcome feature that allows you to undo mistakes though sometimes for unknown reasons it is not available. Another nice addition is the space bar which is used to complete the combat animation sequence. If you don't care to watch your units duke it out for a few seconds each and every time just hit the spacebar and the results are immediate. When your units defeat other units they will gain experience eventually increasing their level. Once a unit levels up its various stats such as attack and defense automatically increase a predefined amount and you can chose a new perk for that unit such as a new spell, skill or stat modifier. This gives the game a slight RPG feel to it and serves to make units far less disposable. This is especially important given the fact that your units carry over from one mission to another therefore needlessly sacrificing your units will be a detriment both the short and long term.
Completing missions within an allotted number of turns will earn the player a gold victory which can open a bonus mission. If you cannot achieve this timed goal you will have to settle for silver or bronze victories. These simply denote how quickly or efficiently you have managed to complete that mission. Failing to complete a mission within the number of turns needed to achieve bronze status will result in a failure of that mission. What this essentially means is that all missions have a finite number of turns and you cannot sit indefinitely on the battlefield. While this does make the game harder it also forces you to rush through the encounters. Many maps have hidden treasures or units you can unlock, but if you are forced to rush through you may miss some of these.
On normal difficulty achieving gold victory on many maps is nearly impossible unless you skip almost everything besides what is directly in your way. Other maps have so many hostile units that just completing the map within the allotted time is a significant challenge. This is an unfortunate design choice as it encourages moving all your units as one giant blob of death and destruction headed straight for your objective destination instead of fostering an atmosphere of careful planning, positioning and tactics. In one mission we had formed a three pronged attack that progressively advanced and destroyed all the enemy positions. This strategic planning and positioning was a lot of fun until we realized that we didn't have enough turns left to complete the mission. A last ditch desperate charge on the final enemy position resulted in mission failure, not because we were defeated but because we didn't defeat the enemy quickly enough. Back to the beginning of the mission for us. It would have been far more enjoyable if the game let you complete the missions but lose out on bonuses for a timely completion. That said the game is far easier on the easy difficulty setting which all things considered is probably the best choice for everyone.
Beyond the campaign there is the standard multiplayer head to head play and a few standalone missions for some additional encounters. We didn't notice any major technical problems or crashes though on occasion when starting a new level the frame rate would be very low temporarily. Tabbing out of the game and back in would also result in a gray progress bar that would take longer to finish loading than the actual installation of the product so alt tabbers beware. Overall Elven Legacy plays very similarly to Fantasy Wars and to past classic games such as Panzer General albeit with a fantasy setting. It isn't as hard as those two games but its difficulty on even normal settings along with turn limitations serve as a hindrance that will hopefully be addressed. That said fans of turn based strategy games will adore this game as its significant variety of units, well designed maps, tactical choices such as terrain placement and unit advancement all combine into a very enjoyable product.
GameSNAFU Rating: 4 out of 5
Sylvester "Annex" Rozylo