At its core, turn-based tactical RPG combat is like a turn based board game—initiative is rolled to determine combat order, each character has their own stats and abilities, and damage usually is rolled with dice to land between a minimum and maximum possible damage. Video games were able to improve upon this formula by performing all the dice rolls instantly, as well as adding graphical representations of pieces, damage, etc. Games like The Banner Saga, which funnily enough is going in the opposite direction by creating a board game adaptation, do this almost flawlessly by making each character feel unique. Each character’s uniqueness made the combat interesting and keeping it tense the entire time. On the other hand, there are games like Legends of Eisenwald, which makes its combat feel pretty same-y the entire way through. When playing this game, it is obvious that more attention to detail was put into world building than the combat.
The combat in Legends of Eisenwald is the game’s main flaw, which is a pretty big flaw in a tactical RPG. The board is set up in a diamond shape made up of hexagons, with each character taking up one hex. The first problem with the combat is the lack of real variety in combatants available in the game. There are three classes of combatants available: melee, ranged and support. Melee are made up of things like spearmen, infantry, knights, peasants and warrior monks; ranged are made up of archers and crossbowmen; supports are made up of healers, witches and other characters that add various buffs and debuffs. Each set of characters have their own promotion trees and can potentially become pretty powerful. Except for peasants. Peasants have no potential.
Though this may seem to be a large number of combatants, most of the upgrades are simple stat upgrades. Because so many of the upgrades are stat boosts, the play style of each unit doesn’t really change or feel particularly unique. It’s similar to a boring passive upgrade that adds +5% to “X;” they’re just not that noticeable. Not only that, but each combatant attacks and defends in a similar way—supports stand in the back and either heal allies or add buffs and debuffs that don’t feel particularly useful (except for heals or spells that knock players off horses), ranged characters stand between the melee characters and supports and shoot arrows at almost anybody on the board for not that much damage, and melee characters can walk up to the nearest combatant on the board and usually hit for the most damage. There are no limitations on how far a melee character can move, provided they are attacking the nearest enemy. Because there are no action points or limitations to movement, a melee character could easily walk across the map if that’s where the enemy was. The combat system felt shallow when I played, and almost always came down to who had the most combatants and who had the most healers. Overall the combat feels passable but not compelling.
Legends of Eisenwald takes place in, well, Eisenwald—A low-fantasy (not full of elves) country that is based off of medieval Europe, probably Germany based on the name. You play as [insert name here] Lanstein, the youngest son or daughter of a noble from a land called Lanstein. After your family is brutally murdered when you return from a trip, the blame is placed on you as an attempt to strip you of your land and titles. From here on you must run away and try to prove your innocence and get your title restored. The player can choose to become one of the previously mentioned classes, starting fairly high up in the ranks of your class.
The medieval theme is done very well. Eisenwald is a country where there are political squabbles popping up between nobles, resulting in you being caught in the middle of conflict constantly. The game portrays nobles as selfish or greedy and often has them in competition with the Church, which is far from selfless. It does not shy away from trying to keep things accurate to the period, which greatly benefits the story by adding elements of backroom scheming to the quests the player finds themselves carrying out.
A great aesthetic choice the developers made was probably brought about due to having a smaller budget. When bringing up a screen to represent towns or side quests, the developers decided to have a drawn image represent the subject. Honestly I haven’t run into one I didn’t like.
However, I have run into a problem where sometimes the font is clear, making the dialogue really difficult to read because the colors from the map blend in with the parchment dialogue box.
Legends of Eisenwald also has one of my favorite medieval soundtracks that I’ve heard in a long time. The music ranges from simple harp music to Gregorian Chants to scores similar to what is found in The Witcher 3. The epic music helps make long rides on the semi-sandbox map feel more like an adventure.
Navigating the map in Legends of Eisenwald is similar to games like Mount and Blade. The story is broken up into various scenarios, each of which gets a large overworld map. The player navigates by clicking on a point, moving a miniature of the character that represents the player’s army. Where the two differ is that Mount and Blade is a single large sandbox that allows the player to go off the beaten path, while Legends of Eisenwald isn’t.
It is much more inconvenient to travel through Eisenwald due to two main factors. First there are plenty of invisible walls that are right next to a path that you must click on, resulting in many repeat clicks. This wouldn’t be too bad if the player could simply click on the city they are trying to get to and go there, but they can’t. The player cannot zoom all the way out to see the full map, and the camera can rotate but only follows the character on the screen. Both of these make the map navigation all right at best,when in large open plains, and downright frustrating at worst,when in a narrow mountain pass.
Even though the game has plenty of flaws, Legends of Eisenwald isn’t bad. The not very compelling combat, which can be skipped with an auto-resolve button, is balanced by an intriguing story set in a well-made fantasy world. Simply put, Legends of Eisenwald focuses more on the world building aspect than the combat, and in an RPG, the world itself can be as important as the combat. If you plan on purchasing this game, make sure to keep that in mind.
This game was reviewed on PC with a free copy from Aterdux Entertainment.
Legends of Eisenwald's main strength is in its story and world building. Though the combat is non-innovative and not very compelling, the low-fantasy theme, abundance of content, and well-built Machiavellian world make this game worth playing if you can get it on sale. Other languages the game is in: - French (though some things are missing according to the steam page) - Russian - German - Spanish - Belarusian (the company is from Belarus)