Tuck your pointy ears in your cap, dig in and sharpen those arrows, it’s time to gear up in a rich turn-based strategy experience on the PC, but can you last to party with the elves or will you get crushed like an orc? Paradox and 1C have created a new Strategy game entry called Elven Legacy. The best way to illustrate how the game plays out is to take a hex-map Panzer game and plug in Elves for the Panzers, or for the console gamers that may be reading this, think Fire Emblem with hex squares. Don’t be deceived, the game is not as simple as that sounds, it attempts to bring a steep level of complexity and unique setting to the realm of turn-based strategy games, but does it succeed or should it be cast into the Elven Abyss?
Gameplay and Story
Elven Legacy takes place in the land of Illis, when a human mage has upset the balance by stealing a forbidden spell in a quest for power. As Legolas and the Elven Council learned in LOTR, don’t give humans too much power, it goes to their heads. Sound familiar? If it does, you are not alone – EL’s story falls into the generic path as you lead Gylven and Lord Sagittel in their quest to vanquish monsters from the land, restore the balance of power and punish the evil human mage (oh those wacky humans!). As you progress through Illis you unlock many new characters and cross paths with new races and even try to play the diplomat, as your actions in occupied territories are not always welcome. The gameplay battles unveil one mission at a time as you control your forces on a hex map, using turn based moves and combat. Different unit types have different uses and advantages, such as ranged or melee attacks and map features play a key role in offensive and defensive bonuses to your troops. Hero units pack a much bigger punch, but all units gain experience and allow you to add new abilities, spells and attacks if you can keep them alive long enough to level up. Keeping them alive is no small feat as the enemy AI is quick to capitalize on any mistakes you make or troops you leave out in the open. In addition to the tough AI, a strange design choice amps up the difficulty of the game—each mission only affords you a certain number of turns to complete the mission in, or you risk an automatic failure. It’s a shame that this choice was made and was not given an option to turn off because each battlefield is lush with exploration options and side quests for you to discover, as well as areas to loot and gain money to purchase reinforcements. Imagine attending a huge, gourmet, all you can eat buffet and being told that you may only take three trips to the table, carrying back only one plate each time. This element forces the player to make many rushed, and often poor path-finding choices during the game. Bum rush the goal point at the end of the map, and watch in horror as you get flanked from multiple sides by enemies you would have flushed out if you moved more carefully through the map. Additionally frustrating is the option of fleeing a few hex squares away to allow your units to rest and heal, avoiding slaughter. In itself, that would be a blessing and not a curse, if it wasn’t for the turn counter continuing as you attempt to protect your units by finding a safe place to rest and heal. As I said though, taking time and planning moves will only get you so far as those limited turns tick away. It just seems that no matter what your play style and choice of tactics, Elven Legacy continues to punish you and rub your nose in it, like a puppy getting whacked with a rolled up newspaper for messing on the carpet. The battles and gameplay carry an epic feel throughout, but the monkey on your back of limited turns keeps fracturing the immersion of the beautifully detailed maps as well as leading to a multitude of restarts that slow the game’s pace to a crawl. Each mission can be finished with Gold, Silver or Bronze standing depending on how many turns you take to accomplish your goal, and carry bonuses and rewards that can be carried over. Also available are different endings, depending on key choices you make throughout the game, adding to the replay value if you can stomach dealing with the turn counter again.
Graphics and Sound
The engine used in Elven Legacy is bright, vibrant and meticulously detailed with character animations. You have complete control over the camera, and you can zoom close in or far away as you take your turns and attack your foes. Unit animations are amazing at a fully zoomed in level, similar to those in the Total War series, where zooming out replaces you platoon with a single over-sized character. It’s an absolute joy to zoom in and watch your troops dispatch their foes, or capture the magical attacks of Gylven and Lord Sagittel in close, visceral detail. In another odd choice, the audio of the characters has been recorded in Russian with English subtitles, and I have to say I am amazed at how well it adds to the game’s allure. Being someone who is not fluent in Russian, this dynamic gives the illusion that your characters are, in fact, communicating in a native tongue of their fantasy land, and unlike the choice of limited turns, this choice works surprisingly well. Other audio effects of spells, swift moving arrows and sword clashes sound fantastic. Orchestral scores lend a hand to the epic feel and nature of the battles in the game, complementing current events in the game, picking up during intense sequences and laying low between fights. It’s definitely in this area that Elven Legacy shines.
Multiplayer is an awesome feature of Elven Legacy, although you may be hard-pressed to find competitors online. Gone are the limited turn restrictions of the campaign, and all that remains is the delectable audio/visual dance of elves locked in combat. Hot-seat or LAN games may be the better option if you are having trouble scaring up competition online, and the experience is satisfying enough to elicit a smile from one pointed, elven ear to the other. Options abound with four player support across seventeen maps, making it a real shame that this game hasn’t fostered more of an online community.
Elven Legacy is a great game, with few flaws, the biggest of which is cornering the gamer with limited turns in the campaign. This design choice takes what could be an amazing strategy game that is more accessible to the dwindling, general PC audience and instead launches it pointy-ears first into the stratosphere of hardcore strategy games. Again, this is not a bad thing, but it is a shame to narrow the audience and limit the player in such a way that I would even say detracts from the awesome experience the game has to offer. If you can get past that, there is an amazing game abounding with combat depth and strategy, plenty of unlockables and side-quests for replayability, and a fantastic multiplayer component in a genre with ever few releases.