Legends of Eisenwald Review: Tactical Fantasy Combat, Simplified

Legends of Eisenwald is a tactical RPG from Belarusian developer Aterdux Entertainment. It borrows heavily from classic tactical strategy franchises like Heroes of Might and Magic and Disciples, but takes a rather unique approach to the genre nonetheless. After spending a few dozen hours with the game, I’m ready to pass judgement – let’s get started with this Legends of Eisenwald review!

A Brief History of Historical Combat

There are many similar tactical combat, fantasy RPG games – besides the two I mentioned above, there’s also games like King’s Bounty and Age of Wonders to consider. If you’ve never played any of these games before, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Generally, these games are split into two major parts. In the first part, you explore a world map, with towns, castles, and other interesting structures and armies scattered around it. Here, you spend your time going from place to place, undertaking quests, and building an army. When your army comes into conflict with enemy troops, the game switches to a close-up combat view to resolve the engagement. Here, you give commands to your individual soldiers and have them duke it out on a tactical grid until one army emerges victorious.

Eisenwald’s Approach

What does Legends of Eisenwald do differently? Well, for one, the fantasy setting is a bit more down-to-earth, with medieval Germany providing the backdrop. Gone are elves, dwarves, dragons, and so forth. There’s still magic of a sort, although it’s called “spiritual power” here. There are also various enchanted weapons and accessories and so forth.

It’s all more of a “legends come to life” situation than a “enter a whole-cloth fantasy world” affair. Honestly, with the number of games trying to create entire languages, religions, races, and so forth, it’s kind of refreshing to not have to re-learn everything in order to understand the plot of Legends of Eisenwald.

Legends of Eisenwald Review: Titular Legends

I found myself interested in the plot and its various twists and turns. There are a fair number of interesting characters, and some of the developments caught me by surprise. Side quests and tavern rumors flesh out the minor characters and bring a lot of flavor to the story as well. The titular “legends” are interesting bits of lore, with beautiful artwork to accompany them.

Pro Tip Listen to the gossip in taverns – there are some dialog options that are only unlocked when you’ve heard particular stories.

I was initially worried about the quality of the English translation of the game, since the early help text wasn’t always grammatically correct. However, on the whole it is done well and didn’t distract from my enjoyment of the story.

Combat in Minature

Another major change from most other similar games is the scope of Legends of Eisenwald’s combat. Most tactical RPGs have large grids, and many support giant armies clashing swords at the same time. This can give a game a really epic feel to its combat, but it comes at the expense of a lot of complexity. There’s complexity in setting up and properly balancing/leveling your army, and the complexity of the combat itself can make engagements drag on.

Legends of Eisenwald opts instead for a much smaller maximum army size, and a much smaller tactical grid. Soldiers are set up in a triangle formation, with the widest row being your front-line infantry, followed by your archers, and then by your support troops. Your “army triangle” faces off against the enemy “army triangle” with only a couple of hexes separating them from the start.

Legends of Eisenwald Review: Combat

Pro Tip You can rearrange these lines if you want to, but in general this pattern works well. You might put a melee soldier on the second line if they have low HP or defense, for example. This allows them to flank a bit, and stay protected on their first turn.

Melee troops can only attack the closest enemy to them, although they can pick between multiple targets if the distances are the same. There is no movement without attacking, so archers and support units are generally well protected, as they’re rarely the closest target while melee troops survive.

This all sounds like the sort of thing that would yield combat that is less interesting, but I found it very freeing. More complexity doesn’t always mean that the options you’re choosing between are interesting. Instead of wasting time at the start of every battle bringing your troops into position, you can get right down to the actual meat of combat.

Combat proceeds quickly as well, which keeps it from becoming a chore. There’s an auto-resolve option that you can choose at any time during a battle, so if you’ve got the enemy on the ropes, you can just hit the “Fast Combat” button to wrap up the battle, get your spoils, and move on to the next fight.

Pro Tip The automatic combat is surprisingly fair – don’t be afraid to use it!

Eisenwhaaat?

Legends of Eisenwald is a marathon of a game, and will easily devour dozens of hours of your gaming time. When a game is this long, though, there are often little nagging elements that get on your nerves as the hours wear on.

Movement on the world map is kind of a pain. You have to click on your destination to move there, and clicking again stops you. However, you can’t pan the camera at all, so getting to a distant destination can yield a painful series of clicks. The world map also doesn’t always show paths that obviously, so trying to get to certain remote areas can be a frustrating trial and error process.

Legends of Eisenwald Review: Weird Pathing

On the world map, time is stopped whenever your army is stopped, unless you click a button to let time flow. Remembering the state of this toggle and messing with it while the game is throwing various objectives at you can sometimes be problematic.

The tracking of side quests also needs improvement. Sometimes the next objective is vague, or the destination is unclear and there’s no waypoint to assist you in understanding the directions. Occasionally, I’ve gotten an obviously old waypoint for a quest, when I know that’s not the next destination. In one serious case, I wasn’t able to advance the main plot despite doing what the journal said was required. I had to open the scenario file and try to figure out what I was missing before the next stage of the quest would trigger.

The main campaign of the game is broken up into chapters, and at chapter breaks a large amount of your stuff disappears. Soldiers and their equipment are often lost, spare gear is taken, etc. I can understand that having your power level carry over between chapters might yield significant balance problems, but still it’s kind of sad to see the soldiers you invested hours in reset because the plot advanced and we had to move to a new area.

Pro Tip Your hero’s gear carries over, so it generally makes sense to give them all the best stuff you find, as that way you’ll never lose it.

Legends of Eisenwald Review:  World Map

It’s possible to garrison troops in castles and other fortifications for defense. However, if an enemy attacks, you have no control over the engagement. If your army loses, those soldiers are gone forever, including any gear they had. Thus, playing defensively seems like a very risky move. I tended to secure castles and then leave them undefended, and instead fight the enemy army while it was on the move.

There are a lot of things the game doesn’t quite adequately explain. Upon encountering new features for the first time, a popup appears, but the only way to get back to these tutorials is from the main menu.

Upgrading your troops is needlessly opaque as well. There are upgrade different tracks for the various troop types, but there’s no telling what the benefits of each different troop type are. The best you can do is a small popup that gives some limited information.

There are also a few bugs here and there – I had around 5 crashes to desktop while playing, although it was probably 1 crash every 3 or 4 hours at the most. Autosaves are frequent, so I never lost much progress. Still, it’s not what you want to see from a finished product.

Legends of Eisenwald
Links:Homepage, Steam
Release:7/2/2015
Rating: - Good
Our Thoughts:

Legends of Eisenwald is a compelling game, despite its flaws. It manages to simplify and take the grind out of battles, while still feeling epic in its storytelling. It’s big in the areas where scale means fun, and streamlined in the areas where many other games lose steam. It has several issues that hold it back, although hopefully post-launch support will iron most of these out.

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