Review: Elven Legacy (PC)
by Ashe Collins on March 30, 2009

01_coverElven Legacy
Developer: 1C: Ino-Co
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: 04/07/09

A turn-based fantasy strategy with the Elven race as the protagonist? Sign me up! I prefer a good turn based game to real-time strategy, mainly because the RTS turns into a click fest and who can micro-manage the best and even with different themes, they all play the same. I like a little bit more strategy in my strategy game. Let’s see how Elven Legacy stacks up.

Story/Modes
Bear in mind, playing this pre-release that I haven’t really gotten a chance to mess with the multi-player in this game yet. There is a hot seat option which was decent, but when do people really like to cluster around a single computer to play a game. The options appear to be decent but I can’t vouch for it’s online ease of use. So I won’t.

You’ve got two single player modes in this. The first one I’ll touch on is Missions. Missions are stand-alone maps with pre-set troops and layouts against a pre-set group of foes. There are three difficulty levels, and trust me, it gets harder as you move up the difficulty level. Each of these missions has its own back story and its own unique map, all set somewhere in time in the Elven Legacy world. You get different sets of Heroes in your armies and can play as the three different races available in these missions, depending on the goals. Missions aren’t necessarily easy, and even on the easy setting mistakes can really mess you up. In Missions, like in the Campaign mode if your main Hero bites the big one the show is over.

The Campaign mode is more or less the story mode and represents the bulk of this game. In between each segment of the campaign you’re put into an Intermission setting where you can pick out new troops and upgrade ones you’ve had live through the encounter. The manual says lost units can be recovered here but unless my version is different from the release of the game, it lies. This might be due to me playing the game on a laptop (more on that later). You gain new troop units as you progress through the campaign, which is basically the formula for any strategy game out there, and you can pick up unique Heroes and Units in the campaign that you can’t buy in the Intermission, so you have to be really careful not to let them die in the game. I had to go back and re-do part of the campaign because I screwed up and lost too many troops including the Dragon I’d picked up.

There are three major sections to the campaign, you start with the Elves, and there’s also the Humans and the Orcs. I actually liked the Elves section better, but Elven Legacy follows the same formula for Elven behavior that I’ve grown tired of seeing, and it’s even worse if anything else here. The Elves are pretentious and obnoxious, almost Nazi-like in their disdain for anything not Elven. At one point your lead Hero decides that the peasants are being too rowdy and orders his troops to show no mercy. Yeah, nice people these Elves. Getting beyond that, the story in the campaign is actually pretty decent and kept me interested for awhile.

Also, while the campaign mostly trucks on the same path you do have a few options throughout. There are several branches where you make a choice which area to trudge through, and I have to say, the game will LIE to you. The easiest path is not always the one they recommend. I went back like a good little reviewer to try the ‘harder’ path and it was a breeze compared to the easy section! For example, I was given the choice of facing Orcs in the mountains (the hard) or going through the Human lands (the easy) and I lost more than half my troops trying to get through the human lands, but when I went through Orc and Goblin territory I lost 1 unit. Yeah. So go the path you want, easier in this game isn’t always better.

Story/Modes Rating: Very Good

02_hero_damageGraphics
This isn’t a high end powerhouse of a game. The terrain in levels, the units and Heroes and cities are nicely detailed. But really this game is kind of sitting back a few years in terms of display. Guild Wars comes to mind. While both are great games visually, Guild Wars came out several years ago. This has that kind of look to it, which makes it seem a bit dated, but no less visually interesting.

The user-interface was well designed and it’s really easy to see your troops and enemies health and other status. You can even pull up a 2D map to see where everyone is positioned. It can get a little confusing where your aerial troops are located, but the camera has a free range of movement, so if one angle is bad you can just rotate it a bit and get a much better representation.

One of the other nice touches I liked in this was the ability to have a large avatar for a unit or to have it break the unit down into its smaller components on the hex it’s on. So instead of seeing one giant archer you instead see a group of 10-15 archers which makes it look a bit more realistic. It’s a nice step-up from the usual 2D turn-based games I play, but there have been some real visual stunners in the last few years and this one just doesn’t measure up in that way.

The animations for the units aren’t bad and are well done in the cut-scenes and the spells and other effects are pretty interesting to look at, especially the Orcish spell of doom that can almost obliterate any unit on the field unless it’s at full health. But again, this isn’t a next-gen looking type of game.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

Sound
Opting for an orchestral musical style is always a big bonus in a fantasy game for me. I don’t mind a hard-rock or heavy metal score, but I like to have an orchestral score to my epic fantasy battles. So that was a plus. Other than the music on the main menu screens and the intermission screens though, that epic score becomes rather mundane and forgettable. It feels like most music scores for these games that I’ve heard over and over again. It’s good, but it’s not going to have me demanding the soundtrack on CD.

There is some voice-acting in the game in the cut-scenes and in brief in-game pop-ups that drive the campaign along. Some of the actors do a great job. Some, make you feel like you’re watching a disaster B-movie of the week on the Sci-Fi channel. Nothing Oscar worthy either way.

Sound Rating: Good

03_goblin_ridersControl and Gameplay
Control in this game is all point and click. You can either select your unit on your Interface or directly click on them on the map or your game view. You then select the Hex you want to move to or you want to attack on or the spell you want to use and then the target. It’s pretty simple to move around to change your move as it just takes a move of the mouse. The only time it requires anything other than the mouse is to hit the shift key when you want to move one of your aerial units over one of your ground units, or to select the aerial unit over your ground units.

Gameplay is also straight-forward, for the most part. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses and each gains experience through play up to level ten. Each unit type has a variety of choices. Heroes are always the power-houses and it’s rare for them to be in any real trouble. You have a variety of Archers, Calvary units, and offensive and defensive units. I liked the elves set-up more as it felt more unique. Elven Calvary consists of trained Deer that they ride into battle. The more advanced units have better armor as well.

While you claim resources in the game, you only really claim the town and get a small amount of gold for taking it. You can’t get new units from them, but you can restock your falling units at a friendly town if you have to gold for it. If you’re not near a town you can also camp for a turn to heal up, but this can leave you open to attack as you can’t move or do anything else with that unit if you do camp out.

You really have to pay attention to where your troops are on the field. Keep your archers in back and your knights or heavy fighters in front. Pretty basic strategy for medieval combat, until you’re dealing with wide open spaces and troops that can move incredible distances. And if your troops take too much damage they can break and run, and sometimes they run the wrong way and end up dead. Also, some troops are extremely gung ho and will just charge in and attack like Leroy Jenkins; they can end up just like Leroy and his gang if you’re not careful.

The only thing that kinda takes this down a bit are a few things that while they don’t kill the control and gameplay score, do take it down a bit. Most of the time you move your troops and you can get a good determination of how your troops will do against the enemy because a pop-up will show up when you hold your mouse over the enemy unit showing your expected damage and what the enemy will take. This doesn’t always show up. Sometimes it is a bit harder to target the aerial units as well, but you can usually more the camera angle around to fix that.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good

04_dragon_and_eagleReplayability
Each individual mission and spot in the campaign has three different difficulty options, and you can change them for each section when you’re playing the campaign, so you can play one hard, the next easy, and the next one medium if you so choose. It’s a nice flexible system, especially if you’re finding you’re getting your butt handed to you and you can just change the difficulty level.

Add in some multi-player, the stand-alone missions, and a rating level in the campaign that unlocks bonus missions, and you’ve got some nice replayability here. Basically the rating level is how fast you complete that part of the campaign. It also lets you know through a countdown at each round whether you’re close to losing your Gold or Silver rating. If you do you get the bronze. This game auto-saves at the end of a lot of your turns as well, so if you totally FUBARed that last turn, you can usually load up a few moves ago and try again rather than restart the whole level from the start.

Replayability Rating: Great

Balance
Let’s talk cost first before actual game balance. $30 for this game is a pretty good deal. For the most part it is a solid turn-based strategy game, with some decent if not next-gen graphics. If they were charging $50 for it I’d be balking and telling people to wait, but I would not feel cheated paying $30 for Elven Legacy.

Now, game balance. With three difficulty settings, you do have some play with this, but it can be unforgiving even on the easiest play setting. With Assassins and other units that can go invisible unless you’re right next to them (yes you can unlock those abilities on your units as well) and the games seeming natural ability to pick your most defenseless unit and gang up on it, there is still some challenge here.

The AI for the most part seems to know what it’s doing, and for a new player that could be daunting. There is a tutorial, but most strategy players won’t need it to dive right in. I did notice it make a few odd tactical decisions on the Easy setting, like their Cavalry running in like they’re going to attack, and then turning around and running off the screen without actually doing anything. With some great terrain options with bonuses and minuses and each unit being vulnerable to some form of attack there is some nice balance here.

Balance Rating: Great

05_human_artilleryOriginality
Stuck up and arrogant Elves? Check. Stupid and slightly amusing Orcs and Goblins? Check. Magnanimous and self-righteous Humans? Check. It just doesn’t feel like they’ve done anything new with the races other than unit types and spells. I really wish the starting playing race in the campaign, the Elves, were a little more likeable. But in that vein the races end up feeling like they do in every other fantasy game out there. Playing so long as elves at the start was a nice change however.

There have been a slew of turn-based strategy games, but I like that you have to put some planning into this one. You can’t capture and generate more units, but have to plan out your attack strategy and there are a variety of missions and terrain types and maps that were well done. This does have a feel of a dozen or so strategy games out there though. While not original, this game does have a few new twists that keeps it fresher than most without being a total ripoff.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable

Addictiveness
This is one of those games that had me playing for long chunks at a time. Like 4 or 5 hours at a pop. Which is fantastic because I tend to get frustrated with games while I’m getting my butt handed to me, and this one had me thinking about other paths I could take to get more surviving units. The other thing with that is I was playing this on my laptop. I don’t really have a desk to play on as my desktop is still dominating my corner desk, so I’m playing on a collapsible table hanging off the edge of my bed crouched over my laptop for 4 or 5 hours a pop. Very few games can get me to play for big chunks at a pop like that. I’m very fickle and when it comes to playing games I tend to be a bit of an ADD freak and jump from one to the next when I’m bored. This was one that I played and played.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor
I’d love to say this is going to have great appeal, but unfortunately it’s not RTS, and it’s not a powerhouse, and the graphics aren’t going to be next-gen enough for most. What it is, is a reasonably priced, decently designed and executed turn-based fantasy strategy game. Despite the fact that I’m recommending it, I’m guessing it’s not going to fly off of shelves, which is kind of a shame as I did enjoy playing this.

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

08_battle_ofthe_giantsMiscellaneous
I usually save this section on PC games for glitches. Being a PC gamer I tend to ignore a few of them in a game, hell even a few crashes to desktop, because it can happen. This game has a number of them though that are some of those undocumented features that I really can’t ignore and is going to frag this game review down a number of pegs.

I only had this crash out to desktop once, but a number of times I had the ground textures load up as random game icons. You can continue playing if it does that but it makes it hard to tell teh differences in terrain and you have to exit out of the game and go back in to clear it up. Then there were the sound glitches in cutscenes where the sound would start before the cutscene would finish loading and whoever was talking sounded worse than Ken from A Fish Called Wanda.

There was also a few game-breaking deals. You’re supposedly going to get your troops back if you lost them in battle. Sure you get your Heroes back, unless it’s the lead Hero and the mission or campaign gives you a game over. But I never once got a unit I’d lost in combat back unless I bought them over again. Now I don’t know if this is a glitch or not but the manual says this is how the game should work, and I’m calling BS on that. This can make the game a LOT harder if you’re constantly having to field new recruits without any levels on them, and the game is very stingy with the gold to buy new recruits.

One other thing, in an age where PC gamers are using both laptops and desktops for gaming, you’d think a company would support their game on a high-end laptop. This isn’t the case. They actually flat-out tell you that laptops aren’t supported. Sorry, this is a BIG minus for me. My newest gaming high-end rig IS a laptop. I know a number of other people that use laptops instead of desktops as they’re a lot more portable. So if you’re planning on getting this for a laptop, buyer beware.

Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average

The Scores
Story: Very Good
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Gaming Rexes are sad! While it sticks to come of the more clichéd aspects of fantasy and the genre, Elven Legacy for the most part is a solid and well put together turn-based strategy game with some decent graphics and a good starting price tag. It’s not next-gen and most mid-range and older systems should have no problem running it. While it has its faults, it is fun, though sadly, I think most people won’t give it a second look.



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