In a year when publisher Smilegate Entertainment is trying to bring one of the world’s most popular games to the western audience, Crossfire: Legion feels like something of a black sheep.
Herring, the multiplayer first-person shooter, is massive in Asia – especially in China and South Korea. It boasts 8 million concurrent players and 690 million registered users, according to Smilegate, along with several multimedia spinoffs. At E3 2019, however, the company announced CrossfireX, a single-player campaign developed by Control creator Remedy Entertainment. To bring a multiplayer shooter westward, it makes sense to do so with a bespoke, story-focused first-person experience.
Crossfire: Legion, on the other hand, is aimed at one more niche area: that of old-school real-time strategy games. It helps that it is made by Blackbird Interactive, the studio behind the excellent Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and the coming Homeworld 3 – but still I can not help but feel that it is a shot in the dark.
During a recent press briefing, a spokesman for Prime Matter Publishing called Legion a “classic RTS.” I then spent several hours playing an early “technical test” and I do not disagree with that taxonomy. Legion is streamlined and simple, focused more on actions per. minute than deliberate chess moves. Its units include the usual infantry / vehicle / aircraft trifecta, along with commanding forces that, when timed well, can turn the tide in a battle.
I played custom matches against AI bots, alternating between the Global Risk and Black List factions. I preferred the latter, who choose guerrilla tactics over pure numbers and can cross the map faster. Consistent with old-school games like Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness and Command and conquer, Legion is fast and responsive, and device discovery is hassle-free – resource-gathering trucks can be stacked without getting bottlenecks, and soldiers spread out in satisfactory arches before opening fire.
But even in accordance with these games, the systemic depth only goes so far. By today’s standards, Legion feels a little also old-fashioned.
In a recent story about Company of Heroes 3, I wrote about the RTS genre’s highly exaggerated death, and how it, despite a steep decline in mainstream and sports interest in the last decade, has never been more exciting. While the aforementioned World War II game explores nuanced troop tactics, recent posts such as They are billions and Offworld trading company found seemingly infinitely replayable depth. Even the extremely recent ones Age of Empires 4, a definite setback RTS, implemented captivating economy building.
Legion, but based on my time with its custom matches, just feels like legs. Its devices lack convincing environmental interactions; its resource collection is slim but boring; each faction’s power curve rises too gradually to be exciting, and the current list is too standard to entice me.
But to repeat, the demo I played lacks some important features. Blackbird is planning a map system that will allow players to customize their armies before each match, and I’m still curious to see how that can shake things up. Legion will also include a single player campaign, and if it’s near as good as Blackbird’s work in Home World: Kharak Deserts, my initial concerns could be allayed.
But much of me is in doubt: Legion, at least in this early form, not only honors the games that set the genre in motion – it seems actively hampered by them.
Maybe that’s fine. Not all games need to be an example of innovation. But when a spinoff was to introduce a whole new market to one of the world’s most massively popular franchises, I hoped that Legion can push the design envelope. Real-time strategy games are close to my heart. I want them all to succeed. But right now, Legion feel stuck in the past. If Blackbird tries to appeal to RTS fans still longing for the days of early Command and Conquers or the first StarCraft, they have come off well from the start. If they want to attract real-time strategy fans who have been following the genre’s latest creativity with rapt attention, they may be on the wrong track.