Legends of Eisenwald

Hark! Fractured fiefdoms in dire need of assistance. Small band of assorted warriors needed to quell upstarts and complete quests in Germanic low fantasy setting. Inquire within. Ask for Berthold.  

Deep in Heroes of Might & Magic territory, Legends of Eisenwald is a rather capable but not particularly original tactical RPG. She looks good, plays well and is as stable as they come. A thrill-deficient triumph that plays its cards right, players stroll the verdant overworld and engage in hex-based tactical battles. There's paper doll itemisation for the trinket-fastidious, a decent world to explore and a largely uninspired slab of exposition to justify the journey. Legends of Eisenwald is the epitome of a game getting the job done, then clocking off.

This might read as coldly dismissive, but there's a lot to like. The battle system recalls affairs like the alluring LogicArtists' Expeditions: Conquistador, though doing away with cover and battlefield detritus in favour of an initiative-based hex-out, with alarming intimacy. It's not particularly showy, nor excessive complex, but if there's one element I can champion about the meat of Eisenwald, it's that the combat is snappy. Tactical in the chess sense, where unit fragility is countered by their capacity to lay down the hurt. Commanders enlist soldiers in taverns and similar establishments, slotting them into a small squad formation. Healers and magic users to the rear, ranged troops to the middle and the armoured heavies -- or cannon fodder -- to bear the brunt of an encounter. Each unit can be upgraded along certain tiers, so a lowly peasant hunter can become a hardened crossbowman with the right spending of points. As expected, the higher the tier, the more combat options and specialised skills become available. 

As you yomp across the land, fulfilling the requests of many and leading the boilerplate life of a low fantasy hero, it becomes apparent that choice is not on the agenda, despite all manner of hill and vale to roam upon. The fractious kingdom is being squabbled over by four nobles. In a post-Crusader Kings II world, the idea of foregoing court politics -- hell, even mere conversation! -- in favour of just removing at least fifty percent of the problem via the sword seems very blunt. Perhaps I'm asking too much from a game is simply not interested in going beyond the superfluity of medieval skull-cracking. There are minor player-driven divergences, but these are more akin to two paths to the same destination. Moreover, these are tucked into ancillary quests, which make Legends of Eisenwald feel fatalistic. Heinrich Von Hero will achieve his goal. No great houses will fall due to the sly machinations of his politicking, merely the edge of his blade.

It all begins to feel like an elaborate adventure game, one sporting the artifice of a grander RPG. Were not for the saving graces of the combat, Legends of Eisenwald wouldn't get the nod of approval. But I sill find it quite an enjoyable game, despite the obvious misgivings or misplaced hopes. The overland map is quite a feast for the eyes, especially with the day/night cycle casting a shifting hue over the countryside. It would have been nice to see a lot more NPC action on the overworld, but I've been spoiled of late with affairs like Battle Brothers and further still with past gems like Real Warfare II: Northern Crusades or Mount & Blade. The unit models are very well-realised, even if they lack any sort of personality. Combat itself is fun, sometimes challenging, with the immediacy of proximity sacrificing any sort of interesting environmental design. 

Legends of Eisenwald is a game of caveats. For everything it does well, there's something middling or missing to counter it. And while there's nothing bad about the title, there's no affirmation of greatness. Legends of Eisenwald is a good game, just not a hugely exciting one. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but if you're jonesing for a no-frills slice of competent fantasy strategy fun, then you could do a lot worse.