[Main campaign complete - the original review will be left "as is" with updated comments in brackets. The original review was written between a quarter and one third of the way into the campaign.]
In my opinion, Legends of Eisenwald is first and foremost a turn-based squad level tactical combat game with a character development system that is focused almost exclusively on combat. The game ships with a campaign that tells a single story from the point of view of one of three possible protagonists. Your character will level and you do get to choose how your character develops in terms of the game's combat mechanics, but that is pretty much it. There are no game mechanics to provide any real character depth; and the story is very linear. NPCs with any real character are few and far between. The members of your army (really just a squad) are interchangeable generic constructs. I don't know why the devs even bothered to give them names. Thus (and there will be more below), I don't see how one can think this is an RPG in any way.
I am going to judge this game largely on the merits of the default campaign as that is what one experiences as neither of the two items in the Steam Workshop (7/5/2015) speak to me. The game's fundamental combat mechanics are easy to grasp, but there is plenty of depth. This is not unfamiliar territory if one has played game franchises like Heroes of Might and Magic or Warlords. Just know that Legends of Eisenwald is not a rip-off of those other games; it is its own game. Overall, I have no complaints with the combat mechanics or the skill tree for the knight. The tactical combat is the game's strength; and, if that is enough for you, then you may enjoy this game. However, the game's liabilities are significant enough that I can't recommend the game in its current form.
[There is an a scenario in the Steam Workshop that looks interesting]
Points to get out of the way early:
- Use descriptive names for your saved game files as you are probably going to need them. I know I've done a fair bit of backtracking, and I wouldn't have been able to do so as easily with the default saved game file names.
- Wrap-up side quests before completing the main quest(s) in each chapter. If you don't have good save game files, there is no going back to previous zones to complete a side quest once you finish a chapter. Obviously, if you use a saved game to go back and complete a side quest, you are going to be forced to replay the chapter ending event(s). For me this is a relatively minor annoyance, but that may not be how others feel.
- The journal and notes system does not allow you to refer back to previous chapters as far as I can tell. There are two problems here. First, there is information that one would like to refer to from previous chapters. Second, the quest and journal system does not capture all the dialog that it should to eliminate the need for a custom note feature (which does not exist in this game). Thus, one has to use another application outside the game for taking notes. Alt-Tab or play in a windowed mode; or posses perfect recall!
There is too little documentation for the game. Yes. The devs did post a useful User Guide and a series of intro videos. However, this is not what I mean by documentation. There should at least be a text file that systematically lists and describes all skills, equipment modifiers, etc. There isn't one. For example, there are branching skill trees for NPCs, but there is no right-click or mouse-over to explain what they they are and you can't look ahead in the skill trees to know which one seems the most interesting to you. Thus, one is forced to save the game. Try one option, and read what it does. Then you load the save game, select the other option, and read what it does. The same is true with equipment with special characteristics. Want to know if a "rugged" helmet is worth the hit to initiative? Save game. Buy item. Equip item. See what it does (sometime it is still not clear what an object does). This is the opposite of fun - it is tedious and boring; and it is a waste of my time.
Speaking of tedious and boring, there are quest objectives that require one to hit just the right spot in order to trigger a necessary event. Now I don't mind this much when there is the occasional quest that involves discovering something that should be hard to find. However, it is another matter when it comes to obvious things or when it occurs too frequently; it is maddening when one is well aware that one is wasting time trying to find the correct pixel to stand on for an event to fire. Once again, this is tedious and boring; and it is a waste of my time. Worse, it takes one right out of the story . . . and there is too little of that as it is. Yes. I would dispute that the campaign is "story rich". With almost every quest I am left wanting more story.
[The maddening "find the pixel to stand on" theme does not exist in later chapters (and is limited to two instances in the early chapters), and is replaced with a slightly less annoying mechanic. Specifically, one has to hit a series of waypoints in the correct sequence. I found this annoying because I had gone off and done some exploring and grabbed some castles in advance of the story line. Thus, I had a pretty good idea where I was supposed to go in the quests; but I still had to follow the sequence of waypoints nonetheless.]
Legends of Eisenwald has an interesting story to tell, but there are few opportunities for role playing and most of those opportunities are ruined by the story. Specifically, circumstances will dictate your options and your actions. One is given few real choices as the story unfolds; and there is little point in attempting to role play as, more often than not, you will be railroaded into only one course of action no matter what you do. Your only real choice is how you develop your combat skills. Thus, Legends of Eisenwald has a story to tell; but it is not your story. You are merely a puppet. In some regards, this is a very medieval point of view; and, if this was a conscious decision on the part of the devs, then they have succeeded in conveying that world view.
[By the end game I was on rails; no choices at all.]
There are major missed opportunities with the campaign from both a reward and historical perspective. There was an opportunity to better distinguish between true followers, feudal levies and mercenaries - particular in terms of the transition between chapters; but the opportunity is squandered. Also, a player might expect to be rewarded by being able to carry gains forward from one chapter to the next, but this is an expectation that has not been met in my game. This may be down to a lack of skill tree depth for NPCs or perhaps it is a necessary concession to play balance. In any event, there will be unexplained losses of inventory and members of your squad between some chapters - the game doesn't even offer a simple dialog box with a plausible story for the losses. One is left to make-up one's own story to explain what came through and what did not between chapters.
I am at that point in the game where I am deciding if I am going to continue playing Legends of Eisenwald. I've completed several chapters; and, if the pattern holds for subsequent chapters, I think I know what to expect; and there is not enough on offer to justify taking significant time away from other games. I've done a little back tracking through my save game files to see if I can see where things might have gone differently, and I'm fairly certain that I've not missed anything obvious. Too bad. I'll monitor future release notes in the hope that better things are to come . . . as, to this point, I definitely feel like I paid too much for the experience currently on offer. That said, I suspect I'll keep chipping away at the campaign as I do enjoy the tactical combat portion of the game.