Legions of Steel PC Review
Entertainment brands transitioning to video games has been going on for years. We have had popular card games, such as Magic the Gathering, bring their digital versions to gaming platforms. Companies have offered their board game IPs to bring Monopoly, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, and even TV shows have jumped on the fun with video game takes on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Family Fortunes. In the past few years more niche board games have come to find a market on various platforms, especially Games Workshop properties, with Blood Bowl, Chainsaw Warrior and Space Hulk all available on Steam. This appears to be working well for publishers, as it seemingly brings in a mixture of new fans and people who enjoyed the board games.
Legions of Steel is another niche board game from the early 90s, one that I never physically played (was more into the Warhammer/Game Workshop universe), but time spent with Studio Nyx’s video game adaptation brought attention to me the eerily similarities with Space Hulk, to the point you could think this was Space Hulk‘s long lost brother. Since I haven’t played the physical game, it’s hard for me to tell you how close it represents playing it, so expect this review to come from a point of a fresh faced Legions of Steel newbie giving his impressions of the video game.
It’s easy to see where I am coming from in regards to Legions of Steel and Space Hulk. Legions of Steel is set in space, where a threatening army of robots, known as The Empire of the Machines, are on their way to invade the galaxy. This is such a serious threat that the United Nations of Earth and all the alien races throughout the galaxy have joint forces to put a stop to the danger by sending a squad of units into confined spaceship corridors to shoot down the dastardly machine warriors. As far as the actual story, there isn’t much of it, as short comic book panels are used to give a quick glimpse of the universe before its back to tactically blasting some mechanical evildoers.
To be fair, while I am making all these comparisons with Space Hulk, the game does try to its own thing when it comes to its gameplay. Legions of Steel is a turn-based title that is heavily focused on strategic thinking and map positions. It’s also very complex, with one of the longest tutorial campaigns I have experienced…probably ever. We’re talking two hours to get through the tutorials to learn about all the important aspects of Legions of Steel. Hell, I even failed a few of the tasks as I tried to understand what the game was informing me about. This was half my fault and half the game’s 100% hit rate that every unit has to make the tutorial showcase the concepts better. Even so, the messages during the tutorials isn’t always clear, and if you do manage to break the flow of the tutorial requirements, say moving a unit when you were suppose to change a stance, then the game ends up freaking out with a bug where the units will no longer move, so a restart of the map is needed to solve this issue. Some of the tutorial examples could have been compacted into one mission. I understand that the developers wanted to give each gameplay element equal attention, but it seems weird that in one tutorial you learn to move, then it has to load a new map to learn how to attack, then a new map to learn how to switch fire modes.
Completing the tutorial shows the differences in gameplay compared to that Games Workshop title that features space marines and aliens that I keep mentioning. One of the biggest differences is that the enemy will shoot back. Legions of Steel has danger from a distance, with the machines fighting you on equal grounds. This makes for some very hard stages, as if you don’t keep a keen eye on the placement of enemies, you can expect to be easily wiped out. There is a very handy tactical map that removes all the textures to show a wire-frame of everyone’s placement and what sections are covered by enemies on overwatch (saving a shot for the enemy’s turn to auto-fire at them if they cross the line of sight). There isn’t a limit on the distance a shot can travel, instead, to make it fair, the only statistic that changes is the percentage chance of the shot landing, dropping for every square it passes.
Each round an initiative roll is performed to see who gets to move their units first. Moving around the grid system uses points. Each unit (called commandos) begins a round with four points, but can gain more by changing stances from walk to run to receive double the amount of movement, but reducing their precision when it comes to attacking in the same turn. The opposite can be done too, as a unit that is put into static stance will offer the option to cover corridors with suppression fire. Every action reduces movement points, so if a character is facing the wrong way, you will have to spend points to rotate them on the spot to face the desired direction. Additional tactics can be used to keep your units alive. A rotate icon lives on the bottom left of the screen that when clicked will lock the unit from being able to rotate, this means that when the unit moves they will strafe instead of spending a turn to rotate and then walk in that direction. It’s a great way to come out and in of cover when needing to pop a shot down a corridor and move back to safety. This move costs two points, the same as rotating around and moving one square , which keeps the balance in check.
Each of the four unit types have their specialised weaponry. The standard unit has a rifle that can be given a two shot burst, great for taking down enemies close together, but each shot is given a accuracy handicap. The standard unit also has access to special grenades to block pathways, causing the enemy to spend a round shooting to bypass the block. The heavy automatically is granted two shots, but can change its firing skill do the same skill as the standard unit, but gain four shots instead of two. The last two units, Sergeant and Corporal, are special versions of the previous two that have the ability to spend points to improve their accuracy or movement, and after a mission, they can be upgraded to give them better stats in various areas.
Being based on a board game there is a factor of luck in play, since this is a game that is made up of dice rolls. This luck can be improved through tactical thinking and manipulating enemy behaviour through blocking corridors and locking their options down, but do expect to see awkward situations where you miss point blank or that the AI team won’t budge a position because it knows it will die. I was in one of those stalemates, it’s not nice, so I opted to restart the mission, as they would not move unless I sent my unit on a suicide run into their line of fire, which, of course, was my last unit. To succeed through all the 10 mission campaigns and be successful in the skirmish mode or multiplayer (locally or asynchronous online) requires the user know how the game works. If not, you will not have fun and will probably feel the game is too hard to enjoy. While on topic of the missions, it is nice to see variety in missions- tasks aren’t just kill all enemies, rather they involve objectives like getting a unit to a specific point before the enemy team does, shootouts while holding a zone for a allotted amount of turns, fog of war coverage, and the game even includes an escort mission. Legions of Steel tries to make its campaign tasks interesting with the limited mission count there is.
Initially Legions of Steel began life is a Kickstarter project that asked for £25,000, but failed to match the funding goal. Publisher Slitherine picked up the game, but I can’t help but think that there are some shortcomings with the game’s presentation due to either lack of time or funding. As gameplay goes, the game is a mechanically sound, and I would assume it is a good representation of the board game (remember I haven’t played its physical release), but its presentation is lacking. The UI is clearly using a format made for mobile devices (the game is on iOS) and the mouse cursor is hyper-responsive to movement at the end of the screen that I had to reduce my mouse input to the minimal amount through hardware buttons on the input device to stop it speeding off to the end of the map. The graphics also suffer too, and the generic space corridors and units devour the game of any personality through its isometric view leaving a game that plays well, but looks painfully dreary compared to some of the other digital board games.
Ultimately it comes down to if you are a fan of the board game or are looking for a strategy game that focuses itself more on the game rather than looking pretty. Anyone able to overlook the mundane presentation will find an intriguing title that will take time to master its mechanics, and is worth checking out for people who have had their fill of Space Hulk or are after the next digital adaptation of a challenging 90s board game.