I have an unhealthy obsession with tactics games. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the various incarnations of Final Fantasy Tactics, I’ve bought games like Valkyria Chronicles on on both console and PC, I’ve strung together crazy combos and team attacks on the various Disgaea games, I’ve got a bit of a problem. When I heard about Legends of Eisenwald, and their hybrid real time strategy/tactical gameplay I was intrigued. In this review I’ll explore how that intrigue worked out.
Your first choice when you boot up Legends of Eisenwald will be to choose your main character. Options available are: Knight, Baroness, and Mystic. The knight is your standard front-line tank, the baroness wields a crossbow, and the mystic is a support character, providing buffs for the rest of your troops. I started, and have played through a good portion of the game, as the knight so most of the points brought up here will be from that standpoint. Though the developers do say that the gameplay and story do change slightly with the other characters.
Once you’ve gotten into the game itself you’ll see a small representation of your character on a larger overworld map. You move by clicking where you’d like to go. If you can’t move to a certain spot the mouse pointer will indicate as such. You can rotate your view of the map by holding down the right mouse button and dragging the mouse to point where you want to look. The map can get in its own way a bit at times, where the environment will obscure the path and you’ll have to adjust the view in order to really move around. Moving is also line-of-sight only. You cannot scroll across the map and pick a place to move, you’re only able to move to an area that you can see in your main view.
You’ll run into other entities on the map, from bandits and other enemies that are marked red on the mini-map with black shields over their heads to allies that are marked blue with various different shields representing their allegiances, and other unknown, or uninterested parties (not colored on the mini-map). These characters will wander around the map doing their own thing. Guards, knights, and other general soldiers will often stop in castles, bars and saloons, and the various towns scattered about the map. Bandits and enemies will usually hide in ruins or burned villages. The shield of any unit stationed in a town, bar, castle, or ruin will be shown next to the name of the town, etc. and you can also get a better idea of what is available at a particular encampment by right-clicking on the encampment itself.
If you hover over a hostile unit, the pointer will change to crossed swords indicating that running into that party will result in a battle. Battles thrust you into the tactical map where you’ll fight until one side is victorious. Battle order is determined by each character’s initiative which can be affected by the weapons, armor, and equipment that they are using. Highest initiative goes first, and so on down the line. Your army starts small, but you can recruit new members from castles, towns, churches, etc. to fill out your ranks. You’ll also only start out being able to lead a relatively small army. You can increase the number of soldiers in your party by controlling castles up to a maximum of 12 soldiers – five slots for infantry, four for ranged, and three support.
Battles take place on a series of hexagonal tiles. There are no movement points or attack points, each turn you’ll either move a character into position and attack, retreat to a safe tile, or in some instances you can set characters to defend or focus for the next attack. Your infantry will generally get stuck clearing out the other team’s infantry first, though if there’s at least one tile free around the end of the enemy’s infantry you can sneak a troop around and begin to attack their archers. When infantry attacks infantry, the attacked unit in most cases will get a counter attack, which will inflict a minimum of five damage to the attacker. You’ll continue to attack until the other side is defeated or has given up.
I found that more often than not the other side will simply give up when they’re down to two troops. In some ways this is frustrating because your troops get more experience when they attack, and stopping the battle when there are still troops left means there are less available attacks. There are definitely opportunities to gain experience throughout the game, though it can be rather slow when your soldiers only earn 5-8 experience per battle and they need anywhere between 300-850 experience points to hit their next upgrade.
You won’t really see any difference based on the direction of an attack like you might see in some other tactics game – attacking from the side or back vs. attacking head on, etc. – and there aren’t any combos or team attacks either. The developers intended to create a story based at least mostly in reality with Legends of Eisenwald. That’s not to say that there aren’t some magical elements. They’ve built the game with an understanding that some superstitions and legends were actually true.
Some of the level progression in some ways feels a bit forced, as periodically throughout the story you are forced to simply lose your upgraded soldiers and accumulated money once you reach a certain point. As the story progresses it does make some sense to not want your fully upgraded nearly unstoppable army to face the next chapter’s handful of bandits, but it was somewhat annoying losing the 6,000 gold I’d made in the previous chapter that I could have used to get a better start to the next.
Legends of Eisenwald has rich, detailed graphics. With turn-based fights and a mostly static overworld map, extra attention can be placed on the art and style of the game and those details can really shine through. The world map is beautifully made, with lush forests, realistic town/castle design, and subtle but effective water effects. Any time you enter an area (town, castle, etc) the map zooms in on the area, then displays stylized art of the location where your various options for that location are displayed.
The individual soldier art is also very nice. In battle mode the soldiers are animated effectively with realistic movements and death animations. The art style is overall very realistic with actual weapons and armor. Each soldier type has its own style with upgraded soldiers generally having more impressive armor. Your characters will reflect any weapon changes you’ve made when in battle, but even when new armor is equipped the art for the characters set armor doesn’t change.
I’m sure there are exceptions, but it seems that most tactics games have deep stories and Legends of Eisenwald is no exception. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve spent the majority of my time playing through the Knight’s campaign, and so far it’s been a story of loss, vengeance, betrayal, and more. In every inn you can listen to rumors and stories that will flesh out the world of the game, some of which lead to sidequests, others that are there to more deeply immerse you in the world. All of the story elements are told through text, some with more stylized art behind it while main quests generally have you speaking with certain individuals to move the story forward. After a while some of the rumors and stories start to become a giant wall-o-text that doesn’t really affect the story in any way, but it’s there if you want to read it and you can tell that the devs have put a lot of thought into their world.
If you want to create your own story, there’s even an included scenario editor that allows you to create your own maps and events with a fully-featured editor. I did not try out the scenario editor so that will not be factored into the review score, but you can take a look at how it works in this video from the developers.
I actually quite enjoyed the music in Legends of Eisenwald. It’s got a very acoustic, medieval Germanic vibe to it and it obviously fits very well with the atmosphere of the game. Sound effects are used with great success in the game too. You’ll hear birds and rustling leaves when you’re moving through forests, patrons drinking and conversing when you’re at an inn, etc. the sound is used effectively to convey the areas that you are in.
Legends of Eisenwald may not be a game you’re familiar with. Though it was born out of a successful Kickstarter campaign, it still managed to keep a relatively low profile. The game in its current form is both fun and at times challenging. Some of that challenge can seem forced, but as with most tactics games there are usually ways to get through even the toughest challenges. If you like to read and follow extensive story in a game, Legends of Eisenwald is perfect for you. If you’re looking for some decent tactical gameplay, it’s definitely worth checking out.Purchase on Steam
*We were sent a review code for Legends of Eisenwald for the purposes of this review.