There are two schools of fantasy. The first school, high fantasy, is what more people think of when they envision fantasy. The heroes are paragons of chivalry, the ladies are beautiful (and oft-imperiled), the ground thunders under the hooves of noble steeds. Magic-users are powerful and eldritch, the woods are ensorceled, and every other river has a spirit living in it. Even the bad guys are really bad, embodying ancient evils that want to take over the world and grind all goodness and light into dust. Tolkein was the master of high fantasy.
Then there is low fantasy. Here, no one is really all good or all bad. Anti-heroes prowl the fens, as quick to bully the defenseless as fight an orc. The world is sort of dim and so are a lot of its inhabitants, including (especially) the powerful. Magic is scarce and not that powerful. After a while even the bad guys look like they are just good guys who happen to be on the other side. George R. R. Martin reigns over this land.
Not surprisingly, most games take place in worlds of high fantasy. It is just more fun to be Dart the Daring of Ultimate Goodness with a +5 Vorpal Sword of Ultimate Goodness than to be some schmuck with a limp and money problems. “Legends of Eisenwald” (LoE) takes the road less traveled.
LoE start like so many other turn-based RPGs do – you pick a character class. Your back ground is the same regardless – you are a member of a noble family who has been away. Now that you are back you find that something has gone wrong. For some reason yur family castle is no longer your family castle. This starts the overall quest – restore your family to its rightful place. As this is a beta, all quests are subject to change, but one already gets the feeling that this is going to be a personal quest for personal gain (and some honor, not a save-the-world epic adventure.
The road to victory is never straight and you will be called upon to complete many side-quests along the way. The usual set is included: fetch, escort, battles, they are all here. LoE is not looking to revolutionize RPGs, but makes its mark in the details.
The map itself looks like a satellite photo. Each individual hamlet has graphics that someone has clearly lavished a lot of time on. A bigger budget and more time would flesh the location details out, although it currently looks like it is not quite done.
This carries over to your squad. Tactical combat is platoon-level, with less than a dozen individual figures on each side. You have the opportunity to individually outfit your troops with armor, weapons and magic items you find/buy along the way. After a while one can become attached to what would otherwise be “Generic Peasant #6” as you kit them out. It can be surprisingly fulfilling to finally get the glaive you had your eye on.
LoE can feel more like an adventure than an RPG at times. Given the low fantasy setting there are not that many spells to learn or magical items to gather. The quests and subquests have a puzzle-like feeling to them – they come off as a series of things to do/find rather than a series of actual quests.
This review would be remiss if it omitted an interesting feature of tactical combat – your soldiers can only attack the enemy nearest them. Although it limits tactical options, it adds a sense of realism to each battle. After all, who is a peasant likely to poke with their stick, some guy way across that field, or the nearest enemy. Your mileage may vary, and things may change between the beta as previewed and the game as actually released.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Can write a better AI than anybody out there. Your mom likes me better than you. So does your girlfriend. Better-looking than you. Greatest living American author (except for Gene Wolfe. maybe). Humble.