Being a long-time gamer I tend to enjoy games that are simple enough to pick up and play without having to spend days going through boot camp just to learn the basic mechanics and strategies. It's through this desire of simplicity that I started my love affair with games of the tower defense and castle rush variety.
The problem with simplicity is, well, it's simple and therefore doesn't provide a lot of tools to entice your inner child, which is why so many of these games are utter horse manure. My hopes were high for Rise of Legions though, a project that Broken Games has been working on for 3 years. It may still be in early access, but from the get-go, I found quite a bit to like here.
Rise of Legions is currently free-to-play on Steam.
Rise of Legions is a simple castle rush game, you summon your warriors, and they move on ahead and kill anything that moves until the enemy's main tower has fallen. I've also seen this game listed as a MOBA or RTS, but since you don't actually control any of your armies I find this description highly misleading.
There are currently 2 game modes. In single player mode you face an AI-controller golem army and then there's the obvious PvP mode. The single player option was not something I'd spend a lot of time on but works as a perfect proving ground to test out any new additions to your army. This mode can also be played with a friend, a feature I was unable to test, not because I have no friends but because all my friends have kids and don't have time for the simple pleasures in life anymore.
There are 4 types of cards available, units, unit spawners, buildings, and spells which are all pretty self-explanatory. There are also 2 currencies aptly named coins and soul coins. Spending either increases your income of the other and each of them is used to purchase different things in battle, it's all a wonderful circle of life. Each card in your deck has a cooldown period after it's been played which means you have to make your card choices carefully to ensure you always have the right one available for every situation.
Continuously playing your favorite card will level it up and eventually send you to a higher tier which means you'll face stronger opponents. You also have the option to sacrifice the red-headed stepchildren in your deck to feed the ones you truly love to ensure you don't go into battle with weaklings. Survival of the fittest and all that.
Currently, there are 4 legions, simply named Black, Green, White, and Blue. The Black legion consists of undead type units, Green summons the power of the local plant life, White is an army of hearty, medieval soldiers, while Blue harnesses the power of the machine. Each legion already has a number of diverse cards available, with more to come, and each unit comes with a list of stats and abilities. These can seem overwhelming at first but are easily mastered after a few games. Getting a balanced deck is quite the task since you can combine cards from 2 separate legions when assembling your forces. Whether this means you build an entire undead deck and only include the healing forces of the White priests, or go half hippie, half nerd with Green and Blue, is completely up to you.
New cards are given as an award for a fight well fought. The default cards in the starter decks are rather rudimentary but provide an opportunity to ease into things before bombarding you with more complex units. It's important to include all manner of creatures in your deck since some are perfect counters to others which could work for or against you. I once made the mistake of having a White deck filled with Footmen which are just basic melee soldiers, thinking I'll just overwhelm with sheer numbers, but then had to face someone with a Black deck full of Void Banes (Grim Reaper like dudes) which cut through my soldiers like a hot scythe through butter. I could kick and scream all I wanted, but I simply didn't have enough alternate units to counter his unit composition. The Grim Reaper had a bountiful harvest that day.
The matches have a very tug-of-war way to them with matches often going back and forth until the very end. If soldiers from both sides are unable to invade the enemy's lands, eventually your towers will lend a hand and start firing at the enemy base tower to ensure there is a clear winner and a game doesn't drag on forever. I've often reached this point in the game where our armies were so evenly matched, neither was making any real progress. Whoever had come closest to their opponent's base at that time will own the highest number of towers and will inevitably win the game.
This brings me to my most prominent complaint about Rise of Legions. Having games frequently carry on so long that a winner needs to be declared without meeting the actual victory conditions, means that the game is missing that competitive edge. I appreciate the fact that games don't carry on for too long and can be cut short when needed, but this happened way too often for my liking. It feels like things are a little too refined, like each unit was created to be different, but not enough to really stand out. As such, I often found myself summoning every single card I had available and trying all manner of strategy and trickery but still finding myself stuck in the middle, endlessly sending new units to their quick and glorious demise.
For visual appeal, the designers stuck to the more animated look so popular in games of late which shows that the game doesn't take itself too seriously, a good quality in my opinion. The unit design is spectacular and there's no mistaking which legion each unit calls family. There are also some fantastic skins for your units like the snowman skin for the sapling bush or, my personal favorite, the Void Bane's rainbow unicorn skin. These customizations are limited at the moment but more content is being added often.
The audio side of things is just as pleasant with soundtracks that keep the tension without becoming overbearing and decent effects to keep you in tune with the action. There's no voice acting present, which would have made a fine addition but doesn't take anything away from the experience.
As mentioned, the game uses a free-to-play model which always comes with the question, how much of an impact does your wallet have? While you can spend money to purchase additional cards, which can then be sacrificed to level up your preferred cards, doing this pushes you up the tier ladder which means your opponents will also have higher tier cards and will, therefore, be more of a challenge. In my entire time of testing, I am yet to notice a significant difference between the strength of my units compared to any of my opponents so I have to conclude that the developers have kept things well balanced here.
Since Rise of Legions is still in early access I expected to find a good number of bugs but was pleasantly surprised when this was not the case. The only issues I had was the occasional message stating "Your deck does not match the chosen tier" before starting a new match which was easily fixed by reselecting my chosen deck. The other, more annoying problem, was the fact that the game didn't recognize my commands if I issued them too quickly. Having played quite a bit of competitive RTS in my day, I've gotten used to clicking as quickly as my brain would allow but in doing so, I often found myself clicking on a card a second or third time before it was finally selected. The gameplay isn't quick enough for this to have a huge impact though but it's like asking your kids to clean their room, you know you'll have to ask a third and maybe a fourth time before seeing any results, but it would have been a fun surprise if things happened when and how you commanded.
I want to recommend Rise of Legions, but it simply isn't there yet. The developers have done fantastic work so far and I honestly see a lot of potential here but it doesn't provide that nail-biting multiplayer action I was hoping for. Every single one of my games resulted in one side quickly steamrolling the other, or an endless tug-of-war right in the middle of the arena until the timer ran out. I never saw a comeback from either side once they started falling behind which is what players look for if they plan on coming back for more.
It's like I mentioned earlier, things feel too refined. Like each one of these units grew up being told, "Yes, you are unique and there's no one like you, but just try and fit in okay." Too often it felt like my units' special abilities just weren't strong enough to make a significant difference so instead of staring at my screen white-knuckled, with sweat pouring down my forehead, I instead sat back, relaxed, and just populated the battlefield as needed. I wanted to be like a race car driver, taking each corner at the edge of what physics would allow, instead, I was a spoiled snob in the back of a limo, ordering my driver to take me to fancy places while not causing me to spill my drink.
In my humble opinion, this could be easily fixed by tweaking the unit designs slightly. Perhaps introduce unit classes that have a rock-paper-scissors effect on one another, this has proven highly successful elsewhere, or just enhance their abilities so it feels like they actually mean something. Something else I'd like to see is more game modes like 2v2 or have some random events occur that could help a struggling player regain some ground. Anything that would stir up that sleeping lion and make it roar for our amusement.
That said, Rise of Legions is a good game and I enjoyed every one of the 16 hours I've spent with it thus far, even though it didn't deliver the fun in the same package I anticipated. It is still in early access and from what I've seen, the developers are soaking up the critique to adjust and improve the game. The foundations have been laid, and something magnificent can come from this, and given a little more time, I think this will be a very addictive game.