Strategy & War
Legion Arena bills itself as an real time strategy game, but there are a number of elements in it that are missing from what we have grown accustomed to thinking of as integral to RTS games. There are no cities to build, resources to gather, or civilizations to manage. Instead, it is simply you and your legions.
With the choice to play either the Celtic campaign or, of course, the Roman campaign, Legion Arena skips empire building and goes straight to the part where you control your troops, much the way Bungie's Myth did. The scale, however, is much larger: you literally control entire armies made up of hundreds of units, grouped by type and number. You can give some pretty tactical orders to these groups—to hold, to flank, advance, retreat, help another squad, and so forth—but one important twist that Slitherine software has added is that you cannot simply micromanage your troops. You are given a set number of "command points" that get expended every time you issue an order. They recharge over time, but if you use them up too fast, you may be unable to respond to a quick development on the battlefield. This, coupled with the fact that you can give pre-battle orders to your troops to execute as soon as action begins, is something that is supposed to make the game much more strategy-oriented.
Other things add to this as well. Different units react to varying terrain in specific ways; cavalry, of course, suffers in wooded areas, whereas foot soldiers are far more vulnerable on open ground. Each faction has its own specific units available, of course, from such curiosities as the naked zealot for the Celts, to the classic Roman legionnaire for the, surprise surprise, Romans.
And getting a Roman legionnaire is not something that happens to you right off the bat. In a nice twist, again vaguely reminiscent of Myth, your units gain experience with every battle survived, and you can upgrade not only their abilities but also their equipment. At the beginning of a campaign, your troops are weak and pitiful, mere shadows of their true potential. As such, you are given a strong incentive to maximize the lifespan of your soldiers, and training and equipping a formidable veteran army is a necessary part of the action.
To put this army to good use, you are given two possible campaigns: that of the Romans, and that of the Celts attempting to repel the Roman invasion. Each one has a large number of scenarios that are based on actual historical battles and events. But if the AI proves too easy, or if you know each historical skirmish better than the actual figures who lived through them, you can always engage another player online either via the internet or LAN. The PC version supports Gamespy for online game matching, but it is, as of yet, unknown what method of game matching the Mac version shall use.
Legion Arena is being ported to the Mac by Freeverse, and is tentatively scheduled to ship later in the Spring of 2006. Be on the look out for an extended hands-on preview of the game in the coming weeks.