By Phil Schipper / July 27th, 2015
|Title||Legends of Eisenwald|
|Release Date||July 2nd, 2015|
Medieval Germany, with all its religious and folk superstitions, is the setting for a new tactical RPG called Legends of Eisenwald. With unusual mechanics for its turn-based combat, it promises an experience unlike any other. Is it a good one, though?
The main focus of the game is the battle system. It takes place in a 36-hex area, and character positions matter, but not for the reason you might think. A melee character can only attack the targets that are closest to them, or rather, the ones that take the least movement to get to. For equally distant targets, you can choose, and the fighter can move as far as he wants, but he must attack. Archers and magic users, on the other hand, don’t get to move at all. Archers can shoot anyone on the field, but if the target is more than a couple of spaces away or right next to the archer, the damage is reduced. It sounds like a situation where a lot of characters will get locked in place, and it can be, but characters tend to be defeated quickly enough that openings come up often.
Your party, which consists of up to 12 characters, is made up of your main character, any guests that decide to come along, normal hires, and mercenaries. Normal hires and mercenaries both cost you money, but mercenaries have to be paid again each day, making them much more costly. However, normal hires tend to be a lot weaker, and there’s a strict limit to how many you can have at a time, depending on the number of castles you own on the current map.
Besides guests, most characters have an upgrade tree. Your hero can gain a new skill each level, while other characters get to upgrade their class. Depending on the basic class, there might be a total of 2 or 3 branches. One branch is usually a better version of the previous classes, while the others might be a drastic shift in their focus and abilities. For example, a healer can go on to become a high priestess, or trade her healing for the hexes of the witch class. Sadly, although you can fully upgrade normal characters in a few dozen battles, you’ll have to start the process over pretty often, with the exception of your hero of course. If they don’t die permanently (from being knocked out too many times without proper healing), they’ll usually go in the party purges that come up as part of the story at the end of nearly every chapter.
As you are building up your group, you’ll also be roaming around the large map that makes up the chapter. On that map, there are usually a couple of main objectives that you need to complete, and there might be dozens of little side quests to discover. A main objective might be something like uniting the factions of an area against their common enemy, and in order to do this they will invariably ask you to kill their rivals. This means that in an area with four factions, you’ll have to defeat two of them, and the others will be so happy about it that they’ll join your cause. It’s not the only possible objective, but it comes up so often throughout the game that you’ll get used to doing it.
Pretty much everything in the game has at least two possible solutions. Besides the recurring trope above, there are a lot of small missions or side quests that involve being sent to search for someone who has been kidnapped or gone missing. When you find them, you’ll realize that they actually ran away on purpose, and don’t want to go back. You’ll then get the choice to turn them in or set them free, and get slightly different rewards as a result. As the choices get more and more complicated, you’ll realize that often it’s a choice between doing the right thing and actually being able to continue on your quest. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but essentially, you are trying to both reclaim your homeland and get revenge for your family, and you slowly realize that you can only have one or the other.
Unfortunately, these tough decisions are mixed in with hundreds of lines of banter, ghost stories and legends that, while well written and interesting, are basically unrelated to the story. Most of these things are just rumors floating around towns and taverns, but since you often need to listen to rumors to figure out where to go next, it’s really unavoidable that you’ll have to go through all of it. Plus, sometimes even when you have all of that information and the waymarker on the map, it’s still incredibly difficult to find the exact spot to trigger a quest event. The only way of completing these events is to search the discussion boards for the game on Steam, where the developers are answering these questions while defending against the flood of confused and disgruntled players.
The graphics of the game are pretty decent. Much of the map terrain appears to be made with Unity standard assets, but as they’re so small and spread across such varied terrain, it’s probably only my eye that would ever notice that. The character visuals sort of remind me of the Civilization series, in a way. My only complaint, graphically, is that many important characters use the generic class models. As for sound, well… there’s decent music, but that’s it. I didn’t even notice until I saw a complaint about it, but the game has absolutely no sound effects or voices, and it makes battles just a little strange.
There’s one more thing that annoyed me when I started the game: the tutorials. They show you the controls and what is what on each screen, yes, but none of them are actually about how to play the game. There is an area that has you build an army and equip them, but when it comes to the battle mechanics, much of it is so arcane that I spent a couple of extra hours just watching videos on why things do the things that they do. I didn’t know things like why the same spell had a different cost against different targets, or how to get my unit to actually ride his horse.
Overall, I can only describe Legends of Eisenwald as a game with amazing theory behind it and woefully inadequate execution. Though I’m not the only one to complain about some of these issues, the resulting conversations lead me to believe that they won’t be fixed any time soon. It’s a shame, but after a frustrating 70 hours to get to the end of its (admittedly quite good) storyline, I can only call this a game that could have been good… but it isn’t, really.
Still, I know there are those who do believe some of the things I hated are a blessing–they really, really enjoy the challenge of it all. If that’s you, maybe you still want to get it for $29.99.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
aterdux entertainmentlegends of eisenwaldPCRPGstrategy