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Virtual Programming
Strategy & War
Release Date

March 18, 2003 | Nat Panek

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Legion, a turn-based strategy game of Roman Empire-era conquest, comes to us from Slitherine Software in the UK. The upcoming Mac port of Legion, to be released in the States by Freeverse Software, promises to put the whole messy task of Western European domination squarely in your lap. So strap on that metal skirt, centurion -- glory awaits!

Legion has a definite Age of Empires flavor, with a little of the Civilization series thrown in. All the familiar elements are there: resource management (food, ore, wood), building prerequisites, diplomacy, and, of course, battle. Lots and lots of battle. It is primarily a turn-based game, meaning you can take your time pondering and considering all the angles; however, battles are fought in real time, with highly enjoyable spectacles of hundreds of soldiers hacking it out on the plains or in the forests or in the mountains. So, why do we need yet another strategy game set in ancient times? All will be revealed; read on.

The first, most obvious difference between Legion and other such titles is its emphasis on historically accurate warfare and geopolitics. The player can choose from six extensive campaigns (not counting a brief tutorial) throughout Great Britain, Gaul, the Iberian Peninsula, and the boot of Italy. By default, the player will be cast in the role of the Roman Empire (not too shabby a role, all in all), but he or she will also have the option of playing as any of a myriad of other tribal city-states in "alternative history" games, which are less historically accurate, but more configurable by the player.

A hugely significant difference between Legion and other games of its ilk is how cities are handled. All the cities in the game are historically accurate, meaning that they are all present at the start of a game, and that the player is unable to build others. The only way to expand an empire, and win the game, is through conquest of cities. In addition, the cities may only be expanded to a certain size before they "max out," and cannot be expanded further. This has major repercussions on just about everything, from city planning and resource management to army production and battle strategy. For example, say there's a city nearby that would look really good as a part of your empire, and you, being the savvy general you are, decide that the best way to take the city is with cavalry. Cavalry squads consume a great deal of food, and pretty much nothing else, so you'll need to devote a lot of city real estate to farming. More farms means less space for lumber mills and mines, meaning fewer vital resources for troops like archers and legionaries. So you'd better be right about that cavalry gambit, or all you'll have left after they're cut to shreds is a ton of unused, rotting food and a couple archers and legionaries standing around saying, "I told you so."

Battle is another fairly unique aspect. When opposing armies meet, the screen changes from a map overview to a battlefield view, with each army on opposite sides of the screen. The task here is to set formations and orders for each squad. For example, you could order your cavalry to charge ahead and soften up the front line, and then mop up with your praetorians, with archers firing from the rear the whole time. Once all the orders are given, the only thing left to do is hit the OK button and watch the fireworks; there's absolutely nothing you can do to influence the outcome of the battle once it's begun. Players accustomed to real-time troop control, a la Myth, may find it monumentally frustrating to watch helplessly as their troops are cut down and scattered by the enemy, but, as Legion's manual points out, this is historically accurate as well. Ancient generals had no radios or satellites to send updated orders into the field. Once a battle was started, it would pretty much have to run its course.


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