Re-Legion is an unfortunate example of lofty design ideas falling well out of realistic scope. What comes across as heavy top-down design, Re-Legion aims to tell the grand story of religious uprising in as few pages as possible, building a plot and world tall and narrow, yet too heavy for its foundations to hold.
Re-Legion looks to combine classic RTS gameplay with character driven story elements, yet in doing so pulls the overall theme in different directions, and as a result, fails to convince the player of the world it is trying to convey. Elion, the central character and future ‘cult leader’, finds himself fed up of the oppressed and suppressed state the 1 percent have forced the rest of mankind into, and sets out to make a difference.
As a unit on the battlefield, Elion will be the backbone of your force, able to strengthen your army on the fly through conversion of civilians around the map. With powers of persuasion far beyond every CEOs wildest dream, Elion can talk to a random citizen and immediately recruit them onside. Once recruited, these citizens will be upgradeable into a number of unit types as you progress through the story.
This is the unique take on unit queues traditional RTS games have, and it’s already problematic. You won’t be ordering units from a central building, buying them on demand, instead, you will be having to talk to them and convert them as you find them. After a couple of hours into the game, losing units and having to slowly walk around and talk to people to replenish my numbers became tediousness in the name of flavor.
This is marginally addressed via a new unit type unlocked early which can passively recruit for you, a needed method that will allow you to keep the flow of the game above a crawl. You will still be recruiting as you navigate the level, keeping your ball of units rolling over everything until you need to recruit again, but having a stock back at base to call upon alleviated some downtime. This is all manageable thanks to passive AI, which only seems to attack in a certain radius. If you start losing a fight, you just walk back ten meters to de-aggro and then wait as you recruit civilians walking/standing around. Rinse and repeat.
It’s here where Re-legion falls flat, as the gameplay simply doesn’t engage you when it needs to. You slam your giant unit against the enemies until one breaks. If theirs does, you recruit people near you there and then, and if you start losing you walk back and… spend time recruiting. It’s typical of any RTS, that’s true, but generally, you can flick to structures and add their produced units to a queue as you go, yet here there is an arbitrary extra step to the process.
You have to wait for people to be spawned on the map, which can feel like a trickle instead of a stockpile of reserves ready to be called upon should you have the funding saved. Here is where the narrative conflicts with gameplay; the story is recruiting (easily/arbitrarily) into a cult, but at a cost to time spent playing. It’s a great concept, but the execution is too literal and at the expense of play.
In traditional RTS fashion, buildings have remained as ways to unlock additional units and unique abilities. Scattered around the map and requiring capture, these buildings are there to take and hold in efforts to keep your army stacked with the best units for the job. These will require babysitting, as the enemy love sending the odd unit to knock on some doors to check who is home, so leaving some men at home is a wise idea.
Some will require units to be assigned for resource gathering, such as credits and faith, with the former being used when upgrading converts into real units. The introduction of these buildings isn’t rushed, but it also isn’t convincing. You won’t be using a central base of operations in the form of these required structures, instead, they will be found scattered around the map, spreading your units across multiple areas, while you continue marauding across the map. This serves the narrative well, as the buildings in Re-Legion aren’t specifically military in nature, but you won’t really need to do much with them. You click on them to capture and then leave people there.
The third mission started with me back where I began the second mission, only this time the map had expanded further and the structures I had captured previously were no longer mine. This was honestly quite awful, as I had already played this map before (the majority of it), and any sense of progression in the story felt retracted. I had to convert a handful of people again, move them to the same structures again, build the army again. All this to push back towards the edge of the map holding a new section containing the enemy base.
Starting missions fresh isn’t anything new, but keeping the same map and taking previous structures claimed felt egregious. This was where I felt the issues with Scope the most, how the concept was too large for what the studio was capable of producing. In fact the third mission could have been the second mission if they had expanded the map instead of resetting. It felt like a way of stretching the game unnaturally.
Throughout each mission, the central characters will be controllable units, and far and away the strongest in your army. If you lose Elion, you can choose to resurrect him in the place of a follower back at your HQ, however, if you lose some of the secondary characters, the mission will fail on the spot. It’s unfortunate that mission failure is soo fragile but the RPG elements are often emphasized in these short-sighted ways. If the writing and voice acting was compelling, I could understand, but while the former is passable, the latter is all over the place at times.
There is a lot of motive/method/ideology/ambition that Re-Legion needs to tell in order to convince the player of this ‘Cult’ mission, but it never achieves that. You don’t begin the game as a leader or prophet, and this makes it jarring when you start recruiting units in a matter of moments.
The units themselves have enough variance to prove strategic options when required, but are let down by some pathing issues that plague the majority of AI in the game. sometimes they will stop and stand still when enemies are near, other times they can run off after enemies who are far. Luckily the enemy positions seemed quite strict, so the probing attacks always seemed to work well. There was also never a shortage of people to convert, so although building numbers back up felt painfully trite, there was no risk to throwing body after body at an enemy position until it broke. It isn’t a religion for the ‘greater good’, its one man raging against the machine, and sacrificing as many people as necessary to bring the controlling class down.
Graphically Re-legion does a great job of portraying a cyberpunk dystopia. The lighting is hues of neon greens, blues, and reds, emphasized by the perpetual night time of its levels. The units are distinct enough looking to easily determine between groups, and the animations are simple but effective.
The repetitive nature of the level design does make repeated navigation a chore, but fighting in the city streets does feel as urban as you would hope for. A nice mix of choke points and open squares allow for tactical fighting, but only if the AI meets you halfway. The UI is unremarkable but serves its purpose well enough.
Re-Legion is a prime example of a great concept lacking the resources for proper execution. The narrative and gameplay contradict each other, and left me wondering if the game would have been better off ditching one for a more concentrated other. It is a lackluster strategy game, but also a poor RPG.
There is nothing here that will upset the player, but what it does aim to do it does average at best. A nice spin on a fairly ‘solved’ genre, Re-legion needs more time in the oven to realize everything it clearly aims to be.