The Total War series has become the benchmark for Ancient Era warfare in today’s strategy game market. With its grand, sweeping battles and turn based strategy, it has dominated the other titles available in the genre. Legion Arena comes to the table offering the ability to get right into the fight against the Etruscans and other enemies of Rome…or even attempt to take Rome on in a popular rebellion. The difference is that Legion Arena lacks the grand strategy mode of the Total War series, simply allowing you to build an army and get right into the fight. The graphics for Legion Arena are not going to tax a current generation system. They are uite functional and provide the right amount of detail to the battlefield and units so you get the information you need. Unlike the Total War series, your units are rendered in full 3d. You can control the level of detail generated for the models in the options screen, but this would only be an issue on systems that are more than 2 years old. My ATI Mobilty 9700 has no problems running this game at full detail and maintained a pretty stable frame rate. I wish it would have detected my monitor’s display modes and allowed me to run the game at my desktop resolution, but that is a minor detail to say the least. Solid sound effects for the game make this a pleasure to listen to. The clash of men and horses is a little on the weak side, but it is there and adds to the atmosphere of the title. Legion Arena uses a rousing classical soundtrack to provide the background music for the battles. It is themed in the style of the military march and really backs up the action of the battles. The control style of the game is a pretty standard RTS with all your unit control commands (the formations and orders) appearing on a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. It is a very simple and direct system that works well. I only had issues when I wanted to right click an enemy unit, as it wanted me to be touching one of the men in the formation when I did so, and I missed sometimes.
Here it is, your chance to raise an army and your only initial choice is wether or not you want to oppose Rome. The gameplay really centers around planning, recruiting, training, and setup of your army. Once a battle gets underway, you can influence it but for the most part, you have to let your plan play out. The part of actually fighting the battle is a case of setting up the cards and letting them fall down the way you want them to. You can blow on a card here and there to influence it, but once unleashed you will succeed or fail.
There are two separate phases of the game, the army camp and the campaign. The Army Camp phase allows you to recruit new units, and reinforce/upgrade exsisting units. The longer your units survive battle, the more special abilities it earns, such as block for damage reduction, or you can teach it to focus on countering a specific unit type (Infantry, Cavalry, etc). Depending on your successes on the battlefield, you can also use this screen to recruit new units. Money is not the only factor in bringing more men to your side though. Fame factors into the cost of many high level troops, meaning that winning is the key to providing more specialized troops for your army.
Once you enter the campaign mode, the game generates a new scenario for you. You get a view of the terrain and then you get to arrange your armies. The planning phase is one of the places that I feel that this game steps past the shadow of the Total War series. Using a system of minatures to represent your units, you can lay out the initial orders for your units. This includes setting the formation type, from balanced to defensive or offensive, and even what their initial movement will be (Hold position, Advance, Flank). I liked the fact that some of the available basic orders included a hold then act command. This allows you to combine strategies such as tying up an infantry unit with another infantry unit, then crush them with cavalry. I truly believe that if a battle is going to be won, it will be done here in the planning stage.
Once you initiate the fight, you get to see the result of your planning and positioning. You can issue orders at this phase but it costs order points to do so, which regenerate at a specific rate. This means you can only react so quickly to changing situations, such as an unknown unit ambushing you from behind. This limit on changing the plan also makes this game shine as a warfare simulation. It focuses your control of the situation to the planner, and does a better job of simulating communications on the battlefield.
It is one thing to conquer your enemies on a long campaign. It is another to utterly defeat your friends with the seasoned army online. Aside from the ability to continue campaigning and growing your army, the ability to go online, build an army and test your strategies is available. LAN and Internet play are covered, but there are no matching options. You have to know the IP address for internet play which can be a downside to things. Both sides can build their armies based on a set experience and denarii value and matches are divided into 3, 5 and 7 set series of battles. It looks like there is enough here to make multiplayer fun, but I could not test multiplay functionality during the scope of my review.