It’s been a long time since I’ve played a really in-depth turn based strategy [TBS] game. In fact, a lot of the TBS titles have disappeared from the market, pushed out by the tank rush of real-time strategy games that flow forward like Niagara Falls at times. Sure, we will always have the Civilization series, but not too many others make the top sellers list anymore or even get into stores at all.
So it was with great joy, and a little apprehension, that I decided to give Elven Legacy a try. And I’m so glad that I did. Turn based games are so much more strategic than real-time ones, which for the most part are more tactical in nature. In a turn based game you are looking at the overall picture and mapping out a course of action. In a real time game, you have some of that, but mostly are reacting to battlefield conditions.
When I first started playing I was happy to find a pretty interesting plot as well, which never hurts any game. Basically the elves are down on their luck. They still have a nation, but their power and influence has been drastically curtailed. They are even walled off from the rest of the world in certain places, due to an undead plague that the human race is rightfully afraid of. As you adventure you will be rebuilding the Elven nation, though you don’t start out with that as your goal. You sort of get sucked into the worldwide scene slowly, which only enhances the plot.
The game is played a lot like other TBS titles with an overview map that contains units like archers or barrage balloons that sit on a hex grid. There are also terrain features like towns or woods that take up an entire hex and can greatly influence the combat depending on if you are defending or attacking from or into them.
Each unit icon can represent a single person in some cases and an entire squad in others. Whenever a unit goes into battle, you will zoom in and be able to witness the entire combat. Here is where you will see single unit icons break into full squads. If you have any special abilities, you will be given a chance to use them here. Although the combat is depicted in real time, it’s really just a visual enhancement to the turn based engine. So you will never feel rushed.
When zoomed in, the game is even more beautiful than on the top down map, and the overview map looks amazing. But zoomed in, you will see individual archers in a squad drawing their bows and firing for example. It’s not always a clean volley as some of the men are sometimes a little slow, while others are quick on the trigger. This was very realistic. Then you will see the arrows streaking through the air and landing on their targets with the appropriate blood splatter.
In a melee squad attack, say of spearmen, you will see them rush forward and charge a rival squad and engage in combat, or in the case of a single large opponent like a troll, surround it and poke at it from all sides. Watching the combats is really amazing and gives visual junkies a great fix. It also serves to keep the excitement high, even though the pace is somewhat slowed being a TBS title.
There are also hero units which are like uber-powerful beings that have special abilities such as casting spells or letting loose a particularly devastating attack. These are limited in number for each scenario, so they have to be used sparingly, but the heroes are normally pretty good in straight combat too. Just don’t get them killed because they are not invincible.
In terms of difficulty, I ranked the game as Hard, which I think is what most strategy players are looking for, but I thought I would explain that a little bit. A lot of times you are given a choice as to your next mission, and there is an easy choice and a harder one. The easier mission is, well, easier. But the more difficult one will net you more experience, which means tougher units in a linked campaign if they survive. Also, I shot for a gold level victory each time, which basically means completing the battle within a set number of moves, which was actually my least favorite part of the game. I would rather take all the time in the world. You need to be really good at strategy to be able to win some of the hard campaigns, much less to get gold. They are close to impossible. However, you can ignore the gold medal challenge to lower the difficulty, and pick the easier choice to lower it again. So Elven Legacy is not overwhelmingly hard after all. Unless you want it to be.
Another thing about ignoring the gold medal challenge is that it gives you time to explore the battlefield. There are often monsters that can be easily bypassed if you take the direct route, but which you can fight if you take your time to explore the map. It’s actually helpful if you can kill these creatures because you can get a lot of experience that way. And this is especially true if you can match them up against something that they are weak against. Using a blimp against a troll for example will net you a victory eventually because the troll can’t fight back. Or use the blimp to bomb and soften him up a bit, then let your footmen rush in and get the extra XP without being crushed in the process.
Unit development is also detailed. There is more than one set of skills that most units can train in. I ended up with specialty squads that could be used to maximize their effectiveness in different situations. For example, I had one set of spearmen, really Elven women, who got huge bonuses when they attacked from a forest hex. So I would keep them at a tree line and crush anyone who came within their range with a sneak attack. Another squad was trained in defense, so I would use them to hold strong points like cities or forts, so they could double up on the natural bonuses found there. This adds a great amount of effectiveness to your army, if you can deploy the right troops at the right time.
Thankfully there is a very detailed tutorial that will explain everything to you in steps. A game like this without one would be lost, so it’s good that Elven Legacy has a very nice training mode.
The sound in the game is pretty good, though noting exceptional. They also do a little too much storybook reading for my taste, though the actual voice acting is good between battles when the main characters talk about their true motivations and what they suspect is going to happen in the coming fight, or how the overall plot is unfolding. It helps to get inside the mind of the heroes, which is nice.
In terms of value, the game is selling on Amazon (see the link above) for $30, which is a wonderful price. The splitting of the main quests means that there is forced replay value right there if you want to experience the entire game and every battle in it. And with a lot of extra monsters on the main maps and multiple ways to get to objectives, plus different ways to advance characters, you have an almost unlimited "what if I just changed this and tried to do this differently" set of questions to answer.
In a sense, Elven Legacy helped to rebuild my faith in turn-based strategy games. I remembered the feeling of being a true armchair general and directing armies across the big picture of a war. I didn’t worry about chopping trees or mining gold, and I wasn’t worried about having to parry a tank rush. Elven Legacy is pure strategy, and if you are into that, then this is the game for you.
While playing the game you will find yourself helping out the elves, but might also return some glory to the forgotten TBS genre, which has fallen on hard times as of late.