Independent developer Aterdux Entertainment has been developing the strategy and role-playing hybrid Legends of Eisenwald ever since the successful Kickstarter campaign concluded, in May of 2012.
The game is currently featured on Steam Early Access, in its alpha phase of development, and as any alpha it offers a toned-down version of the intended experience. And, so far, things seem to be going in the right direction.
The gameplay blends real-time map navigation with turn-based tactical battles, and offers a seemingly complex party management experience, complete with leveling up units, with multiple progression paths to choose from, and on top of that, outfitting your crew with better gear.
Although Heroes of Might and Magic and King’s Bounty are cited as inspiration for Legends of Eisenwald, the game seems less focused on clicking on shinies that are patiently waiting to be collected on the map, and more focused on story and character progression, with a pretty strong medieval vibe.
In an attempt to differentiate itself from the magic-infused and dragon-populated universes that abound in this genre, the developer has chosen a more mundane, low-fantasy setting, characterized by a more realistic medieval atmosphere with the occasional intrusion of the occult.
The game’s mystical forces focus more on the divine, with a little bit of traditional witchcraft and alchemy thrown in, instead of the usual fireball slinging and undead army marching, the game’s emphasis being on portraying a more immersive historical experience, rather than a journey through an entirely fictional world.
As such, you’ll hear many recounts of old folklore tales while eavesdropping in taverns, rumors of the supernatural or unnatural often running wild and stirring people’s spirits, only to be met with a much less dramatic explanation.
The writing seems decent, going from heroic to shameless in a manner consistent with the burly and worldly nobleman pictured in the campaign and offering the story more credibility, although the translation still needs a little more polish here and there.
Unfortunately, that same credibility is lost when playing a man of the cloth, as the dialogs remain the same, and it hardly seems fitting for a clergyman to joke about using another saintly figure’s cranium as a goblet, or to suggest doing so in public, at least.
The turn-based combat system seems a bit too rough around the edges at times, but it also shows promise, judging by the abilities more advanced units possess. Especially more so since battle interactions are dependent on individual unit stats and your armies can be outfitted with better gear.
Although factors such as experience and equipment work as they should, offering considerable advantages on the battlefield, the hex-based combat mechanics seem a bit off in certain areas, such as the inability to move, or the ability to move across the map when attacking someone.
Also, the way eligible attacks work seems a bit random, and the restrictions offer an impaired tactical combat experience that seems like it’s forced and too straightforward, limiting the amount of tactical opportunities afforded.
There are also some good design points, with the priestly buffs and wound system, retaliation strikes on more disciplined units, the way heavier armor realistically lowers initiative to compensate for the added protection and shields being able to fully protect from arrows.
The interface is a bit clunky at times, prompting you to press specific “ok” buttons or click several static menus in order to achieve a goal that could have been resolved much more elegantly, in the charming ‘90s way that should have been abolished by now.
Map navigation can also prove troublesome from time to time as it’s not really clear which terrain is passable and which is not, and a furious clicking frenzy is sometimes needed in order to convince the protagonist to check out that cabin in the woods.
Overall, the game shows promise, the alpha seems to be going in the right direction, and the developers have been steadily releasing updates, adding features and constantly fixing bugs, which is a clear indication that things are only going to get better.
The best thing about Legends of Eisenwald is that it feels unique, like its own game and not just a rip-off of a better title, its world is interesting enough to warrant exploration and the gameplay is enjoyable from the get-go.
It feels fresh and it offers a different perspective on the strategy role playing game genre, showing the potential to grow into a solid piece of challenging entertainment.