The Dark Legions
Sometimes when reviewing games for Bytten I fall into a fatal trap. This has happened to me several times now, and Dark Legions has sprung it on me once again. Sometimes I start a review with a cheery "ho hum, what's this game like then?" and find myself still playing it - not reviewing, but simply playing - a fortnight later. Meanwhile, my review remains untyped.
It is with some effort of will, therefore, that I have forced myself away from battle and to Metapad, my favoured review-writing medium. The Dark Legions is a real-time strategy game in which one builds a base camp, researches technologies and trains armies of varying units to clobber the enemy, who are doing the same. I was instantly reminded of Warcraft, though the Age of Empires series is a bigger influence.
Dark Legions is a game with remarkable scope. Train slaves to harvest wood, stone and gold and to build/repair/demolish your buildings. Warriors, knights and cavalry units go hand to hand, archers and crossbowmen shoot from afar, catapults hurl rocks at the enemy. Priests heal your troops, demons cast spells, ships ferry units across water and I haven't even mentioned skeletal warriors, giants and heroes. New elements are introduced over a number of missions and there are three tutorials that explain how they are constructed and used.
I was instantly impressed with the graphics. Units, buildings, even trees are highly detailed and lovingly rendered. Units get more 'bloodied up' as they suffer damage. Corpses slowly turn to skeletons and fade away. When a group of archery towers all fire off, arrows litter the ground. The attention to detail is astonishing and very well done - and if your computer chugs under the strain, all elements of the graphics can be adjusted from the main menu. The 3D view can be rather startling at first but one quickly gets used to it, though sometimes a unit can get lost behind a building and become hard to select.
Sound is... plentiful. As well as ambient background noise, all sorts of activities make sounds; from combat to building to harvesting. The end result for a busy base of operations can be a mite cacophanous! Sound levels can of course be adjusted and all sound is of high quality and suitably atmospheric.
A lot of thought has gone into the depth of this game. Unit types are plentiful, even the scenery wonderfully varied, and the balance of unit strengths and types is about perfect. Strategy plays a part but as usual in these games the most effective tactic is to build up a massive force and overwhelm the enemy. Unlike, say, Command and Conquer, you can build anywhere - though building in enemy territory is unlikely to go uninterrupted!
The demo contains a single mission from the full game with a good range of unit types to experiment with, while the full game features tutorials, one campaign and a group of tougher, single missions - so if the campaign sees you getting stuck, you can try something else. You can replay conquered missions whenever you want. You can even construct random maps from a range of options so you should be able to keep replaying for some time.
Though a high quality and polished production, Dark Legions is not without a few flaws. Units are sometimes prone to ignore your orders and charge off after enemies in the heat of battle. Selecting units can be tricky, especially when they are close to buildings or ships, though the view can be rotated which often helps. There are a number of clever selection methods available for idle workers, grouping, or selecting all of one type of unit on screen, but these are buried in the readme file. The game has no detailed manual, though details of many game elements are on their website.
It is a rare class of game that demands so much of my time it detracts from work, food and sleep. I expect that The Dark Legions will be keeping me going for some time after this review has been published, and what better recommendation can you want?
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