Think forty years in the desert is tough, Moses? You should try playing this one.
It's not the best time to be a Lord of Ashworld. The armies of the Empire of Arath are marching South in frankly ridiculous numbers, laying waste to isolated kingdoms and independent nobles. The only way for you to survive is to travel across a sun-blasted desert wasteland, recruiting allies and soldiers to your cause and evading the pursuing Arath forces.
Legions of Ashworld is an obvious homage to classic strategy RPGs like Lords of Midnight. First impressions are good. The game's art style is lovely, a restrained and attractive classical fantasy style that brings to mind a Sunday morning bible cartoon. Jumping into the game's single campaign, you see the unforgiving desert stretch before you, sun slowly sinking behind distant mountains. You view your kingdom in a first-person perspective, and movement is performed in the style of the Might and Magic series, by shifting your heading in the desired direction using a compass and then setting off through the desert to raise your armies and organise the defence of your lands.
Nuryhad's mustache is impressive, but not enough to make him memorable
Desert travel is a slow business. Each movement or action takes a set time, and when the sun goes down you'll have to set up camp and rest. Planning your actions for the day is key, especially if you’re low on supplies – armies march on their stomachs after all. The minimap provided in the bottom-left of your screen doesn't change facing depending on the way you point the camera, so you have to keep an eye on your desired location and make sure you're on the right track. It's not a particularly intuitive system, and if you're ham-fingered like me you'll end up periodically picking the wrong direction and marching straight into a chasing horde of soldiers, but you'll get used to it relatively quickly.
Scattered around the deserts of Ashworld are various garrison forts, towns and cities. Here you'll pick up new troops, persuade fellow rulers to join your alliance and buy new supplies and gear. While the land is populated by dozens of rulers, from kings to minor local lords, none of them really feel distinct from each other. Bringing someone into your alliance is a matter of one behind the scenes dice roll – fail and they say no, succeed and they give you their goods and troops.
Characters come in a couple of flavours, either wizards or lords. Lords are military commanders, best at leading troops into battle and persuading other leaders to join their ranks. Wizards might sound like they've got some tricks up their sleeve, but really they just end up being healers or combat buffers. They can't lead troops. Have one in your army however, and you can restore a small amount of your casualties back to health or get a morale bonus to your army's statistics - don't expect any monster-summoning or fancy pyrotechnics.
The game looks lovely. Look at those lions chilling out in the sun. Let's kill them and wear their skin
With hordes of Imperial troops pouring down to invade your lands, it's not surprising that you'll often get drawn into a fight. Battles are more mathematics than anything. March your forces into the enemy, then wait and see how many horses died, how many spearmen you lost, rinse, repeat and try again. There's little modifiers that come into play here and there, but no real way affect an outcome beyond simply bringing more men to the field. It needs more – more units, more options and more variation. Beyond the grand-scale tactical manoeuvring and buying a few different buff items in stores there's little depth here to experiment with.
Wizards and magic items grant dull percentage bonuses rather than truly changing the course of your campaign, characters simply get slightly more competent rather than really developing into unique Generals with specialist skills. You can't attempt to outflank, or launch surprise attacks at night, and there are only a few basic unit types – infantry, cavalry, siege units and so on. I realise this isn't a pure combat game, but seeing as raising forces to crush invading armies takes up a not inconsiderable amount of your time, I expected more interesting battle mechanics.
That said, the game still manages to be brutally hard. Those bloody Arath troops are an endless swarm, constantly surrounding and harassing your outposts and pushing you back across the map. Even normal mode can be a real headache, and while I appreciate that it's meant to be tough – you are being invaded by a colossal empire after all – it often crosses that well-worn bridge into Frustration County, with stack upon stacks upon stacks relentlessly swamping you. There's only one campaign too, so forget the learning curve.
At least the map for that single campaign is sizeable. And by that I mean colossal. With such a huge map and so much freedom to explore though, it's a shame that there isn't more to discover. Distant towns might have a few more items and supplies to peruse in the market, but by and large they're indistinguishable from each other. There are individual moments that hint at what could have been; stumbling across a herd of gazelle just as your supplies are running out, or reaching the fortress of a potential ally with an army hot on your sandalled heels. In a better game these would be the moments that flesh out a compelling personal narrative, but here they never truly manage to capture your imagination.
Yep, this scene feels very familiar. Zerg-rushing Arath bastards
After a gruelling trip across the desert wastes, it's an anticlimax to discover that the character you just recruited isn't King Otyem, Master of the Realm of Partia, he's just 'fifty-seventh man with mustache'. Finding a new ally in the uncharted wastes should be exciting, not just another bump to your infantry numbers, but unfortunately characters, missions and stories in Legions all lack personality. Something as simple as a trait system in the vein of Crusader Kings II or even a very basic dialogue tree would have made all the difference.
LEGIONS OF ASHWORLD VERDICT
That’s Legions of Ashworld’s greatest problem, really, a lack of character. Beyond the likeable visuals it’s a very dry, repetitive experience that never engages you or makes you care about defending your kingdom. There’s too little at stake and not nearly enough reason to keep you trudging about the wastes. The art style is lovely and there’s clearly a great affection on behalf of the developers for classic strategy/RPG hybrids, but Legions of Ashworld quickly becomes bogged down in endless army movement, uninteresting combat and micromanagement. The core elements of a decent game are there, but there’s no meat on the bones.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Exploring uncharted territory and meeting a new ally who provides you with much-needed supplies and troops is admittedly satisfying, but not nearly as satisfying as it should be.