The 90's (especially the first half) were a very interesting time for gamers. Genres were created and matured, colorful universes were invented and many of our games today are heavily influenced by the classics from that era. Take a look at today's releases and you can almost always smack on a 90's title that inspired them.
Some of these old classics are left to gather dust, however, because they were part of a fad: a niche genre which never survived the 90's. One of these was the table-top combat game. This genre was said to be inspired by a scene in Star Wars, which saw Chewbacca play a game of holo-chess involving pawns fighting for a square on the board. An interesting idea, and games like Archon and Battle Chess sold like hot cakes for years which shows the public thought so as well.
One of the last games in this genre was Dark Legions. Not content to simply copy its brethren, it took the genre and shifted it around, perfecting it. Maybe that's why the genre is dead: Dark Legions really pushed it to its boundaries. You're no longer stuck with the same board layout, you're no longer stuck with the same pieces, you're no longer stuck with dodgy graphics, etc. Dark Legions gave its older brothers (and even Archon Ultra, released around the same time) a swift kick up the ass and got away with it.
But let's talk about the game itself: Dark Legions is a mix of combat and clever strategy dressed in gorgeous VGA graphics. The goal of the game is simple: find the carrier of the orb and kill him. To do so, you need to employ a great deal of strategy while protecting your own orb carrier from your opponent. As simple as it may sound, the game is actually quite intricate.
When you start, you need to choose quite a few things: which map do you pick? A large one (which means a lot of ground to cover) can be tricky and enemies can slip through your defenses while a small one means there's nowhere to run and hide when those defenses have been ripped to shreds. There are dozens of maps to choose from so pick wisely.
You also need to pick your army: you start with an amount of gold and have to spend it wisely on both characters and rings. There are dozens of characters to choose from, and each has its strengths and weaknesses, and even a different price tag. Next, you can buy rings to buff up your units, so make sure you have some money left to spare! Rings are invaluable and can create much tougher units. The key here is diversity - make a nice and diverse army and make sure you can tackle each unit your opponent throws at you. You can also buy traps to cover those areas of the map which you can't quite manage to defend or you can simply surround your orb carrier with them. Don't forget: the more gold you get, the more your opponent gets as well!
Once the actual game starts, you need to place your units on the bottom of the map, pick an Orb carrier and distribute the bought rings. When done, the game is on and you can start moving your pieces. Some units move faster than others, some walk while others fly (important when traps are involved) and some can even teleport from place to place.
When you finally spot an enemy and you're within moving distance, you can choose to attack. This gets you instantly thrown in a top-down, one-on-one, real-time fight to the death. You basically have two combat moves - a normal one and one that requires energy to use. The range of moves is really too diverse to get into but let's just say there's more than enough and it really invites a great deal of tactics - especially when you consider that your health gets carried on to the next fight, so you really do not want to get hurt too badly. And that's it really - use tactics to fight the right enemy with the right unit, track down the orb carrier, and finish the game.
If you're tired of the AI, you can even play against a friend: hot-seat or over a network, and it is tremendous fun. If there was a modern remake that worked across the Internet, I'm sure it would get its fair share of fans!
Personally, I love this game. The graphics are what drew me in all those years ago but it's the depth that got me hooked. It's sad to see how few people still remember this game and how, even at the time of its release, it didn't get a lot of attention. 1994 was an amazing year for PC games and it's a little unfair to those gems that got buried beneath the likes of Sam & Max, Doom, Sim City 2000, Theme Park, Magic Carpet, and so forth.
Dark Legions is not without faults, however: the AI can be a bit daft and really doesn't properly protect its orb carrier. Also, some combinations of units really simply don't work and can cause a single battle to last for far too long. Generally, these are all small niggling flaws considering how much of the game Silicon Knights got exactly right. The atmosphere, the music, the sounds - it's an incredible experience which is quite unusual for what is essentially a board game in disguise.
I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to mix table-top strategy with arcade combat scenes. It's sad that no sequel was ever made (no doubt due to the massive success of Command & Conquer and Warcraft) but at least we still have this little gem to play. Anyway, two thumbs up! Try it!
The main archive is the disk version. Note that this version is not cracked meaning that you'll need to download the manual to pass the copy protection. There is also a patch which has been added to the extras if you wish to update the game to the latest version.
The CD version is also added as an extra and the patch is included in the archive. The CD version has a few benefits: there's some new animated sequences and there's no copy protection. Do note that the disk and CD patches are different from each other so don't try and apply the disk version on the CD version.
Set cycles to more than 30000 and the core to Dynamic for a smooth experience.
I did experience a problem with the CD version: when moving a unit, the game would hang. Applying the patch seems to solve this. The disk version works perfectly with or without its patch.
The disk version simply needs to be unpacked and ran with DL.exe in DOSBox.
The CD version contains an image which you'll need to load using the imgmount command
imgmount [virtual drive letter] [path to the cue image] -t iso
(check the DOSBox readme for more info)
Once you've done this, you can install the game to a mounted hard drive. You need to keep the CD image mounted every time you want to play the game.
Reviewed by: red_avatar
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