Game Over Online ~ Legion

GameOver Game Reviews - Legion (c) Strategy First, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Legion (c) Strategy First
System Requirements Windows, Pentium 233MHz, 64MB RAM, 250MB HDD, 4X CD-ROM
Overall Rating 70%
Date Published Thursday, July 18th, 2002 at 11:14 AM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

If the Romans thought their empire was universal, the appeal of the Roman Empire continues to be universal today. Oft-imitated but never repeated, the Empire at its peak was a nation of sixty million people with an infrastructure that would rival a third world nation today; all achieved almost two millennia ago. Charlemagne, The Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon are all institutions or people who tried to resurrect the zeitgeist of the Romans. Even today, Russian president Vladimir Putin is still enamored with it, choosing for his seal the emblem of the Eastern Roman Empire. Slitherine is banking on this ongoing interest with Legion, their turn-based strategy game covering the beginnings of the Late Republic to the Early Empire.

The turn-based component of Legion plays very similar to Civilization and its many descendants. Production of the principle supplies (ore, food and lumber) are situated around cities and manned by peasants living in them. The city management itself is rather simple. With no epochs to cross or achieve and no research or progression, you have all the buildings you want in front of you. Locale and needs determine which types of resources you are going to extract from a particular city. A dwelling located near the mountain range, for example, lends itself to mineral extraction.

Civilian structures like bathhouses or vineyards only serve to support or extend resource extraction. For example, a hospital increases the amount of people available. Vineyards are extensions of farms that provide productivity enhancements while producing limited food. In the end, all resources go towards providing for the army. Since every locale has a definite number of spaces available, you'll have to pick and choose what each city is capable of building. One city, for example, could focus on cultivating cavalry. Another could specialize in infantry but overall, city management is kept to a minimum. The only managing you'll do is putting people into the buildings to make them work.

Since you can't found new cities, the only units that move around are army groups. Legion makes it a point to include a modicum of realism. Troops on the move will not replenish their numbers easily (if at all) and army groups garrisoned in towns will consume far less resources than if left on the frontiers. This forces the player to practice some fiscal prudence with regards to army building. Curiously, without the 'settler' units found in Civilization, the Roman cities have no roads, an advantage and feature historically unique to the Roman Empire.

Although you can interact with other cities belonging to other empires with simple diplomatic overtures, the final and most direct answer to all land problems will be dealt with force. Here, the developers of Legion have developed a unique system to handle military conflict. Battles are not pre-determined by unit statistics but by a real-time system that is easily the most impressive part of the entire corpus. They begin with a setup phase where your scouts try to determine where the enemy is. With that intelligence, you then line up your units against the enemy and assign them orders, like short hold and advance, or long advance then hold. The beginnings of the battles always look like chessboards where each side is nearly symmetrical. Then, as battle progresses and lives are lost, the initial symmetry is destroyed, skewed and circumstances force specialized pieces to do jobs for which they were not designed. Because not every army group you field is a balance between archers, cavalry and infantry, tactics and strategy must be executed because there are fewer straightforward options available. Do you rush cavalry into a hole on the opposing side, hoping to score a quick victory against their archers and loop around back to hit their shock troops while your infantry holds them at bay? What if upon entering the battle, a contingent of infantry snarls or blocks your cavalry? Early in the game, when you don't have a full set of army available, the tactics required to succeed against numerical and qualitative superiority is challenging. Sacrifice and there may be blunders, sacrifice well and the blunders will only be temporary. It's a well-constructed system. Staggered marches and timing are keys to success as battles are not about hacking down every last man on the opposing side but a test of morale. Flank an enemy and they'll feel the pressure a lot more than if you charge at them head on. The prospect of defeat, quick and often unexpected, always hangs over the battlefield since a well-led and well-executed plan from a small army can overwhelm a clumsy expensive horde. But likewise, it can lead to spectacular blunders.

The decision to place a battle's outcome on morale is smart. It allows you to easily sweep away small armies in less than a minute. It's also quite realistic. Cavalry, for example, is fickle in toe-to-toe action but is much more effective at flanking or routing troops. Unfortunately, all the challenge from the combat is found in the beginning of the game, when resources are scarce and your army groups are not nearly as invincible.

There are faults with the system too. The inability to issue commands during the battle itself is a drawback. Sometimes, I wanted to sound a general retreat. I recall the Warhammer RTS titles had a button where repeated pressing of it bolstered the morale of a particularly unit. This helped offset some of the drawbacks of passive spectatorship but such an option is not found in Legion. Sometimes morale is too fickle, where seven or eight Praetorian regiments, on the verge of victory, are defeated by a single group of Celtic spearmen. Likewise, one gladiator was all I needed to save me from the jaws of defeat; the lone gladiator chasing away an entire group of Celtic archers. He must have been scarier than Russell Crowe giving an acceptance speech. Such instances are rare but illustrated results that were highly implausible.

While Legion is able to render large amounts of people during the battles, the resolution of the game is low. Without any zooming capabilities, it's tough to watch the progress of the battle without excessive scrolling. It's not as noticeable during the turn-based components of the game. However, the main playing board could also benefit from higher resolutions and the ability to zoom. It's hard to grasp the true extent of your empire if your vantage point covers only a few cities at a time.

Legion ships with only a handful of campaigns that run in historical and alternate reality modes. Moreover, one of them is a simple training exercise, not really playable as a game. Historical mode simply means you play the Romans. The French secret weapon in WWI was Úlan, a patriotic national spirit that inspired French troops and was unique to the French alone. In Legion, the Romans have a certain Úlan. While their troops and productivity may operate the same as the other factions, playing as the Romans almost always guarantees victory even though you start with very few cities, scarce resources and a few hostile neighbors.

However, a little divide et impera and some solid battle tactics will let you reach a catalyst; the catalyst where resources are no longer a problem and defeat of your enemies becomes a mechanical inevitability. The AI playing the other sides make bad to horrible decisions; unwilling to ally with you and launching offensives at incorrect moments. Thus, the alternate reality mode lets you play as the more challenging Celts, Samnites, Picts and other famous Roman antagonists, but you're almost self-assured of victory, provided you have a starting chance. Once you achieve that critical catalyst, the campaign will become a slow war of attrition as you whittle away at the enemy, city by city, battle after battle. The only thing the AI can do is slow you down. Since each city features a unique defense unit that is replenished after each battle, the only challenges may come from cities staffed with a near unlimited supply of Celtic noble cavalry or Celtic fanatics. Every other unit is outclassed by what the Romans can offer (Gladiators, Praetorians, Legions, etc). The Scottish campaign, where terrain reduces movement, is tougher only because it's slower to take over the cities. Often, you have to use the unsavory tactic of using an army group to soften up the expendable (i.e. not city) defenses, only to send in the real veterans afterwards to mop up. Thus while you can spend a lot of time on a single campaign, the challenge is usually over after the first few hours. After that, Legion only demands you to persevere to the very end; perhaps that's how the Romans were defeated in Britain.

There's no punch at the arcs of each campaign. Without any scenario or campaign editors, you can't fix this yourself either. A sandbox battle mode would have helped greatly since the battles were one of the more interesting parts of the game. Multiplayer, likewise, is non-existent in Legion. And these faults truly take a toll on Legion once you are done with the original material.

Legion commits some blatant mistakes too, like the inability to assign queued movements for army groups. While you can queue units for production, you can't queue buildings. In battle, during the setup phase, you have to issue orders to each unit individually and there's no provision to ask all the units, for example, to assume a rapid advance stance. Finally, there's also no way to find idle workers and automatically assign them to industries without scrolling through every city you have. These faults could have easily been rectified and in a game with little micromanagement, are chores that become very obvious in extended play. It's a shame the developers never picked up on them.

With simple graphics like these, I wonder why the game couldn't be extended to cover the late imperial period or late antiquity, when the Roman Empire relied more on mercenaries and the mounted archer replaced the traditional Roman legion. Campaigns involving Heraclius' elimination of the Persian empire and Justinian's famous reconquest of the west would have easily fitted in with the ones presented in Legion.

Despite the low resolution, I wholly recommend shutting every program you run down, including background tasks like Outlook or IM. Legion, particularly in long running games, slows down quite a bit if you have background tasks running. The Roman motif and meticulous attention to the period really saves Legion from becoming a bad or mediocre game. A clumsy interface, dated graphics engine and lack of features drag down the original concepts it tries to implement. At the end of the day, I'm reminded by Mark Antony's campaigns in the east, where Roman legions displayed excellent discipline and form even in the desert but only managed to cut down a few enemy soldiers before the enemy fled the field in awe of the Romans. Legion is similar to that: It has all the form of a great epic game but when put to the test, misses the chance to capture victory.

 

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Rating
70%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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