On paper, Legends of Ellaria sounds like the perfect open world RPG. You adventure through the world, taking on various quests, but you also build up your own kingdom RTS-style, raise your own armies, and go to war with various other factions. There’s quite a lot to it and the initial Early Access build that is available now is only a taste of what’s to come. Given that, you might be wondering whether it is worth grabbing the game now or if you should wait. Fortunately, I’ve spent some time with the current version and will outline the state that it’s in at present.
Legends of Ellaria starts out with your character being rudely awakened by an attack on their castle. The game then runs you through a basic tutorial as you escape towards the roof of the castle, where a portal to Ellaria awaits. You end up losing the castle, but the NPCs in the area insist that it’s fine as long as your kingdom can hold the castle. Meanwhile, you must head to Ellaria and begin rebuilding your kingdom there.
Once you get to Ellaria, the story ceases to be cohesive. Instead of delving into exploring the world and discovering its intricacies, you just spend time taking on various tasks that one would have to complete to build a new kingdom, tasks such as building a tavern or finding out what happened to a lost patrol. This makes sense, given you are rebuilding your kingdom in a new world, but it is a bit disappointing nonetheless. Early on, at least, there are no recurring characters to interact with, no primary enemies to begin setting your sights on. There’s little sense that there’s an overarching plot of any kind, the game instead seeming to simply prepare you for interacting with the open world sandbox mechanics that are yet to come.
When you first get to Ellaria, a basic set of buildings and workers are already set up for you. You can enter any of these buildings, which are mostly houses, at any time and see your villagers resting in their homes. The villagers that are working will walk around your village, carrying out their respective tasks. When you order your villagers to build a building, you can see them at work on it, albeit they teleport around to do so. What quests are available are given to you by your Advisor, who can be found in the Town Hall. It’s a fairly immersive setup, even if entering your villagers’ houses has no functional value yet, as you can’t even speak to them.
Initiating a conversation with an NPC pulls up an odd dialogue sequence. The game pauses entirely, with nothing moving in the background, and text is displayed in yellow across the top of the screen. Even if it weren’t for the odd manner in which dialogue is displayed, I wasn’t fond of the fact that the game pauses almost entirely during dialogue. Furthermore, dialogue will progress automatically after some time, as if the game had been waiting for a voiceover to finish, but there are no voiceovers at present.
Most early quests come down to one of a few simple tasks: go here, build this, or clear out this dungeon. They’re easy enough to follow, but I found quest markers to be lacking. At present, a hollowed out white circle appears on your compass in the direction of any objective that you are currently tracking. No matter how many objectives you are tracking, each one will be marked by the same hollowed out white circle, giving no indication, such as a number in the circle or a circle of a different color, of which quest is which. Because of this, I often ended up tracking only one quest at a time.
Many of the early quests will require you to take part in combat. While you take a significant amount of damage from enemies when you do get hit, most of these encounters are easy due to the fact that most enemies have very little health. There are, however, several other factors that make combat so easy.
The current build doesn’t feature Legends of Ellaria’s RPG leveling system. Therefore, you are given a sword, a bow, and two combat spells, Fireball and Magic Shield, at the beginning of the game, all of which you can use with equal proficiency. All of these can be placed on your hotbar and switched between instantaneously both in and out of combat, albeit right-handed gear and abilities and left-handed gear and abilities are swapped independently, so you have to be mindful of what gear and abilities you swap to and when. While fireballs require mana, they are fairly powerful and bows do not require arrows. As a result, you can easily dispatch small groups of enemies from afar as they approach you without ever taking damage.
This is exacerbated by the fact that enemies move slowly and are easily exploited. While raising your Magic Shield to block will often result in getting hit, as your shield takes too long to fully activate to respond to an incoming attack, simply dodging, or even walking, backwards will often not only move you out of the way of the incoming attack, but also afford you enough time to move back in range of the enemy and strike back. The reason for this is that enemies don’t always attack the moment that they are within striking distance, so simply moving in and out of range of them several times will eventually result in the discovery of an opening.
Your enemies’ pathfinding algorithms are also somewhat unpolished, which leads to further exploits. They will not only get stuck on various scenery, but on the seams between set pieces, lining up in the open and waiting for you to strike them down.
However, even when enemies are working as intended, melee combat, in particular, doesn’t feel great. Melee combat is fairly simple, only giving you the options of striking, blocking, and dodging, and there is no weight behind any of your attacks. Certain animations seem needlessly dramatic, as the attacks are all functionally the same. Furthermore, whereas you can see some semblance of fluidity in combat with other humanoids, combat with smaller, non-humanoid enemies is largely devoid of any sort of indication that you’re doing damage until the enemies in question are dead. Similarly, such enemies give very little indication that you should block, leaving you simply smashing the left mouse button until they die. Ultimately, the only use I found for melee combat was as a way to quickly clear out enemies that I had encountered in confined spaces. Otherwise, ranged combat seemed to be a significantly better option.
All of that being said, I do want to note that the Fireball spell effect is absolutely astounding and that I am very much looking forward to getting access to new spells. Very few games get spell effects right on the level that Legends of Ellaria already has.
While I don’t have much experience with them, early units do little to improve the combat experience. Upon taking a quest that required me to raid an enemy encampment, I decided to spend most of the gold that I had been saving for a Tavern on a small army of five militia. I then had them follow me. The follow AI is stunningly underwhelming, with your units lagging upwards of 20 meters behind your character, following every movement he makes with the slight offset that’s naturally created by their formation. If you walk back to meet them, they will walk past you, then double back and go behind you, the same path that you had taken.
On my way to the encampment, I was ambushed by a group of brigands. I watched one of my militia get into combat, after which he was nearly immediately struck down by one of the brigands in question. Under attack by several brigands myself, I dispatched them before checking on my own units. At first, I had thought that two of them survived, but, upon closer inspection, I found that two brigands had taken down the other four militia on their own and had barely a scratch on them. With odds like that, these units come off as serving little purpose.
The game’s other RTS elements work about how you would expect that they would. While there seems to be a bug with building placement that prevents the silhouette of the building that you are placing from turning green to indicate that you can, in fact, place it there, everything else works as expected. Buildings cost a specific amount of resources and must be placed in a suitable spot within a certain distance of your Town Hall. They can be rotated, allowing you to customize their placement somewhat. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much of a chance to build up my town just yet, as resources are hard to come by early on, largely coming from deposits found in dungeons until you receive and complete quests that require you to clear out dungeons that hold persistent deposits that your villagers can mine automatically.
Beyond what has been mentioned, Legends of Ellaria has a number of other issues that lend to its overall unpolished feel. While characters generally look great, as do various other models, much of the environment looks significantly worse. As mentioned above, dungeons are crafted from set pieces, many of which repeat often and leave the dungeons in question feeling the same; some areas even go so far as to use the same set piece multiple times for interconnecting rooms. Basic movement often feels jittery and imprecise. Many sound effects are missing, leaving certain actions feeling hollow. If you visit an NPC’s home, walking into them will push them off of their chair, leaving them floating in midair, but still “sitting.” Most importantly, however, even on my high-end PC, when set to Fantastic quality, the framerate drops to around 30 when entering the starter village.
Despite its unfinished, unpolished state at present, I am already enjoying Legends of Ellaria quite a bit. It’s a game that you can clearly see where it’s headed and what great things are in store for it. The problem is that it’s simply not there yet. If you’re a fan of ArcaniA, The Elder Scrolls, Gothic, Risen, and/or The Witcher and you’re simply looking for your next big adventure, I highly recommend that you either buy it to support the developers and forget about it until it is closer to release or simply wishlist it and wait. Even if not for the current lack of polish, many features are incomplete or simply missing altogether, with naught but a sliver of what’s planned currently implemented, and that may affect your outlook on the game significantly. At this point in time, I can only recommend that those who really want to provide feedback on the game’s core features buy and play it. There’s a great game here; you just can’t play it yet.
Legends of Ellaria is available on Steam Early Access for $19.99, temporarily discounted to $15.99 until August 4th.