The modern video game quandary for indie developers: to enter early access, or not to enter early access. Re-Legion walks and talks like any other not-quite-ready-for-prime-time game in fundamental ways, and is presently offered on Steam for considerably less than most big-box titles, yet its compromised RTS campaign sensibility can’t escape a crude sense of quality and design. Some entertaining gameplay hides beneath its low-budget surface, but it’s a hard sell for genre aficionados, even those willing to deal with some indie game growing pains.
You take the role of Elian, a cult leader (is that a professional job role? it’s positioned like one) in a near-future sci-fi cyberpunk world who seeks his expectant flock to take down the status quo. In a peculiar tutorial, players learn the basics of Re-Legion; namely, clicking on random city dwellers and converting them to your cause, then enlisting them in a specific combat role type before aiming them at the enemy and scrutinizing health bars.
At first, there’s a rather bracing, disaffected quality to the narrative tone of Re-Legion that risks endearing you to its caustic treatment of urban life. At face value, its dark delivery feels risque, but it’s upended almost immediately by the clumsy writing and disastrous vocal performances, introducing players to a group of named characters who embarrassingly posture in grimdark fashion. Part of this cumbersome narrative has to do with the plot failing to keep up with the concept, a semi-serious societal upheaval theme where the main character wants to change things for the better (by way of creating his own cyber-flavored cult of worship), but it bears all the wit and weight of a slogan on a Hot Topic band t-shirt.
Beyond the awkward story, Re-Legion leans on its RTS gameplay quirk of dispensing with barracks and resource retrieval in lieu of human harvesting. Similar to Bullfrog’s classic Syndicate series’ Persuedatron tool, players can convert random members of the neon-streaked hoi polloi to their cause, but with the added bonus of converting them to a specific unit class, including hackers, shooters, and melee types. Two forms of currency — cash and faith — imply a more complex economy, and although the purpose seems to keep the game brisk, it’s more reliant on the common RTS trappings of fortifying individual base units to create and upgrade troops.
The problem is that the game can’t help but look to these RTS basics to progress. For instance, while there is no base building in Re-Legion’s vocabulary, there is still a form of resource gathering. Cash and faith need to be managed, mined, and monitored to create combat units out of civilians, and the overall rhythm of conflict requires players to seek out arbitrary zones to enable their army. This soon hampers the precise RTS twist sought out by the developers, and the resultant experience feels precisely like the genre tropes which Re-Legion apparently wants to dispose of.
So, what’s left after all this apparent compromise? There seem to be two main aspects of gameplay here: building up an army (often by camping civilian-rich areas like metro exits for conversion), then attacking warring cults and capturing quest targets. Sometimes, this process works in the game’s favor, a push-pull flow which designates how each of the nine or so levels play out, with doomed skirmishes requiring retreat and reset to try again. There’s a generous difficulty in Re-Legion’s early levels which lets players reestablish their footing but, halfway through the campaign, it’s necessary to preempt heavy losses by planning ahead, which never feels empowering — really, it feels like all the RTS games it wants to subvert. New units mirror enemy types as well, and shoddy group keybindings and control issues result in having to drag boxes to highlight and relocate units, resulting in fidgety battles that rarely satisfy.
It doesn’t help that level maps are laid out akin to tower defense games, and the city itself never allows creative navigation through the environment. If there’s a waist-high wall in front of a group, you’ll just have to move around it, and random enemies tend to patrol these bottlenecks, so it’s a matter of pushing your mind-controlled troops through and hoping there’s enough remaining cannon fodder to get past them.
The most interesting portions of the game relate to choices, which crop up unexpectedly in the course of a level. Should you dominate a fellow cult, or offer protection? Which dogma should your cult choose to adopt, thereby specifying its tech tree of abilities later on? The choices Re-Legion presents aren’t comparable to something like Mass Effect, but they are destructive decisions which will alter a few skills made available in a given playthrough.
It’s clear that Re-Legion arrived to Steam with an early-access standard present. The sound effects, voice acting, visual quality, common bugs, and even menu design all seem unprepared and shabby. Saving the game in a given level takes 30 seconds or more, and there remains eight to ten hours of content prior to completion, lacking even a range of difficulty levels for another go-round. Since release, significant and frequent version updates have reduced the amount of game-killing bugs, none of which address interface problems, severe pathfinding snafus, goofy dialogue, or audio problems outside of the atrocious voice acting — there isn’t even a feature to change the voice actor audio, and attempts to do so will shift all menu options to another language entirely. UI and UX issues like these mar the overall quality of Re-Legion, which may make purchasers feel like beta-testers. Multiplayer options and other features are potentially on the roadmap, and while the cyberpunk aesthetic differs from the historic or fantasy genres in which other RTS games frequently read, it’s hard to recommend Re-Legion.
Re-Legion is out now on Steam. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purpose of review.