Reviewed: July 6, 2002
Reviewed by: Mat Houghton
Released: June 18, 2002
"We are the knights who say....", never mind. I always love a good use of the Arthurian legends, and this game is no exception, and even a step up from decaf. Legion: The Legend of Excalibur is, most closely, an action RPG, but what sets it apart is that there are also elements of real-time strategy here. 7 Studios is led by one of the creators of the Command & Conquer series of games, so there is some similarity to the feel of things with top angle views and a necessity to sometimes be in two places at once. The beautiful thing is that the control handles this perfectly, and you have no real problems handling two or three fronts at once.
They also include one of my favorite aspects of RPGís - the toy factor. There are over 100 different items in the game including unique items for each of the eight knights. Donít get too excited, you can only use three at a time, so choose, but choose wisely because with a total of thirteen missions and no ability to save during a mission mistakes are often costly. Donít worry about it too much, even if someone dies during a mission theyíre still available for the next one. Knights of the Round Table are hard to kill you know, no matter how perilous the situation, though I do wonder when they started admitting women.
Donít get too comfortable there, just thinking this is a mindless hack and slash game where all you have to do is hammer on the attack button about a million times to reduce your enemies to ribbons and use them to tie up your hair for the victory celebration. Oh, no. Things are a little more complicated than that. Sure you can just hit attack again and again, but you become much more effective when you combo and in order to do that you have to have some rhythm. Basically they make your blade flash at the end of each swing so you know when to hit the attack button again. It takes a little bit to get the timing down, but if you make the effort you wonít swing your sword like just any girl, you might actually be as good as Lancelotís mother.
In addition to this little complication, youíre allowed to switch control between the three knights youíve brought along for the ride. So not only can you have all three of them in a group slaying together, you can split your forces to have one knight protect a town while you go off in search of a bandit king. There are also command controls for each knight, so you can control them remotely by just assigning them tasks. The default AI is pretty limited, so be sure to command your troops, otherwise you might regret it later. This is where the some of the strategy comes in, especially when you have to keep one or two party members alive in order to complete the mission.
While most of the mission objectives are purely combat oriented, there is enough variety that youíre not going to get bored. You have to knock out bridges, destroy enemy artillary, and pass tests of strength and wits (though the King of Deceptionís was kind of obvious). Youíre also provided with a checklist for objectives that gets updated as you go, so youíll know what you have to do. So far I havenít seen a completion rating or been told Iíve missed anything, so getting the main objectives done are really all that matter. Secondary ones usually just make things easier.
You remember the cutscenes from Final Fantasy X? They looked nice right? Were smooth? Had lots of special effects? These are...well if I say "better" thatís a bold statement, but they are on par in every case. The lighting is amazing, and if you want detail look at any of the suits of armor, but most especially Utherís in the opening movie. Itís bright, itís shiny, it holds blood well, and good God is that scroll work over everything? Another favorite of mine is the sword that the demon wields in the trailer included on the DVD extras. Be sure to look there too for a preview of Defender - go ask your dad if you donít know what that is - he should remember. God I love classic remakes, anyone know about plans for a new Joust, or how about Galaga?
Anyway, while the cutscenes will have you at a Kleenex box about every ten seconds the game graphics are also richly detailed and very fluid. Thereís lots of depth to the levels with buildings, trees, fences, bridges, rocks, everything. While they do kind of herd you along a path there is plenty of room to explore, and do so because thatís where youíre going to find all those wonderful toys. Donít worry about any of it getting in the way either, as soon as you get close to a wall or something that would block the camera it goes transparent. In the case of a tree get close to the trunk, otherwise just fight blind.
You face a vast array of demons, undead, evil knights, ghosts, sorcerers, barbarians, thieves, etc., and they didnít skimp any on the designs. Most often you get one template for several different units, but here each one is unique. The barbarians are twice as tall as you, zombies and skeletons are unique and easily discernable from other creatures. Just wait till you fight ďTimĒ.
There are also great special effects, mostly from spells, but a few just with the weapons. Your sword leaves a trail as you swing, arrows streak through the air, fires burn brightly and spread slowly to other objects, bodies lose limbs, heads, they even explode; itís like having a vivisection table of your very own.
The soundtrack is about what youíd expect for this kind of game, good arrangements of strings and drums to set the mood. Itís not Braveheart, but it doesnít fall too short. It all blends very well into the gameplay or cutscene, and while there are no over-arching themes really, the mission failed movie raises beads of sweat every time.
The voice acting is hit and miss. They did a really good job with all of the main characters, but some of the one-use voices are just terrible. They try sounding like a stupid peasant, and end up sounding like a bored actor. Itís enough to make you want to unsheathe that mighty blade on your hip and have at them for their impudence. A few decapitations never hurt anyone.
There is a lot of speech during gameplay too. Enemy knights shout, ďDie! Bastard!Ē Yours yell ďFor the King!Ē Each of the Knights of the Round Table has his own yell for when the enemy approaches and for when theyíre about to die. The only thing is that by about the tenth time or so you get a little tired of hearing four or five guys yell for your head just like the last horde you swept through.
Thereís very little replay value in the game that Iíve seen. Nothing to unlock by perfectly completing missions, no secret characters. Itís all pretty straightforward. It isnít easy by any means though. Iíve had to replay every mission at least once; so donít go looking for straight runs through missions. It isnít really repetitive though, mostly because itís a boss that kills you, so while you do have to play the whole mission over again it doesnít get annoying because you generally improve leaps and bounds just by knowing where everything is and what to expect. Itíll take a good 60+ hours to complete everything, but the cutscenes are worth every brain beating moment of it.
Also, the DVD extras are excellent. They include a trailer for Legion and one for Defender as I mentioned, as well as a behind the scenes look at the making of Legion and at the legend of King Arthur. Those are worth your time and donít have to be unlocked, so you can watch them as soon as you put the disk in.
There are really only a few beefs that I have with this game. One is saving. You canít save in mission but it auto saves for you after you complete each one. You canít even save after you buy equipment before you go to the next mission. The real kicker about it though is that you canít start a new game on the same memory card. It only auto saves to the same file. This is a real problem because there is no level select option either. Once you complete a mission it is done - thereís no going back. Thereís no movie player either so break out the VCR for those cutscenes because you are only going to see them once, unless you replay the entire game.
Otherwise, Legion: The Legend of Excalibur is fantastic. They do a great job of including the main parts of the legends of King Arthur and his Knights, but they deviate from it enough to improve on things. The best part is the little nods to The Holy Grail. Keep your eyes open and you wonít be disappointed. If you like RPGís at all youíll really dig this. If you like RTS you wonít be disappointed. If you like any kind of games at all you wonít be disappointed.