Celtic Legends

Title		Celtic Legends
Company		Ubi Soft, 1991
Game Type	Strategy
Players		1 or 2
Compatibility	All (With Patch)
HD Installable  Yes (With Patch)
Submission	Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Ah, now here we have something of a lost gem, at least as far as I'm
concerned. I remember trying out Celtic Legends briefly at the time of its
release, but for some reason (probably because of the amount of new and
good looking software available at the time) the game failed to make a
favourable impression on me. That was then, but more recently, I've
rediscovered the game, and to my delight found a rich and rewarding
experience therein. The game is essentially a hex-based strategy affair,
set over a group of islands with some similarities to another Ubi Soft
game; Battle Isle, but with more of a Lord of the Rings style flavour,
featuring Wizards, Goblins, 'Orcques' and the like.

The first disk includes a fairly impressive introduction with the two
rival magician warlords, Eskel and Sogrom, gathering their military forces
before deciding the fate of Celtika, in long and bloody war. It is quite
atmospheric and competently programmed, setting the scene of battle nicely
with a parallax scrolling landscape and errie music complete with bagpipes.

The war started when the greatest Magician of the land, and teacher of
wizardry, died some years ago. This left his two most gifted students
Eskel and Sogrom at either end of a power vacuum. Sogrom, hungry for power
at any costs, embraced the ways of evil and named himself Demog (Supreme
Magician). A nervous population gave Eskel command of their armies, and
the previously tranquil country was plunged into conflict. The final phase
of the war has now commenced as the bloodshed descends on the Rochebrume
archipelgos, a cluster of 23 islands, each rich in magical power.

The game's initial screen deals with loading and saving, selecting a one
or two player game, and whether or not Savages (a computer controlled
user-aggressive third party) appear in the game.

The game's attractively drawn main screen is divided into three areas: On
the left side there is a small section displaying a general map of the
current island you are fighting on, next to this is a larger area (the
strategic map) that displays your more immediate surroundings on the
island, and along the bottom is a row of icons for controlling the game,
and entering the tactical map screen etc. Your objective in the game is to
destroy the other Magician by any means possible. You will probably need
to destroy the majority of his forces to do this, but once he is dead, you
have won that game, and rather like the game PowerMonger, you can move on
to the next island. Now, as a Magician you'll naturally be wanting to use
your magical abilities. This works by a point system, whereby points are
derived from each of the castles your forces hold at the end of each turn.
Therefore you'll be paying great attention to the whereabouts of castles,
and doing your utmost to take (and keep) possession of them. As you build
up more magic points you are able to cast more powerful spells, but to
make things more interesting, you will only be able to access the
more impressive spells by accumalating experience, and this is done by
killing things. Only then, by getting your hands dirty and risking
yourself in battle will you ever be able to become really powerful.

On the first island you initially have only one group of people to
control, but in later islands you often have several groups. You can,
however, make more people by casting an incantation spell, and also
divide your groups into smaller teams, or even individuals. The Gods have
decreed that the maximum number you can have in any single group is eight
though. Eskel and Sogrom, shown as blue and red respectively, each have
several types of warriors they can enlist. Eskel has the basic soldier, the
Lord, (a stronger variant of the soldier) the Magician, the Cyclops, the
Angel, the Hydra and finally the Arch Angel. Sogrom has different
creatures, but they are roughly equivalent to Eskel's. Those able to
perform magic have both direct and indirect spells, so its worth checking
there isn't a tree or another obstruction in the way when you attempt to
loose a fireball, for example, against one of your enemies.

You'll soon find yourself seeking to preserve your experienced but
weakened troops in a battle by pulling them back behind your greener but
fresher warriors. If you don't heal them magically, they do recover by
themselves in time, and become much more formidable.

Battle is joined by one force moving on to a hexagon on the strategic map
that is occupied by another; the resulting fight then takes place on the
tactical map screen. This screen is essentially a magnified display of the
individual hexagon from the strategic map, (subdivided into its own
hexagons) and showing each warrior from either force awaiting battle.
Unlike Battle Isle you don't just sit back and watch the fight, in Celtic
Legends you take charge of each character on your team and guide them to
their fate. You can for example, given the required experience, cast a
spell that will transport one of your warriors on to the hexagon occupied
by an enemy magic user, forcing them into immediate hand-to-hand combat.
Alternatively, an expensive but often decisive Amnesia spell can turn an
awesome enemy arch-mage into a helpless gibbering idiot. Having said
that, when two characters from opposing sides move on to the same hexagon,
you must watch them fight it out, but choosing who goes where, which magic
spells are employed and who they are targetted at, is all down to you. The
range of magic in particular allows for widely varying encounters, and the
player can develop a broad range of tactics which is all very good news

Celtic Legends is actually a rather excellent game. The difficulty level
rises quite steeply, but not to the point where you feel cheated, and the
level design of the individual islands is spot on. Despite the often
terrifying first impressions that some maps have, if you keep your nerve
and play wisely, usually you can win through, acquiring almost limitless
power along the way. Occasionally death is rather sudden, but generally
speaking there is an impression of fairness, and frustration is minimized.
There are a number of thoughtfully designed functions that help speed the
game up and make things less repetitive and more efficient. The screens
themselves are both attractive and functional, particuarly the main
screen, although the character graphics and their animation is a little
less impressive. There are some nice touches that definitely enhance
things, for instance, when you are on the tactical map screen, the
background reflects the landscapes of the adjoining hexes on the strategic
map. So if, for example, the hex you are fighting on is next to the sea
and one of your castles, you can see them in the distance.

For me the tactical scope for the player in Celtic Legends is more obvious
and more easily accessible than in Battle Isle, although the presentation
is not quite as polished. Mind you, Celtic Legends does have excellent
mouse driven control. Ultimately then, Celtic Legends is a very good game
and surely deserves more recognition than it has received. Perhaps Ubi
Soft's advert, unimaginatively describing the game as "a strategy game
played on a hexagonal grid." scared off many would-be players.

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