With the possible exception of Dune, most fantasy games have never been too strong on plot. Unfortunately, Dark Legions isn't going to change that. From what I can work out from the meandering five-page introduction, the game puts you in an immortal kingdom called Tahr Carog. You hold one of the two orbs of power (yawn) and your mission, should you choose to install the program, is to summon an army of weird and wonderful creatures to defeat the geezer with the other orb. The good news is that he's probably as mystified as you are as to why he has it and just as puzzled.
You don't have to know all that, of course, and as with every other fantasy game I've ever come across, if you want to imagine yourself in the Land of Oz surrounded by some blonde and beautiful Munchkins, then it won't make too much difference.
Thin plot, solid game
The plot might be thin but Dark Legions is a good, solid fantasy game that combines strategy and combat in equal proportions. You can play against the computer or another human, either in the same room or by modem.
The idea behind the game is quite simple - you pick your side on a points value basis from a list of 16 strange creatures and do battle in time-honoured fashion by incinerating, poisoning, clubbing, draining or mangling your opponent to death. On screen, of course. To help you get into the right mood of bloodthirstiness, you get some rather wonderful animations. In fact, all that's really missing is the smell of blood and burning flesh. And probably one or two screws on the part of the designer.
Dark Legions is available in two versions: one on floppy disk only and the other on CD-ROM. The former uses no fewer than seven high-density disks and takes up a whopping great 35Mb of hard disk space, while the latter offers two options. You can go for the full installation (using over 40Mb of hard disk space) or a partial installation that uses only 4Mb of disk space but loads the animation elements directly from CD-ROM. If you have a double-speed drive or better, this shouldn't be a problem, but those of you still struggling with singlespeed drives might get a little frustrated. If this sounds like typical reviewer style hardware snobbery, it isn't. I'm one of the smugglers...
There are no options for uninstalling the animations either, which could be a problem if your existing drive is double spaced to the hilt and you already have a decent game or two installed. You can turn them off inside the program but not delete them entirely. Let's face it, if you don't have half a gigabyte of free space these days, you're nobody. Well, this nobody had to delete CorelDRAW just to make some space, so don't get all uppity.
Installation is a bit of a doddle once you've removed half the contents of your drive and the last three months' hard work. It takes a while, but the program automatically checks over your system, highlights what's needed (such as the amount of free base RAM) and reminds you to install mouse drivers or whatever.
Getting started is easy and the manual is short and to the point. Each of the creatures is listed in detail with enough hints on gameplay to get you into the thick of it. The first thing to do is choose whether to play a game from the list of ten ready-made scenarios, or jump in at the deep end and make up your own army. Playing against the computer, you choose a starting point value, a map from a list of 20 or 30, and options such as computer level and the maximum number of moves per turn. This speeds up modem or two-player games and makes it a lot more exciting.
The computer level ranges from hopeless to merciless but I found it a hard opponent, especially in combat, even on weak and normal levels. Unfortunately, there is no way to specify a high strategic level and low 'arcade' level, which I suspect would suit many.
Next comes the army selection screen. You can choose one of six types of ring to gain extra powers for the wearer and seven types of traps to place on your map as well as the creatures, so long as you don't exceed your point allowance. That done, the computer selects its army and off you toddle to place the unmentionables on the map.
The ring of confidence
At this stage you can assign rings to each creature and give one the orb. This character becomes the equivalent of the king in a game of chess. Lose him and that's that. On the other hand, the orb holder gains power, so if you give it to your favourite demon, along with a few rings, you become the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Tahr Carog.
The strategy map, which you can view from above or in 3D, is a square grid, much like a board game. With the aid of the mouse, characters can move irds, forward sideways, but water but not all. This makes it easy to not diagonally and, apart from vampires, they can't move across f trees, chasms r or boulders. Some can cross trap enemy characters by placing your own around them. Trolls can even turn to stone and act as another boulder.
The movement of each creature is wonderfully animated - the demon stamps, the fire elemental flames and the vampire flies, for instance, and while slow, it is tremendously atmospheric. You can turn it off to speed things up but you start to miss it after a while...
Other options are escort (good for moving groups), move to the orb holder or move to a specific location. Each creature's power can be used in strategic mode (wizards freeze, templars heal, etc.) and you can examine its stats at any time. Your opponents will only come into view when one of vour pieces can see them.
Not a bad bloody bargain
All in all, SSI has a winner here. Unlike board game conversions with animation thrown in to excite interest, Dark Legions is a smooth blend of strategy and action right from the start. The gridded movement isn't as restrictive as it sounds, especially as the terrain is so varied, and the arcade-style combat element means you're in complete control. On top of that, the superb animations and sounds make it an unmissable gaming experience. Bring me my orb - I want more blood!
The monster mash
The hints and tips gives you a rough idea of how to plan a battle, but after a few games you'll find your own strategies. You can choose a more intelligent army, using guile and trickery to win through, or just a bunch of hard-drinking, loud-mouthed thugs. Creatures can be grouped into squads for mutual protection, or massed in ranks for a jolly rampage over everything in sight. A good combination is a couple of berserkers as 'infantry', a demon or fire elemental as the 'armoured' element and a wizard for the 'artillery'.
Endless other strategies are possible too. Send a few wraiths and phantoms to scout out the enemy positions, then send in a seer/thief team or two to detect illusions and traps. If you think you know who your opponent's orb holder is, you can assemble a long-range strike force.
Try a team of shape shifters disguised as vampires to fly over obstacles, turning into vampires, fire elementals or demons when they arrive.
Name a strategy and it will work. Well, it might work. You can lure an opponent into a troll trap with a shape shifter disguised as a seer, place physical traps to make a killing ground or launch diversions with wave after wave of illusionary characters. Of course, you have to watch out for the same thing, particularly from a human opponent. The computer opponent is weak on strategy and strong on arcade/combat skills, but it can create illusions and traps just the same.
Download Dark Legions
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP