Do you like some history? Well, today we got a historical game. A Legionary’s Life follows a conscript fighting in the Second Punic War, starting out as a lowly soldier that can rise to greatness. I looked up some of the basic stuff that was in the intro monologue and decided, “yeah, this checks out,” and decided to take the developer’s word for it on other things because I don’t know enough about the Second Punic War to dispute it.
A Legionary’s Life is a game that has just hit Steam Early Access, but the developer approached me beforehand to ask me if I could check it out. I played the demo version of the game, which consists of the first three parts of the game. The Early Access version out on Steam has eight parts instead, with the full game planned to have eleven.
Each part of A Legionary’s Life is separated into two phases. The first phase is one where you can just kinda chill around, training to improve your stats in preparation of the second phase where you’re thrown into a historical battle.
So, I do have issues with the first phase in that almost the whole screen is taken up by the UI, which feels unnecessarily huge. The buttons are big and the space between the buttons, I feel, could easily be squashed down. Alternatively, I feel the game could make more efficient use of space. Like, you can click on that character button above to look at your stats so that when you do training, you can get an idea of what you should be working to focus on; maybe instead of clicking to a separate window, the game could show the stats in the blank space above the text box by using icons representing the stats, which I think would be more convenient.
Training too many times in a row lowers your morale, so you’re encouraged to do other things to boost stats like your reputation with other game entities, which establishes a sense of flow for your mundane life. Though, given the short scope of the demo, unless you go all in on this, I don’t think your relationships will reach a point of it actually being meaningful, but I imagine that it’s a different experience in the Early Access version of the game.
You will occasionally get random events when time passes or when you’re unlucky with patrols. Like what I was saying with the stats, I kinda wish there was an indicator for convenience – in this case, an indicator for what stats affect which choices you pick, so that I could know not to pick it. Like a fool, my character frequently got owned because all the choices I chose for him just couldn’t work out.
Eventually, it’s time to head out to battle, where your stats can help guide your role in a historical battle. In my first playthrough on the second part, I was told to stick to the general army while on my second playthrough, when I had a better idea of what I was doing and had better stats, I got to stick with a separate team going for a flanking maneuver. Your deeds in this phase of the game will help improve your reputation with other soldiers and can help you earn titles for points.
Inevitably, you will get into a fight. You get a whole bunch of options for fighting, which is thankfully explained when you mouse over them. Swing your sword, do feints, whack people with your shield, the works. Your hit percentages are conveyed with hands – the most bizarre way I’ve seen that concept visualized so far – with a Roman emperor thumbs up being a guaranteed hit while a perfect thumbs down meaning that you have no chance of landing a hit. It’s weird to see in an otherwise straight-laced game, but I honestly love it.
What I don’t like though is that your chances of hitting anything – at least in the early game – is garbage. But thankfully, your opponent is just as garbage. In fact, the only way you’ll lose is when you attack too many times in a row, which gradually makes you more susceptible to being hit.
However, after a stalemate of you and your opponent swinging at each other – maybe with a fellow soldier joining in to help out – the battle will soon be forced to a close as the overall war shifts in your favor. And that’s when it hit me.
At the end of the day, you’re not some dashing hero that’s expected to kill every enemy you come across. You’re just one of hundreds of complete jobbers. You’re literally just some guy they pulled, so you’d be lucky to win a fight at all. The game is about winning the war, not the battle, so you’re pretty much encouraged to simply try to outlast your opponent until he’s forced to retreat.
With the stats you start out with, you’ll pretty much be a nobody for a long time. What A Legionary’s Life really is about is the story of a poor shmuck just trying to survive, who can either make the most of what he’s dealt with and rise through the ranks or just try to coast by and hope for the best. Either scenario is plausible and it was with that realization that I actually appreciated the narrative of A Legionary’s Life.
As I said, I’ve only played the demo, but it does give a good general idea of what the game is about. Personally, it’s not my kind of game, but I appreciate what it does and the narrative it presents, intentionally or otherwise. I do recommend checking out the demo to see if getting the Early Access version is right for you, but of course, since it’s in Early Access, improvement is always possible.