Legion is a 2D turn-based strategy game based around the time of Roman empire's conquests. The game is somewhat similar to the Lords of The Realm series. It has low system requirements and it is currently available in most stores for around $30 USD.
The game is divided into a few different interfaces. The graphics in the main game window don't look too impressive - I will even dare to say they're pretty dated. Although there is enough detail given to the actual map, the quality is the problem – graphic wise the game looks as it could've been made in 1999 or so.. Unlike the HOMM games you won't see moving water, or anything else moving for that matter since there are absolutely no animations on the map, except for your and enemy's figures that represent armies, and because of that it looks really bland. You see the map from eagle-eye's view and there is no option to switch resolutions or move closer or further to the ground. The city interface suffers from the same problem - it seems detailed, but the graphics are dated as well, there's absolutely no interaction unlike for example the Caesar series where you had animated inhabitants of the city moving around... The only interface mode that I was impressed with was the combat one - it shows your troops fighting against the enemy, and it looks pretty nice, as the units are very detailed and there are a lot of them on the screen. You will see a lot of dead bodies lying around, soldiers clashing swords in battles, archers shooting arrows, etc... But then again, the graphics aren't really too great even there, just better than in the rest of the game.
The music is pretty good - the tracks are orchestral and sound like something taken from the movie Gladiator, which is a good thing. They transform one into another and keep a nice game atmosphere. There are even different tunes for every side that you'll be playing; Romans, Celts, etc... The sounds are generally nice, especially the battle ones, of swords clashing, horses neighing and men yelling and groaning in agony, except that there might not be a lot of them in the game. There are also voiceovers that you hear after you give your army a command to move - those are done well, once again except that there are only 4-5 of those for every side that you select to play with.
The gameplay really reminded me of Lords of the Realm - you select a side to play, your start location, difficulty mode and the game begins. First you control only a few towns or villages on the map and have a lot of neighbors. Your goal is to gradually expand your empire while taking over your neighbors' villages, towns and cities. In the process you have a limited access to diplomacy - for example you can make an alliance with another nation or give a tribute of some resources to another nation in order to improve your relationships or make peace when you can't wage war with them anymore. Every player has his turn once a season - so you get to play 4 times a year . Between the turns you can train new armies and build or upgrade existing buildings. Just like in Heroes Of Might and Magic you can upgrade buildings in order to have access to better units or build bigger armies.
To explain you how the economic model of the game works - the main resources in the game are food, ore and wood. To harvest every type of resource you need to build an appropriate building and appoint workers to it - i.e.: to get wood you need to build a lumber mill whilst to get ore you need to build a mine and appoint workers to work there. Every worker represents a certain percentage of your city's population. Every type of resources or a combination thereof is used to build different buildings or train different units - for example to hire a unit of mercenaries all you need is food, while to train a Roman legion you need both food and ore, since that particular unit has got great armor. According to the location of your city it might have bonuses over other cities in production of certain resource - for example a mountainous city will give you a better production ratio of ore per worker, while producing less food per worker than in other cities, so you would have to choose wisely where you're building your mines, farms and lumber mills. Some of the buildings require a maintenance "fee" every turn - for example having a Small Fort costs you 5 food and 5 wood per turn. Your army also requires resources for every turn, namely food, and the bigger is the size of your army, the more food you need to give them.
Every nation represented in the game: Roman, Greek, British, Spanish, German, Celtic and Pictish has its own units with their own stats, costs and abilities. The Romans have Legion and Praetorians, some of the best heavy infantry units in the entire game, Celts and British have great cavalry, and so on for every nation. Your units' size may consist up to 64 people per unit, while the size will depend according to the available training facilities in the city where this particular unit was trained - for example a city with a Quartermaster building can produce units of huge size, while barracks can produce units of just large size. Of course the cost of production also depends on the size, with larger units costing more. In order to build a unit, you'd have to allocate one of your spare workers to training – and he can't be converted back to worker once he becomes a soldier. You may have up to 8 units in a mobile army, with another 4 garrisoned if you're staying inside a city. The armies during fights can be huge, up to 1200 soldiers fighting on the battlefield at the same time. What is somewhat unfortunate, is that you cannot command your units during battle - you position them on the battlefield before it begins in the order and formation you want them to be, according to the enemy's formation (your scouts might inform you where some of the enemy's troops are located), give them some pre-battle orders, such as to wait a short period of time and then attack, or advance fast, etc... and then the battle will roll by itself with you being unable to change anything during its course. At the beginning you're sure not to like this, but as you will master the art of positioning your troops on the battlefield, you will be rather pleased with the way your soldiers will keep the positions you give them and kick some enemy butt! However I've found a little bug in the game - sometimes the units will "freeze" in the middle of the battle while the game is still running normally. The only way to solve the problem is exit the game and restart it, and even the latest patch didn't solve it. Fortunately it doesn't happen often at all, and there's of course an option to save and load games.
While fighting a battle, most troops will not fight till the last drop of blood - according to their moral level they will retreat from battle when their casualty level gets high enough. After the battle the remaining (not retreated) units are awarded experience points, according to number of casualties inflicted and suffered, and once those points will accumulate they will increase the experience level of your units, and that in return will increase their moral level and battle skill level - so for example if you have two similar units with the same number of soldiers but one having a higher experience level than the other unit clashing in battle, the unit with higher experience level will have no problem kicking the other unit's butt. After a battle is over you will also lose some man - the only way to get new recruits is to have the unit stay within your nation's borders, and dead soldiers will automatically be replaced with new ones within a time of a few seasons.
The enemy AI is rather damn smart - it will try to abuse every mistake that you make, such as leaving a town un-garrisoned (however here I wonder how it knows that - as I've never managed to find out the exact size of the enemy guarding its city, so it feels like the CPU AI is somewhat cheating), attacking a small army of mine with a larger army of his or requesting peace when it feels that it's about to lose war and even offering a tribute in order to convince me to stop the war. However during the battle your own and enemy units don't always choose the best options while fighting (for example - when the front unit is engaged in battle, often the unit behind it won't even think about advancing from the side and attacking the enemy's flank - instead it will stand behind the first unit and wait for it to be annihilated before getting into combat), but I guess that can be excused by the fact that smart decisions never come easy in the heat of battle.
Overall the gameplay is very interesting and involving - after playing for a few hours you actually feel like its your own empire you're taking care of, and wouldn't want to quit the game. I've personally played over 40 hours before writing this review, and after I'm done with it I think I'll go and play some more. There are no campaigns, but instead there are five huge open maps to play on with a variety of races and nations on each - they include Spain, Britain, Germany and more... That makes up for a huge replayability factor, also because you can choose historic or alternative settings and choose to control any nation and region of the game.
Unfortunately there's no multiplayer game mode included with the game.
Legion is a very well-balanced game with great gameplay that will keep you glued to your monitor for hours, especially because of its high replayability value and the sheer amount of nations and maps available to choose from (and don't forget the great economic model!). The audio and especially music is good, although there might not be enough different sound effects and voiceovers in the game. Legion will be able to run on any PII class processor, so people with even very old systems will be able to enjoy it without any performance slowdowns. The real downsides to the game are the dated graphics and lack of multiplayer mode, which probably would've been very fun if it was implemented, as well as for fans of RTS games the inability to control your units during battle. My suggestion for any Lords of the Realm, Heroes of Might and Magic and Civilization series fans would be to grab it off the shelf right away; it will also be a nice game for most other strategy game fans. But if you're expecting an "action" strategy game like Warcraft, Age of Empires or Sudden Strike, keep yourself away from this one.