Kingdom rush

Kingdom Rush Legends Review

Kingdom Rush Legends is a turn-based strategy RPG hybrid with rogue-lite elements that channels the fire emblem and Advanced Wars games of yesteryear. It’s finally making its way to Steam in July 2022 after a long period of exclusivity on Apple Arcade. I had the chance to spend some time with the game and came away impressed.

Independent studio based in Uruguay iron leather is well known for its polished tower defense and RTS games on mobile and Steam. Their first big game kingdom rush, was released in 2011 and (along with its many sequels) is one of the greatest tower defense games of all time. They diversified in 2017 with iron marines, a new IP with a futuristic setting and a real-time strategy (RTS) approach. Also received positively, it demonstrated that the touchscreen could be a viable platform for the RTS genre.

Unfortunately, the game was never released with a multiplayer component, which certainly held back its growth potential. There is a iron marines sequel also in preparation: Invasion of the Iron Marineswhich seeks to deliver more of the same offline single-player RTS goodness.

Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

As a mobile developer, Ironhide is certainly no stranger to micro-transactions. While many of their games have in-app purchases (IAP) implemented, they can usually be enjoyed without spending beyond the initial entry price. They’ve certainly tried not to alienate fans with predatory IAP strategies, and most micro-transactions are for cosmetics or, at worst, to speed up certain gameplay elements.

Fortunately, Kingdom Rush Legends is free of micro-transactions so far. That’s not to say there won’t be paid DLC in the future, which would be nice, but time will tell.

Game screenshot;  the world map full of forests and yellow paths between picturesque villages and enemy camps.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

So what about the game itself? Well, as with all Ironhide titles, the first thing that jumps out at you is the vivid, hand-drawn art style. It is clear that this developer wears his Warcraft-era Blizzard influence on its sleeve, as animated heroes and lush battlefields certainly channel the mid-90s Orcs versus humans vibe.

There are two main views: the map view and the combat view. I love the small map details, which provide branching pathways through each adventure, allowing players some level of control over how they approach things (but no backtracking, unfortunately). The battle view zooms in and takes place on a classic hexagonal grid, with obstacles like trees, logs, houses, and rivers dotting the battlefield.

Deleted scenes take place as hand-drawn comics and tell the story of orc invasions of the Kingdom that, while getting the job done, seem arbitrary for gameplay. Luckily, you don’t have to play the previous games to understand the plot, but it’s there for the fans nonetheless.

Comic strips of outtakes from the game. A storm is brewing over an orc stronghold, where scouts inform the orc leader of adventurers on the trail.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

There are also random world events that pop up during each adventure, from dodging falling trees to stumbling over sleeping ogres, all brought to life by entertaining writing (including cheeky Easter eggs to find, like roll Rick into one of the taverns).

There’s a playful tone throughout, which is different from Blizzard’s grim-faced classics, and indicates that this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. The music and voice acting are also top notch, but just like the first Warcraft games, there are screams you’ll hear a million times every game. A little more variety in the voice work would be nice.

Gameplay involves leading a team of three characters through an adventure map, with all battles handled in the hex grid view. Combat events are marked on the map, giving you time to heal yourself before engaging, which is important because you can’t use healing items during combat (aside from abilities healing of certain characters).

As with all turn-based strategy games, clever movement is key. It is imperative to use environmental obstacles defensively and guide enemies to choke points.

A game world map filled with blue-tinged forests and stony paths connecting scenic towns and enemy camps.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

There are also random combat encounters on the map, governed by the game’s RNG system (more on that later). If all characters die during combat, the adventure is over and you’ll be back to start a new run – hence the rogue-lite element.

These deaths can be frustrating, especially in the early game. During the first races, death is inevitable. Patience and an understanding of meta-progression are key to ensuring players don’t wander off after the first few runs, which seem almost comically unfair.

In-game screenshot of the character selection screen.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

After each run, all characters level up to receive stat boosts and unlock skills such as stronger attacks and movement abilities. These abilities remain unavailable at the start of the next round but can be activated through the accumulation of XP.

What really deepens the experience is the large roster of characters available at the start of each adventure, offering a great amount of customization to suit a variety of playstyles. I wasn’t able to unlock all of them. characters during my time, but I was able to form a strong core team that I was happy with.

Game screenshot of Gerald and Sorceress stat cards.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

I found the game’s tank characters to be generally overpowered, as a party of three heavy knights got me further than any other. The most overpowered of them was Gerald (above) who had solid armor and a decent sword attack. It also absorbed enemy attacks and reflected damage back to the enemy, which was handy defensively.

I found myself using Gerald on every run. In terms of ranged characters, pairing Gerald with the Witch (above) was a great combination. She drained enemy armor from afar, weakening them, allowing Gerald to move for finishing blows.

Game screenshot of Ranger and Arcane Wizard stat cards.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

I found the two melee characters unlocked at the start of the game, Ranger and Arcane Wizard (both above), to be way too low in terms of HP and armor. There aren’t enough movement opportunities to make these characters viable, in my opinion.

Game screenshot of Knight's and Dark Knight's Stat Cards.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

The two unlockable knights, Knight and Dark Knight (both above), were much more to my liking, however. Knight is one of the best tanks in the game, with a passive ability to deflect enemy attacks without taking damage, as well as the ability to send out a battle cry that boosts the armor and attack of surrounding allies. The Dark Knight has spiked armor that deals damage to nearby enemies and a devastating heavy attack. Together, these two were a powerful combat option.

One of the most contentious aspects of Legends of the Kingdom rush is the RNG system. The game uses a random number generator throughout each game to determine the success of random events that occur in the map view and during combat. This makes the game feel like you’re sometimes more beholden to luck than skill. Either way, I found it could be frustrating, as a perfect run could be ruined by a bad throw.

Game screenshot;  the player character launches a heavy attack against a pack of wolves and blue trolls.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

There are other rogue-lites that achieve this balance of luck and skill. Ironhide would be wise to tweak the RNG further in favor of the player. Of course, in this case, it wouldn’t be a true “random” number generator anymore, but at least it would give a nicer sense of fairness. Having a race cut short by a random dice roll is no fun.

The game was clearly designed for mobile gaming, with the interface and button sizes highly optimized for touchscreens. On Steam, it can be played with both mouse and controller, but neither feels natural. Mouse gaming feels like a chore because the main buttons are spaced out on opposite sides of the screen and controller gaming feels clunky. However, I imagine the Steam Deck would be an ideal way to play, especially on the go. It’s a great game for short bursts of action in a backsliding situation.

One downside is the small amount of stat and ability information provided to players during combat (you will have to wait until the end of combat to view character stats on the map). There were many times during a battle where I wanted to be reminded what certain abilities were, but couldn’t find any information at hand. Some kind of mouse-over to give more information about abilities during battles would be a welcome addition, especially for forgetful people like me.

In-game screenshot of a frozen world map on a mountain leading to a large stone temple.
Legends of Kingdom Rush. Source: Steam

The campaign for Kingdom Rush Legends consists of four main adventures which will take about 8 hours in total. For the finalists, however, there are tons of challenges that would easily take over 30 hours to complete.

If you enjoyed any of the other Ironhide games, or just like some turn-based games in general, this one is worth checking out. For early fans fire emblem series, earth from spaceWhere advanced wars, it might suit you. Legends of Kingdom Rush is a light, easy to pick up and fun to play experience, with just enough depth to test your strategic skills.

My review copy of Kingdom Rush Legends was provided by Ironhide Game Studios via Steam. You can find the game here for $14.99, with a free demo available.


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