Legends of Eisenwald, by Aterdux Entertainment, is a turn-based tactical strategy RPG that acknowledges its predecessors in the genre while introducing a new emphasis on a gritty low fantasy setting, RPG and story elements, and dynamic combat.
The game takes place in Eisenwald, a semi-realistic medieval world. Despite the presence of limited magic, the land of Eisenwald stays firmly away from standard high fantasy clichés and sticks with a dark historical setting. This is not a place for elves and dragons, but giant grey stone castles, dark woods, and peasant villages. While there are elements of divination and alchemy, these small magics come from superstition, faith, and herbs. Damage is dealt with axes and arrows, not fireballs and summoned creatures.
Aterdux Entertainment takes great pride in creating a setting that’s fairly unique for games of this genre, and that effort is apparent in everything from the equipment to the in-game music. Even the UI is designed with heavy stone “brick” borders and ancient looking fonts. Weapons are sturdy pikes and sharp axes, and armor looks as though it legitimately could have been crafted on an old fashioned village anvil.
The game starts by asking the player to choose one of three characters: a melee knight, a ranged baroness, or a support mystic. The main character starts out in a group of two but quickly begins expanding their team by recruiting mercenaries and villagers, each of whom provide additional offensive or defensive qualities. No matter which player character is chosen they’re thrown into battle along with the rest of the group and at least in the beginning are frequently the strongest unit in combat. There are no sideline generals in Legends of Eisenwald – everyone must fight!
The gameplay itself is about exploring the world, while improving your character and military units and securing land in your name. Gold and equipment for the team is earned from completing quests and interacting with the locals. Quests are discovered through friendly NPCs, exploration, and villager gossip, and can be anything from helping a lord defend his castle from his neighbor to scouring a mountain for an ancient lost amulet. As you earn and defend your own castles and villages, you’ll increase the capabilities of your army.
Although the game calls it an “army”, your team has a limited number of units available including archers, melee fighters, healers, and support buffers. However, the smaller group size certainly doesn’t affect combat complexity. Each unit has its own multitude of equipment slots that need managing, including a variety of weapon types that affect how the unit engages in battle, and an upgrade tree with at least a couple of different branching paths. As units upgrade they change in appearance and learn more powerful skills. The healer, for instance, can eventually become a noble mender or a haggard-looking debuffer.
The player character has an upgrade path as well, with branches that focus on becoming a champion fighter, an inspirational leader, or a wealthy patron. This gives the player room to focus on how they enjoy playing the most, although at first glance the patron tree seems a little less expansive than the other two options.
One of the most interesting features of Legends of Eisenwald is its emphasis on RPG elements, something often ignored in other games of this genre. Each of the three player character options will experience the story in a different way, and choices made by the player will change the story between playthroughs. Even just interacting with the world can add new elements to the story, through actions like hanging out at a tavern and listening to the villagers’ gossip. Sometimes it’s just flavor text, adding background story to the world, but other times you can catch snippets of talk about a haunted cave or mysterious figure, which can lead to side quests and exploration goals.
The game also has a night and day cycle in the over-world, and that too affects what you encounter while out exploring. A forest might be a lovely stroll during the day, but full of unpleasant creatures in the dark! The night/day cycle also means that the passing of time becomes a strategic tool, like hiding in a nearby farmhouse waiting for a lord to leave his castle unattended.
Combat in Legends of Eisenwald takes a fairly familiar hex-based strategy format. Each unit has an Initiative score that determines when they take their turn. Initiative can be changed with equipment and buffs, and a crucial part of combat is making sure your army will attack in an optimal order. Tile placement is also a factor for both the player’s army and the opposition, and factors like hex adjacency can add or remove bonuses to skills.
However, while clearly inspired by similar older strategy games like King’s Bounty, Legends of Eisenwald expands the format to allow for more dynamic combat. Every member of an army will make an action on their turn, whether it’s attacking, defending, or just regenerating resources. Movement during a battle is always paired with an attack, which not only frees the player from unexciting turns shuffling units around the field of combat, but also makes it more important to plan out each bit of movement. It also means that non-attacking support units like healers will rarely ever move in battle, so you had better be sure ahead of time that they’re well protected by the more nimble front lines.
Legends of Eisenwald was Kickstarted in May 2012 and was a great success, receiving almost 150% of their financing goal. It later appeared on Steam’s Greenlight, and graduated to the full Steam service in May 2013. Although it’s still technically in Early Access, the game is well executed and already in a very playable state that feels like a release version. Unfortunately, while the gameplay is solid, the UI and graphics look a bit outdated. Hopefully the visual elements will receive some more polish before the final launch.
Legends of Eisenwald is currently US $14.99 on Steam, and is expected to release soon. The final version will have seven chapters with an estimated 30 hours of gameplay in the main campaign.
Jessica Cook / Jessica Cook, aka Liore, is usually found on the Game On Podcast for MMORPG.com. She enjoys puzzle games, space RPGs, and MMOs with ludicrous hats. You can find Jessica on Twitter @Liores.