Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Legends of Eisenwald: Preview


Legends of Eisenwald is a turn-based strategy / role playing from Aterdux Entertainment. I had never heard of the developer, or of their prior game, Discord Times until recently. I took Discord Times for a spin and despite its age and needing a little user interface (UI) refinement it was pretty fun. Legends of Eisenwald is the spiritual successor of Discord Times and if it can capture what made Discord Times fun while improving the UI I think Aterdux Entertainment will have another enjoyable strategy / role playing game hybrid. Remember that what follows is based on the current beta and is subject to change, along with some further refinement.

Eisenwald’s game play revolves around quest driven scenarios. The beta includes 1 scenario, but the plan is to include several more single scenarios in addition to a larger campaign of multiple scenarios strung together. Based on what I have learned, it seems 50+ hours of play can be expected by playing the scenarios once. Since there are 3 character classes to play, trying them all would further extend that time. The plan is to include a map editor so hopefully some good user created scenarios will add even more content.

The game’s focus is completing quests and fighting battles. There isn't much in the way of economic play – no building improvements or resources to gather. The only resource is gold which is used to hire troops and buy equipment.

Let’s Play

Note: This section has some minor spoilers for a small portion of this scenario.

The player controls one character, along with his army. When I first started the scenario I was limited to 6 units under my command, but that number grew to 12. I’m not exactly sure what I did to increase this number. Since the game is still in beta, features such as tooltips and helpful messages are not fully implemented.

As I stood outside my castle I received a message regarding a peasant rebellion in a small town within my lands.

Quests are tracked in a journal which also includes a bird’s eye view of the lands (in the released product locations will have labels).

We quickly headed down the road to investigate the rebellion, but were interrupted by the blast of a horn. Our castle is under attack! I decide to postpone my visit to the peasants. Since castle occupants enjoy a defensive advantage, I decide it is easier to prevent the castle from falling. Besides if my castle falls I will lose the income from it and have a harder time recruiting troops or buying weapons. I could have stationed some troops in the castle to defend it from invaders, but at this point I didn't have any to spare.

As we marched I could see other armies moving along their patrols. When the player stops moving, time automatically pauses. This is a neat system. The world feels alive as each army goes about their business while you do the same, but there isn't any frantic clicking because the game pauses when you do. If the player is waiting for some event to occur, they can allow time to pass without their character taking any action. In the bit I played, my army moved more quickly than the others so I never had to chase them down for long if I wished to engage them.

We waited inside the castle, preparing for the assault. After a brief fight my troops were victorious, losing only one of my archers. He quickly came to on his own, but wouldn't fight as effectively until he was properly healed. Luckily healing is available in castles so we fixed the archer right up, paying for the services in gold. If he wasn't healed future untreated injuries will eventually lead to his death.

On to Bog End to deal with those peasants. The unruly lot had taken up arms and we met in battle. We quickly reduced their left flank so we could get to their archers as their attack isn't nearly as good when engaged in melee.

We quickly put down the rebellion, but I can’t help but think the bloodshed would have been necessary if the attack on our castle didn't delay our approach. In fact if you do handle the peasants before the assault on the castle you get the opportunity to handle the situation with compassion or retribution. Your choices do have a material effect on how the scenario plays out. The journal isn't fully implemented in the beta, so this quest wasn't moved to ‘completed’.

On to the Baron’s castle to find out why I never received an invitation to his masquerade. Our journey takes us by the Goat and Cat Tavern so we stopped by to learn of any interesting rumors. Some buildings allow various actions, such as listening to rumors, getting quests, healing, hiring troops and buying equipment. 

Our paths crossed with Linhart von Zongel who asked for help dealing with some bandits in an old tower. Perhaps I will give him a hand. While traveling through Zongel’s lands one of his guards tried to extract a toll for crossing though, but I refused. I wasn't sure if the guards were acting for their own benefit or that of their lord. In any case, my refusal didn't lead to violence. On the way to Baron’s castle I found a spell caster available for hire but I had as many troops as I could currently lead. I decided to station some men in my castle to make room for some improved troops. A spell caster would be helpful in battles to come. The market was also selling some healing potions, but I couldn't afford them.

Some Details

Your army is made up of individual people, not stacks of 100s of troops. You won’t find the typical lineup of high fantasy units. The troops are various human units, with each class having their own default weapon and armor, but their equipment can be replaced as you gain more through purchase or battle. Troop classes aren't trained to use every piece of equipment. For example, a recruit can use an ax  mace, spear and light armor. Units are rated for how much damage they can sustain; attack and defense for melee, ranged, and magic; and initiative (when they take their turn in combat). As these units level up they improve their skills and can be upgraded to more advanced classes. This progression of equipment and skills lets the player have control over their army makeup and makes each soldier feel unique.  


There is plenty of opportunity to make use of your army through the turn based tactical battles. Weapon differentiation if my favorite part of the system. Swords can counter attack, axes ignore some of the enemy’s armor, and pickaxes reduce the target’s armor. There are 11 types of melee weapons each with their own special bonus, 2 types of ranged weapons, and magical attacks and spells.

Combat takes place on a small hex grid (7 columns with 32 hexes total). During a round. each unit takes their turn with the order based on their initiative. Units can only move and attack, or pass their turn. Passing gives that unit a bonus based on their equipment, such as units with shields get a defensive bonus. Melee units are limited to attacking their closest enemies and can’t move to a different location until the adjacent targets are dead. Luck is eliminated because there are no ‘to hit’ rolls. Every attack hits and the amount of damage is the attack – the corresponding defense. Ranged units can attack any unit on the field, but has a penalty applied to the damage if the target is more than 3 hexes away. Spell casters can target any unit with their spells. Currently ranged units and spell casters can’t move (since they don’t perform a melee attack), but the developers are working on adding a movement feature for them.

The movement rules are not completely satisfying for me. While the developers have their reasons, only allowing movement if the unit actually attacks doesn't seem logical and also can prevent the player from moving a unit to try and block the enemy from reaching the weaker ranged and magical units. I would prefer a system that uses a zone of control - where a unit’s movement is stopped if they move adjacent to an enemy but otherwise have freedom of movement. Even with these movement limitations combat is still enjoyable, but it can feel like the limitations are a bit artificial.

Currently the AI takes its turn in combat pretty quickly so it is hard to follow who is attacking who, but that is still being tweaked. It will also be easier to follow along after the addition of the combat log.

The Technical

The world and artwork are very attractive. The developers did a nice job making the game visually appealing. The music also gave me that medieval feeling. I did have some technical difficulties, but since this is in beta there is time to clear them up before release. I had some crashes when trying to load a save while playing the game (not from the main menu), and trying to enter 2 buildings consistently caused crashes (one of these were fixed in a recent patch). I didn't see a lot of people reporting crashes on the forum so I don’t know if these issues are widespread.

Also, I couldn't figure out how to progress in the main quest. I’m not sure if one of the crashes were preventing me from moving forward, or if the scenario wasn't fully functional, or perhaps I’m just an idiot.

Wrapping Things Up

As a whole I liked what I saw. Equipping units and leading them in battle is quite fun and is the main draw for me. I would prefer different movement rules, but they don’t significantly detract from my enjoyment. Not having elves, dwarfs and ogres is a nice change for this type of game and the magic aspect spices it up just enough. In Discord Times, there were some undead units, so I wouldn't be surprised if they made an appearance in Eisenwald. 

Probably the biggest risks are balancing the scenarios and making the quests flexible enough so the player has leeway in how the scenario is approached. Currently, at $15 for the preorder, I think the game will offer enough value and those interested in the genre should give this game a look. Heck, they even throw in Discord Times. If preorders aren't your thing, keep it on your radar for release in about a couple months. For more info you can check out their completed Kickstarter drive. If you would like the game to appear on Steam than vote to get them Greenlighted.