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Legion

Developer: Slitherine Strategies / Paradox Entertainment
Publisher: Strategy First
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Players: 1
Similar To: Caesar
Rating: Teen
Published: 06 :07 : 02
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P2 266, 32MB RAM, SVGA Video Card, 4x CD
Reviewed On: P3 800, 256MB, GeForce 2ti, SB, Win XP Pro

Intro

Slitherine Software decided that trying to be a ruler just isn't fun when you have to worry about taxes, population management, and other formalities like sanitation and roadways. With a simplistic approach towards combat- and diplomacy- intensive gameplay, and mixed with a broad but delicate resource balancing system, Legion manages to strike the right chord for those who aren't into the micromanaging aspects of similar games. While this approach proves to be effective in the end, there are some rough spots along the way.


Gameplay: 7.5/10
I once referred to Legion as Caesar-lite, and that is a description that has managed to stick. Instead of worrying about irrigation, population unrest, and taxation, Legion focuses on the meat and potatoes: military conquest, basic resource management, and town advancement. While each is more involving than I make them sound, they actually represent a broad scope so that instead of having to make six or seven smaller choices, the gamer only has to choose one.

With a no-frills approach, there is no multiplayer and no options to speak of. The player simply chooses a scenario, one of the several sides available, and does what they can with what they are given. There is also the option to change from "historical" to "alternative", where the player gets a little more freedom in how they conquer the scenario. The absence of a strong single-player campaign was awkward and made the game lose a bit of its identity as the emphasis appears to be on Rome, but players may still choose from various other nations. While this is certainly a nice feature, a more substantial mode could have been given so that Rome could have been shown as the prime nation with a solid campaign. Though it can depend on the selected nation, players start off with a certain amount of cities and then begin fine-tuning and balancing building placement and resource management.

Each town has a certain number of available lots on which to place buildings. The question then becomes, does this city go towards resource expansion or military training? Since the land depends on what resource can be taken from that area, it's crucial to make sure that needs for iron, lumber, and food are met so that a larger army can be formed. At the same time, fletchers must be built for archers, stables for cavalry, quartermasters for larger squads, and forts to offer extra squads to town defenses must also be built so the units can be trained. Having a well diversified army is crucial and having the capacity to reach any town in your territory is also important. All of this does no good if there is no population to mind the materials and enlist in the armed services, so other buildings must also be made to ensure that the population constantly increases. There are also other options like bordellos that will allow the hiring of mercenaries, and shrines to allow for better productivity. Since there's a town can only support so many buildings and there are only so many resources to allocate to such expenditures, it becomes crucial as to what takes priority and, believe it or not, this balancing act is a great deal of fun.

Combat is handled in a unique manner. Similar to Kohan, a standing army will take up constant resources, so it's important to maintain the right military balance. As specific buildings are made, new units will become available. Whether it be a stable for cavalry or a warrior's hall to upgrade the infantry, these buildings will need to be balanced with those that produce the much-needed resources. When it's time for combat, a pre-battle screen will appear that will show your squads - up to 10 per army - of various sizes. Depending on knowledge of the area, the enemy army may have a moderate amount of their forces shown, or none at all. At this point, the troops are put into formation. Different troops have different formations, and each has its own distinct strengths and weaknesses; for instance, one formation might make for a strong initial attack, but will break up easily if the initial force is held, while another might be a bit awkward and less efficient in terms of damage, but it will stay together better and hold up longer if the battle drags on. Unit speed can also be set, whether it's for the units to rush, to pause then move, or move then pause, this also plays a role in how efficient the maneuvers are and how well certain units - archers and javelinmen - are used. Units also advance as they win battles and have varying degrees of morale. What's unfortunate is that this approach makes it very rare to see all of the enemy, and more often that not, your soldiers will be flanked or simply outnumbered and without a retreat command or any other form of basic commands to issue once combat starts, you're left watching a slaughter unfold. This is also the case when a perfect opening is made, leaving the lack of an option to tell a squad to focus on another is a major detriment.

Diplomacy is also a major part of the game. It also goes towards one of Legion's biggest faults - the A.I. The computer tends to have a breaking point and once it is reached either in a specific battle or in the overall war, one nation will steamroll anyone in their path. Having solid diplomatic ties merely means a country will not attack you, and sometimes, send soldiers to attack those nearest your cities. It would seem as though even your larger, computer-controlled allies aren't safe from the one nation that goes rabid. Seeing the point when one goes all-out is really a sight to behold. A few towns will pump out army after army, some weak, some extremely powerful, and all will hammer away at a city until there's simply nothing left to defend it. What makes this even worse is that in combat, my soldiers tended to flee for no apparent reason. In one case, I had veteran soldiers who had high morale and numerical superiority. These soldiers stomped over the other army until they regained themselves and weakened two squads, and then, out of nowhere, the other eight squads - all of full health and advancing - turned and ran. When I had started out with a well defended city that was vital to my growth, as it provided much iron and food, was pretty much handed over to the enemy because it just felt as if the computer didn't want to lose, and since I had no more control over my troops, I couldn't even force them to stand their ground.

There were times when I felt so confident that I had a strong foothold on a map and within a matter of a dozen turns, everything went to hell. An aggressor was so strong that it just felt futile to keep fighting and considering there is no difficulty option, I was stuck on the 'die, Ryan, die' mode. Legion definitely has its good points as its simplicity makes it maddingly addictive and the units were all crafted with care as they accurately depict the time period. Also, having massive armies attack each other in large formations is always a beautiful thing to be a part of, but there's just so much more that could have been done. What's given feels like a portion of a game as opposed to the full thing, though it's certainly ambitious with the sheer amount of nations to play from - not to mention it's a blast playing a map with two nations with the direct opposite objectives. There's also plenty to learn as troops have their own distinct characteristics in combat, but that just goes to show that the groundwork is there for something that isn't just extremely fun, but amazing.

Graphics: 6.5/10
While an earlier version of the game used charming sprites to represent the soldiers, the units have undergone an aesthetic change that neither enhanced nor degenerated the quality of the visuals. The soldiers are now a bit taller with some shadow and a bit more detail, and slightly higher quality animations. Units still sport a simple design and the terrain is handled similarly with small hills and various objects placed to spruce things up.

The menu system and world map are presented well with large icons, which is also standard, as there are no options to change resolution or presentation. While seeing hundreds of small soldiers slaughtering each other and fighting over mounds of corpses is undeniably enjoyable, the lack of gloss detracts from the authenticity of the units - a shame, since great pains were obviously taken to ensure that they were accurately depicted. Also, the lack of any options to enhance the visuals really keeps Legion from looking on par with similar titles from Impressions, which takes things down a notch.

Sound: 6.5/10
Though lacking in diversity, the soundtrack does a good job in maintaining the atmosphere of the title. However, there are no specific period pieces, nor are there any tunes for individual cultures, and the selection is limited. Combat sounds are also basic with standard sword slashes, grunts, and random thuds from marching. I would have liked to hear the squad's leaders to scream out commands or to have some strong narrative to explain what must be done per map and people selected. Winning or losing in combat also brings little fanfare as a simple cheer indicates a win; while nothing elaborate needs to be done here, a little more in terms of musical variety would have been nice. It's fortunate that the music that is there complements the game well and manages to stay entertaining throughout all of a budding ruler's trials and tribulations.


Control: 8.5/10
Due to the fact that you only control your troops in a broad sense, navigating their speed and formation is easy to do with a few icons on the per-battle screen. Training troops and selecting which resources and buildings to focus on are easy as well, and the same goes with diplomacy. Since Legion bypasses more intricate maneuvers and affairs, its easily navigable system works quite well. The game never lends itself to such complexity that it ever needs hotkeys or any other form of shortcuts; it's streamlined as-is.

Overall: 7.5/10
The approach taken with Legion is an appreciated one. I had a great deal of fun taking my enemies down with a strong military and solid diplomatic relations, but even though it was a great time, it still could have been so much more. I really felt the simplicity's pinch when I couldn't take advantage of my troops during combat and saw a battle-winning opportunity turn into a loss for my men. The problems with the A.I. and the lack of a strong, story-driven campaign mode were also sore spots. However, regardless of its the faults, Legion has an undeniable charm that has grasped me since the preview version, and its grip is one that I don't think I'll be able to break out of for a very long time. While it may not be for everyone, those who can look past the shortcomings can find a title whose beauty is in its simplicity.

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Related Links: Slitherine Strategies | Strategy First
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