“Not as strong as steel.”
Games like Legions of Steel represent the disconnect between a great idea in theory and one that requires execution. It takes its cues from strategy titles like XCOM in that it features squad-based missions in which players must discreetly move around the battlefield as they kill enemies and complete objectives. It all sounds fine on paper, but that type of game requires careful balancing and a slick interface. Legions of Steel doesn't tout either of those important design elements. Instead, it presents an entirely forgettable campaign in an overall package that feels uninspired and half-finished.
The moment I loaded up Legions of Steel for the first time, I was caught off guard by the archaic menu design and interface. It looks like something out of a '90s game with its bare-bones color scheme and basic fonts. The menu design is a small issue in the larger conversation of Legions of Steel and its faults, but it contributes to the game's poor first impression. The combat interface also stands out in a negative light and actually impacts the gameplay experience. Figuring out how to perform certain actions in the game proves to be a chore in the early hours, which is especially frustrating for a strategic game.
Beyond the XCOM comparison, Legions of Steel functions like you would expect from a turn-based strategy game. Players control a group units, shoot enemies, complete objectives, and occasionally level up characters. The extensive tutorial campaign details some of the more unique mechanics in the game, such as the need to aim in a particular direction to shoot or the use of special grenades to knock down enemies or prevent them from chasing the player. The tutorial campaign moves at a glacial pace and doesn't do a great job of actually teaching the game. It often turns off hit percentages to demonstrate new abilities, which makes the actual campaign's spike in difficulty a bit jarring.
Speaking of difficulty, much of it comes from poor balancing and strange design decisions. First off, having to aim in the exact direction of an enemy to shoot them becomes tedious just a few moments into the game. It's as if the characters have absolutely no peripheral vision, and watching a unit rotate a few times just to line up a shot or open a door looks silly. Also, hitting an enemy from any kind of distance seems impossible half the time. I was constantly praying to the video game gods to let me finally land a shot on an enemy after missing five or six times in a row. Even when enemies are in close proximity, the chance to hit often hovers around the 66% mark. I wanted to scream “But he's right next to me!” multiple times.
Legions of Steel does have brief moments in which it shines, though. Certain missions are structured in such a way that they truly require the use of every single mechanic. Completing an objective after activating cover fire for a specific square on the grid, suppressing an enemy down a corridor, hitting multiple enemies with a grenade, and then barricading an enemy in a corner feels like an accomplishment. There weren't a ton of moments in which it all clicked together like that for me, but I enjoyed those few times when it did.
The game includes an Electronic Warfare mode for skirmishes, which amps up the difficulty considerably. Essentially it acts as a fog-of-war mechanic in which players can preemptively find enemies by using radars. Using a radar counts as an attack though, so it creates a risk/reward mentality that adds a dynamic element to the gameplay. Unfortunately, the cheap deaths and spotty hit percentages remain, so it only adds to the overall frustration. I already die often enough when I see the enemy right in front of me—I don't need to be shot in the back as well.
I hate to see a game like Legions of Steel fall short, because it's the kind of gameplay experience that I typically appreciate. It offers a challenge and requires careful planning, but it's missing mechanical depth. Even though the tutorial campaign takes forever to complete, it doesn't teach a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Also, the primitive interface and balancing issues don't do it any favors. Legions of Steel isn't so bad that it's amusing, but it doesn't feature many redeemable qualities either. It's just forgettable.