Not So Expansive
With its focus on a complex, swords and wizardry-filled land spiraling into war following the theft of ancient, forbidden elven magic that could bring about the destruction of the entire realm should it fall into the wrong hands, Elven Legacy delivered a solid if somewhat unspectacular turn-based strategy experience. Players who enjoyed that title and squeezed every last drop of hard-earned fun from the game’s dual campaigns and multiplayer offerings will get a reasonable amount of extra mileage from the first installment in a trilogy of expansion packs clearly designed for the hardcore Elven Legacy addicts out there – assuming such a thing even exists in large numbers.
Elven Legacy: Ranger spins a whole new story that focuses on the quest of a human ranger named Cornelius who wields a holy spear and is charged with paving the way for the eventual return of The Order of Marcus. Alongside his comrade Lucius, a heavily armored knight captain, Cornelius must cobble together a small army and engage all manner of human and inhuman foes across the land while pushing forward towards his ultimate goal.
As with the main game, the story is pretty thick and a little hard to process if you’re not already familiar with what’s going on in the generic fantasy world. The way the tale is delivered this time around poses a bit of a problem and makes the whole adventure rather impenetrable in the early stretches. While Elven Legacy featured some interesting cutscenes and tons of dynamic voice work to help ease players into the tale, all of that has been oddly stripped-out in Ranger and replaced with reams of bland text. Sure, those elements weren’t the best aspects of the main game – you might recall from our past review that we blasted them for their relative shoddiness – but they still made the transitions between battles have a better flow and cohesiveness. It also made the convolutedly epic tale and extensive back-story more digestible. The fact they’re missing hurts the game substantially, as funny as it may sound.
Look beyond the stunted storytelling and you’ll find the gameplay has changed very little. Branching battle scenarios unlock on the main world map as you progress through the game, and each mission encounter takes place on a vibrant hexagonal 3D map. You’ll get a chance to move each of your army units and take an action during a given round, before the map’s foes and NPC units are afforded a change to go about their business. There’s an opportunity to see the projected outcome of every battle before you commit to charging into the fray with swords, spears, and spells drawn. When you do duke it out, the characters show combat animations from the hex they’re standing in, rather than moving combat to a separate screen. There’s a lot of depth involved and other factors to juggle, including terrain bonuses, special abilities, magic, and specific objectives in each mission.
Every map still has an arbitrary round timer and medal rating system that encourages you to haul ass and plow through the objectives as fast and directly as possible or face a poor bounty when you finally do win. Fortunately, money isn’t quite as hard to come by, which is a welcome change of pace from the stinginess of Elven Legacy. The seemingly improved cash flow does make it much easier to purchase greatly-needed new units and upgrade your troops between missions. However, keeping them alive long enough to reap the benefits is a lot harder than it should be.
Some have suggested Ranger eases up some on the unflinchingly hardcore difficulty of the main game, but we found the exact opposite to be true. If anything, it seems the difficulty curve and overall challenge is as brutal as ever. In some missions you’re given a relatively meager force of just a few units to protect Cornelius with, complete the lofty objectives, and slay a large number of nasty foes. If he dies, then you’re pretty much screwed and forced to re-start the map. Unfortunately, even the littlest miscalculation in enemy movement distance or in how ruthless the A.I. will be at any given moment will send your hero into the great beyond. We’re no stranger to hardcore turn-based strategy games, but even dialed down to its easiest difficulty level, our armies still got grinded up into a pulp over and over again on some maps.
Since each unit gradually grows stronger, levels-up, and gains access to special abilities and bonus stats, keeping them alive and fostering their fighting prowess is crucial to your success. When you do complete a mission and wind up losing some non-essential but still very important units in the process, you can’t go back without re-loading old save files. Let this happen too many times and you simply won’t be tough enough to hack the beefier challenges that lie ahead. It’s essentially the same as the Fire Emblem effect, though you there’s not a lot of personality in these characters to get overly attached to.
So what does this expansion really bring to the table besides a handful of grievances? Well, if you have the patience to read through all the mute dialogue, then the story does pick up intermittently at different moments. The 16 missions in the new campaign are enough to keep you busy for a while even if they’re essentially more of the same.
Other than that, Cornelius has the power to use spell-like abilities to charge his attacks in different ways without losing his turn. That is an improvement, though it’s not one to crow too loudly about. There’s also a few new spells and special artifacts.
When you get down to it, there’s not that much to get excited about here. The $9.95 price tag definitely makes Elven Legacy: Ranger a decent purchase on a tight budget, if you want more of the same kind of semi-frustrating action offered in the main title. By the way, it’s not a standalone expansion, so you’ll have to buy the full game first to dive into this add-on. If you’re a major fan, you might want to wait to see if a combo pack of all three expansions is released together. Otherwise, save your money.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Lots of color and interesting character designs break down a bit on closer inspection. Lack of cutscenes, even poor ones, is disappointing. 3.9 Control
Tons of flexibility in the camera angles and a somewhat easy-to-grasp interface. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Hell, we’d even settle for some bad voice work over absolutely none at all. 3.0 Play Value
16 missions in a single new campaign that covers a lot of the same territory and doesn’t offer much in the way of new stuff may not hold your interest for very long. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.