Turn-based strategy games frequently involve hexes on a map, factions surrounding and assaulting enemies with overwhelming force, and a healthy dose of base and city capturing. But they require much more to be a completely successful experience. Paradox Interactive and 1C:Ino-Co have tried to place a different spin on the strategy format with Elven Legacy, a strategic fantasy based game packed with elves, orcs, and other magical beings. While the game is quite deep, the challenging difficulty of the game, coupled with some minor balancing issues and some technical issues, makes this a good game that will probably appeal to the hardcore strategy fan only.
The premise behind Elven Legacy is based around the dangers of magic in the lands of Illis. A human sorcerer breaks into an evil citadel and learns a forbidden spell locked away for thousands of years that could potentially destroy the entire world. Even worse, he evades capture and disappears into the wilderness, potentially giving him the ability to teach the dangerous magic to others, thereby further wreaking havoc. The Elves, fearing that such a threat has been unleashed upon the world once again, dispatch two of their greatest heroes to track down the rogue magician before he can wield his powers. However, their quest takes them through lands held by humans, dwarves, orcs, and other creatures, immediately sparking a war that could be just as dangerous as the magic itself.
Initially, you select a mission from the campaign map and, after getting a briefing and selecting from one of three difficulty levels, you deploy your forces into the field. Each map has a specific unit cap, and while you'll be able to field up to that maximum number of soldiers, you can supplement that by summoning extra forces with spells or discovering troops that are loyal to your cause. Each unit has a limited range of movement and one attack that they can perform per turn, and you'll try to move your forces from your initial location to an area indicated on the map to complete your objective. However, this is easier said than done, because you'll have to fight your way through groups of enemies that stand in your way. Of course, your units have different kinds of attacks available to them based on their unit type: archers and mages are ranged units and strike from a distance (approximately two or more hexes away), while melee fighters have to stand next to an enemy unit and fliers attack from above.
Like most strategy games, Elven Legacy takes a number of factors into effect when calculating the success of attacks, such as terrain bonuses. However, it's possible to select different abilities that will enable units to maximize their effectiveness in specific areas, making them even more deadly. For example, some units gain additional defensive bonuses when they're in the forests, while others earn extra attacking power whenever they're inside city walls. Since you'll have the chance to specialize each unit with their own skills, no two units will have to be the same, and you can create truly unique warriors. What's more, most of your base units can also be upgraded into new classes, gaining new abilities while retaining all of the skills of their previous profession.
Obviously, you'll want to keep an eye on your troops to determine when the best time is to upgrade them, but you'll also need to keep an eye on their health to figure out when they need to retreat from the front lines. Each unit (with the exception of heroes) has a set number of soldiers that inevitably take damage from attacks and fending off strikes. Depending on how strong an enemy is, your troops can get injured or even lose members within their platoon. While you can always heal wounded soldiers in the field, the only way to replace fallen soldiers and restore the unit to full strength is to approach a nearby town that you've captured and recruit new soldiers (assuming that you have enough money in your coffers to pay for the additional forces). This is vital, because if your units are killed (excluding heroes, once again), they're lost forever – there's no chance to resurrect these soldiers, so you'll have to be careful to make sure you don't put them in harm's way in a weakened state.
Much of this is simply the basic elements of combat and gameplay, and there's much more depth within the game, which is a large plus when it comes to replayability. In fact, once you manage to complete the Elven campaign, you also have the Human and Orc campaigns awaiting you, which give you a totally different take on the battles raging around Illis. On top of this, players can earn bonus missions as well as magical artifacts for completing missions within the gold victory rating, one of three standards that are assessed to your play based on how quickly you achieve your objectives. If you don't like the way you completed a mission, you can always replay it, start a single mission game or play multiplayer against people via LAN, Internet or Hot Seat play on one computer to build your skills. If you're looking for the multiplayer route, however, you might be more suited to gathering some friends and playing on your own machine, because no one seems to be playing this title online.
However, while the game has a large amount of depth and replayability, it also comes with some significant issues. For one thing, the timed mission structure is way too rigid for strategy titles. If you aren't able to accomplish your objective before the end of the Bronze rating window, you don't move into a section where you no longer are able to earn extra cash, items or other bonuses. Instead, the mission ends in failure, meaning that you're forced to make sure that every move, every attack and every decision you make directs you to your target. This means that you won't necessarily go out of your way to try to explore the map because you've got have to focus so much attention on destroying your enemies. However, since you don't earn cash from fallen enemies (because this is only earned by capturing cities), you can find that the amount of reinforcements that you'll summon for your side can drop precipitously during pitched battles.
Speaking of battles, the balance of forces that you'll face off against is radically skewed in the computer's favor. Not only is it possible to stumble into a group of three or more enemies that are hidden by the fog of war, you'll frequently discover that your troops are at least outnumbered on a map by 2:1 odds. When you're trying to make your way to an objective (that's got a limited amount of rounds before you fail the mission) but you have to wade through hordes of soldiers and hope that your forces are successful in combat to even give you a chance to finish in time, you've got a rather unbalanced title. The worst example that I had was one play session near the end of one campaign, and I spent more than three hours replaying one turn of a mission. Not one mission, mind you -- one turn
. I found myself stuck in a situation where practically every move that I'd make would result in a majority of my army getting destroyed, or key units getting killed, which would force the reset of the entire operation. Needless to say, newcomers and casual players aren't going to be welcome here. Even some hardcore fans will start to get somewhat frustrated after a while, because while the challenge is here, it'll definitely wear on them.
That might be surprising, given the visually accessible nature of the title. Character models animate rather well, and thanks to the ability to quickly zoom in from a top down view to the ground, players can instantly check out details on armor, weapons and other items. It's also a very nice touch to see the camera instinctively zoom in to show certain attacks against enemies, so you don't always have a sense that you're simply watching results pop up from hidden dice rolls. There are also a lot of nice particle effects that you'll notice from some of the spells in the game, and you'll definitely want to crank up your resolution and graphics quality presets as high as possible to take advantage of the textural work and details in the game. While I didn't experience any performance hits by having the visuals turned up, Elven Legacy did tend to crash rather frequently regardless of the settings on the machines I played on. While the start of a few turns are autosaved for players to instantly jump back into the game when it's relaunched, it's rather annoying to constantly have to reload because of some unstable code. You'll also notice that some environmental objects, like trees in forests and structures, tend to pop into view suddenly as you're scrolling the camera near them, which is rather distracting.
The sound within Elven Legacy is okay. The music is exactly what you'd expect from a fantasy title, and the effects of combat sound pretty good. In fact, these are rather strong as you hear arrows strike armor or swords clash in the midst of battle. However, the voice acting isn't nearly so great. The delivery of lines feel stilted or are blandly read, so you're not going to be impressed by the actors in this game. Even worse, many of the lines seem to leap over each other during some moments, making it impossible to understand what's being said. There are even segments during tutorial missions that are held solely within the original Russian. If not for the provided translation, it'd be impossible to understand what the intent of the developers was during these sections.
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