Legends of Kingdom Rush Review
Ironhide takes a swing at turn-based strategy. Is it a hit, or a miss?
Legends of Kingdom Rush is a turn-based-strategy RPG hybrid with rogue-lite elements that channels the Fire Emblem and Advance 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 was lucky to spend some time with the game and came away impressed.
Uruguay-based indie studio Ironhide is well known for their polished tower defence and RTS games on mobile and Steam. Their first major game, Kingdom Rush, was released in 2011 and (along with its many sequels) is one of the biggest tower defence games of all time. They branched out 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.
Regrettably, though, the game was never released with any multiplayer component, which certainly held back its potential for growth. There’s an Iron Marines sequel in the works, too: Iron Marines Invasion, which looks to offer more of the same offline single-player RTS goodness.
As a mobile-first developer, Ironhide is certainly no stranger to micro-transactions. While many of their games have implemented in-app purchases (IAP), they can mostly be enjoyed without spending beyond the initial price of admission. They have certainly tried not to alienate fans with predatory IAP strategies, and most micro-transactions are for cosmetics or, at worst, for speeding up certain gameplay elements.
Thankfully, Legends of Kingdom Rush is free from micro-transactions so far. That’s not to say there won’t be any paid DLC in the future, which would be nice, but time will tell.
So what about the game itself? Well, as with all Ironhide titles, the first thing that jumps out is the vivid, hand-drawn art style. It’s clear this developer wears its Warcraft-era Blizzard influence on its sleeve, as the animated heroes and lush battlegrounds certainly channel the mid-nineties Orcs vs Humans vibe.
There are two main views: the map view and the combat view. I love the little details in the map, which offer branching pathways through each adventure, allowing players some level of control over how they tackle things (but no backtracking, sadly). The combat view zooms in and takes place on a classic hex-grid, with obstructions like trees, logs, houses, and rivers dotting the battlefield.
Cut scenes play out as hand-drawn comic strips and tell the story of orc invasions of the Kingdom which, while doing the job, feel arbitrary to the gameplay. Thankfully, it's not necessary to play the previous games to understand the plot, but it’s there for fans nonetheless.
There are also randomised world events that pop up during each adventure, from dodging falling trees to stumbling across sleeping ogres, all brought to life with some entertaining writing (including some cheeky Easter eggs to be found, such as getting Rick Rolled in one of the taverns).
There’s a playful tone throughout, which is unlike the grim-faced classics of Blizzard, and indicates this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. The music and voice acting too are top-notch, but much like the early Warcraft games, there are some catch-cries you’ll hear a million times over during each play-through. Some more variety in the voice work would be nice.
The gameplay involves leading a team of three characters through an adventure map, with all battles handled in the hex-grid view. Combat events are signposted on the map, ensuring you have time to heal up before you engage, which is important as you can’t use healing items during combat (outside of some characters healing abilities).
As with all turn-based strategy games, smart movement is critical. It’s imperative to use environmental obstructions defensively and to shepherd enemies toward choke points.
There are random combat encounters on the map too, 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 fresh run - hence the rogue-lite element.
These deaths can be frustrating, particularly in the early game. During the first few runs, death is an inevitability. Patience and an understanding of the meta-progression are essential to ensure players don’t walk away after the first few runs, which feel almost comically unfair.
After each run, all characters level up to receive stat boosts and unlock skills like more powerful attacks and movement abilities. These abilities remain unavailable at the start of the next run but can be activated through the accumulation of XP.
What really deepens the experience is the large roster of characters that are available at the start of each adventure, affording a great amount of customisation to suit a variety of play styles. I wasn’t able to unlock all the characters during my time but was able to form a solid core team I was happy with.
I found the game’s tank characters to be generally overpowered, as a party consisting of three heavy knights got me further than any other. The most overpowered of these was Gerald (above) who had strong armour and decent sword attack. He 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 Sorceress (above) was an excellent combination. She drained enemy armour from afar, weakening them, allowing Gerald to move in for the final blows.
I found the two melee characters unlocked at the start of the game, Ranger and Arcane Wizard (both above), far too weak in terms of HP and armour. There are not enough opportunities for movement to make these characters viable, in my opinion.
The two unlockable knights, Knight and Dark Knight (both above), were much more to my liking, though. Knight is one of the best tanks in the game, with a passive ability to deflect enemy attacks without taking any damage at all, along with the ability to send out a war cry which boosts the armour and attack of surrounding allies. The Dark Knight has spiked armour which causes damage to nearby enemies and a devastating heavy attack. Together these two were a powerful combat option.
One of the more contentious aspects of Legends of Kingdom rush is the RNG system. The game uses a random number generator throughout each play-through to determine success in both random events that happen in the map view and during combat. This leaves the game feeling as if you're beholden more to luck than skill at times. In both instances, I found this could be frustrating, as a perfect run could be spoiled by a bad roll.
There are other rogue-lites that get this balance between luck and skill just right. Ironhide would be wise to tweak the RNG more in the player’s favour. Of course, in that case, it would no longer be a truly ‘random’ number generator, but at least it would make for a more enjoyable sense of fairness. Having a run cut short by a random roll of the dice is not fun.
The game has clearly been designed with mobile play in mind, with the interface and button sizes highly optimised for touchscreens. On Steam it can be played with both mouse and controller, but neither feels natural. Mouse play feels like a chore as major buttons are spaced on opposite sides of the screen, and controller play feels clunky. However, I imagine the Steam Deck would be a perfect way to play, especially on the go. This is a great game for short bursts of action in a lean-back situation.
One downside is the small amount of stat and ability information given to players during combat (you'll need to wait until after combat has finished to view character stats in the map view). There were many times during a battle I wanted to be reminded what certain abilities were, but wasn’t able to find any information at hand. Some kind of mouse-over to give more information on abilities during battles would be a welcome addition, especially for forgetful folk like me.
The campaign for Legends of Kingdom Rush consists of four main-line adventures which will take around 8 hours to complete in total. For completionists, though, there are tonnes of challenges that would easily take 30+ hours to finish.
If you enjoyed any of the other Ironhide games, or just like some turn-based gaming in general, this one is worth checking out. For fans of the early Fire Emblem series, Spaceland, or Advance Wars, this could be right up your alley. Legends of Kingdom Rush is a light-hearted experience that’s easy to pick up and fun to play, with just enough depth to put your strategic chops to the test.
My review copy of Legends of Kingdom Rush 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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