The first and last thing you can say about this game is that it’s got itself figured out. There aren't any weird gameplay experiments, cryptic bugs, inexplicable features, or absurd plot twists. It's a hex-based fantasy-themed turn-based strategy (TBS) game, and it's perfectly fine with that. That might sound too typical or even boring, but to be honest it's rare to find a game as sure of itself as this one. Most games don't quite know where they are or what their ultimate purpose is supposed to be, but Elven Legacy suffers from no such problems. It's been developed to give you a solid fantasy TBS experience, and that's exactly what it does.
Those of you (I can't count myself among this number) who played Fantasy Wars, by the same developer as Elven Legacy, will recognize almost everything. There's only a single campaign in this game, as opposed to the four that came with Fantasy Wars, and there are some engine improvements and new units, but by and large the experience has not changed. You still start a level with a handful of heroes, siege engines, flying units, cavalry, and footsoldiers, then spend a few turns pulverizing enemies with meteor showers, pin-cushioning them with arrow volleys, or running roughshod over them with deer-mounted spearmen.
Units persist across the missions of the long campaign and can gain new abilities, pick up artifacts to increase their power, and be upgraded. A single unit of spearmen (or women) can start the game as a part of your party at level 0 and wind up fighting in the final level as a level 5 stag-straddling squad of heavily armored cavalry. Gaining levels doesn't just make a unit tougher or more lethal but also allows you to pick special bonuses, in the form of “perks.” There are all kinds of different perks – perks to make your archers shoot further, perks to make your swordsmen immune to fear, perks to give your airships the power to uncover invisible units, and so forth. There are all kinds of artifacts, too, and while some of them have effects identical to some perks you might see, most of them allow for more dramatic improvements in unit effectiveness. One artifact allows a unit to replenish its wounded instantly, another allows for a regular unit to use magic, and so forth. Half the fun of this game is building an effective, focused force piece by piece using artifacts and levels-up, as well as shrewd tactical choices (e.g., giving the new spearmen some weak enemies to beat on so they can level up quicker, or sending in the crack troops first to scatter the enemy phalanx). Unit persistence lends a new dimension to tactics in the individual battles, as you balance making use of your more experienced units with the possibility of having them killed and having to start from scratch with greenhorns next time. The persistence also allows for players to make strategic choices about how they will fight battles. If your strategy is based on picking enemies off from a distance, then invest in archers and watch them gain range, power and hit points. Maybe your heart lies with the spear-wall and the sword, so you'll pick infantry units and carefully husband them until they become nigh-unstoppable head-cleaving badasses.
There's a magical dimension to battles as well, and for every mission in the campaign (and most single missions otherwise) you'll have the ability to command powerful heroes who can not only fight conventionally but can also do damage with the spell book. In the beginning, mundane fire spells and magic arrows are all you have access to, but as your heroes gain levels they can summon “spectral warriors” to surprise enemies anywhere, blast six hexes at once with meteors, bring wounded units back to battle, and boost allied morale with horn-blasts. Without heroes (on both sides) battles might be just numbers games, but thankfully there's quite a bit to the hero system that spices things up. You can either take the enemy totally by surprise with a barrage of magic from your heroes, or suffer a sudden reversal yourself when a mage you didn't notice last turn, waves his hands around, and blows your front line sky-high.
The single campaign is long and lacks any sort of “weak” stage. Missions are varied: sometimes the objective is to catch an elusive enemy, other times it's simple eradication. Sometimes your heroes have to perform special actions in order to make progress, and other times they can hang back and let the common units fight it out. Every once in a while you'll be given a choice of missions; for instance, when you're forced to gather souls for the casting of a powerful spell, you can either square off against a warrior order and kill as many of them as you can, or you can ride around the countryside and capture villages, turning their inhabitants into mana. Most of the time within the individual missions themselves, players can choose from multiple available paths. The villages in the previous scenario are arranged in a circle around the map, so you can start more or less wherever you want, and you can either travel along open roads and face your enemies head-on or sneak through the woods and attack suddenly from the tree line.
Not only do players have choices about how they'll complete a mission, sometimes they have a choice as to whether or not they'll get to complete a mission at all. You don't just “beat” a mission, you get a rating on your performance afterwards. A gold rating nets you some extra cash to spend on your troops next time, and maybe a special unit or two. Silver gets you less cash and fewer units, and bronze gets you a participatory trophy and a small bag of coin. If players do well enough on certain select missions, they gain access to bonus levels, which exist outside the main storyline but can give players access to powerful artifacts or new units if they complete them. It's a reason to replay the campaign, at least, because if you're like me, missing a bonus mission only makes you wonder what it was you would have been doing, and before you know it you're back behind the keyboard trying to get gold on the relevant mission.
The bottom line
Like I said at the beginning, Elven Legacy is a game totally unconfused about its purpose. It's here to let you shuffle elves and dragons and airships around and blow up orcs with spells, and in that context it succeeds as well as you can expect any game to succeed. If Fantasy Wars, Fantasy General, or any other beer-and-pretzels fantasy hex game has ever appealed to you on any level, Elven Legacy is worth a try.