Friday, April 29, 2011

Steel Legions

A few days ago, on a bank holiday morning, I was tempted to give Steel Legions (SL) a go. My resistance was not due to any forebodings about the quality or concept of the game. What worried me was that I might really love it and start a new boy-meets-game, passion-filled affair. It would be difficult to maintain a blog on Pirate Galaxy (PG) if I never played it, or begrudged every minute that it kept me from my new, exciting and adventurous mistress.

If it wasn't for Cryonite Cove (CC), the apple-of-my-eye, I'd have no qualms about ditching PG as soon as a saucy new waste of time became available. But I have responsibilities, obligations. I couldn't just abandon CC, leave it orphaned and unloved. It wouldn't be CCs fault that PG and I had been torn apart by my eye for a pretty game and taste for exotic role-play. Dare I open Pandora's box and risk the future of my darling child?

Ah what the hell. It's only a bit of fun, nobody'll get hurt.

I downloaded the client from the SL website and fired it up. First of all there is a very cool loading screen with a battered tank giving it large with a machine gun. It made me all nostalgic for my BattleTech and Mechwarrior gaming past, which is probably not what Splitscreen intended but there you go.

I was able to log in using my existing Splitscreen account so I was soon able to bagsy 'Serig' as my screen name. There is a server choice but only the Europe server is available at the moment. The next thing that happened was I had the chance to join the Golden Territories faction straight away and get a bonus of 50 gold. I wanted to consider all options and not be rushed, so declined and looked at all the possible Empires.

Pictures of the four Empires are laid out in a line for you to select. I've read through the website and know that there is background to each Empire. As the richest faction, the Golden Territories, had offered me 50 Gold to join them, I deduced that each faction must have a benefit. For example the Phoenix Empire is described as having a rational way of life and being a culture of thinkers, so perhaps you get some advantage in tactical or technological skills. I clicked on the first Empire, which was the Pandora Rebels, expecting to get an explanation on their background and the benefits of joining them. However I found that I had now, apparently irrevocably, joined the Pandora Rebels. There was no 'Are you sure?' message, just 'bam!' you're a Rebel. Bugger! I have no problem with the Rebels, cool name, bull's head for a flag, but I felt as I'd been press-ganged. Anyway the deed was done.

I found myself at a Player Factory in a dinky little tank with the engine turning over. The graphics are very nice, as in PG much better than you'd expect a browser game to be. They are of a different style to PG, more animation less realism perhaps. No bad thing. As you try clicking here and there a series of hints pop up which explain how to move, how to fire, how to upgrade your tank etc. It doesn't take long before you're able to get into the action. There are things which don't get explained, for example there are little icons under your health bar which are still a mystery to me.

A big blue arrow kindly shows you the way to the nearest HQ for your Empire. When you arrive you can ask to be assigned a mission. Then you wait while the game decides what to do with you and a timer counts down. The first two missions I had were against Marauders, NPC unaligned tanks. You simply have to kill so many in a set time limit. Sound familiar? As you kill the Marauders you pick up items that you can use to upgrade or repair your tank. Before long I was in the workshop beefing my gun-wagon up, though there's no visible difference just yet. Again this was easy enough but I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing. I know my armour was getting tougher but by how much? Did that cost as much as upgrading my weapons? I then found out that I could hire crew members, all of who look extremely cool. There is a description as to what they offer you but I still found the details of the mechanics of it all hazy.

The tank-on-tank action is great fun with nice explosions, fire and smoke. I managed to complete these first missions easily enough and this is definitely a game you can get into straight away. The best was yet to come though. My next mission turned out to be me plus another Pandora Rebel versus two players from the Golden Territories. The objective was to defend a flag for a set time limit. For player versus player (PVP) action, SL knocks PG into a cocked hat. The game arranges it all for you so there's no awkward or annoying "Who wants to PVP?" messages or hanging around until someone has the time to come and give you a match. Plus you are matched up evenly. I was level 1, my partner was level 3 and we were fighting two level 2 players. This mission was even more enjoyable, even though we lost and the Golden Territories took the hill.

There is a tactical map which gives you a wider view of the world and command centres give you a picture of the world map. This suggests that as you progress you can lead armies and conquer territories, or at least that this is coming soon. If the idea is that as you win a battle against an enemy Empire then the world and tactical map changes and your faction advances, then I'm sold. That will add depth and a campaign feel to the game which would keep me coming back.

So first impressions of Steel Legions. Very easy to get into, great for fighting and blowing things up, top drawer set up for PVP and the promise of more depth and long term objectives to come. Negatives? Well the initial Empire selection process annoyed me greatly with no supporting information or second chance, and the detailed mechanics of how to play the game beyond the basic point and click combat system aren't entirely clear to me yet. To be fair I haven't played for very long and if I fully understood everything this quickly then it would be a very simple game. I will be playing again and am looking forward to it. If you like Pirate Galaxy then give Steel Legions a go, you may never look back.

Is Steel Legions now my latest obsession, tearing me and Pirate Galaxy apart? N0. At least for now Steel Legions will be my bit on the side, but at the end of the day I'll still be going home to Pirate Galaxy.

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