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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.