It all starts with regicide. The Lord of Mercia is assassinated and as Knight Commander, Uther is disgraced. Forced to flee from his homeland to find those responsible, Uther has to rely on misfits and form a small band to try to work out why the Duke of Wessex launched attacks on all of the kingdoms at once with devastating results.
Sword Legacy: Omen is a twist on Arthurian legend, following Uther and Merlin in a story of the dark times before Arthur’s Golden Age. This turn-based tactics game puts you in charge of a small group of unlikely heroes and companions as they try to undo the evil that Wessex is unleashing on the land. While Mercia suffered from an assassination, there are much more insidious plans at work. Vile poisons are mixed into the water supply in one place, while in another kingdom an ancient abbey has become a torture chamber, with prisoners and monks feeling the wrath of evil alchemists. It is a fun story thread to follow, with Faye creatures joining ranks alongside the assistant of a squire. This is a dark world that makes me want to explore every inch.
When not in combat you can explore the level freely, dropping out of the turn-based movement. Scraps of lore, secret pathways, treasure and locked chests all await. Some areas lead to extra fights, which means more renown for your party and maybe even a key for that big treasure chest or door that you saw. Or you could make sure you have the thief in the party to pick the locks for you. Just be mindful of traps as the characters following you will happily go stand on a trap when you tell them to walk into a room. In combat, the turn-based strategy starts and often you have to be clever about how to use your surroundings.
Pull an enemy into range, slam another enemy into them and then do an attack that hits two squares and two guards might end up dead before they have a chance to fight you.
Barrels of tar, poison, water explosives or flammable substances dot the levels, waiting for you to take advantage of enemy placement. Use a knockback ability on a barrel or an enemy and when the two meet you get a satisfying amount of damage on the enemy, sometimes killing them outright. Be careful though, as they will do the exact same thing to you if given the chance. The game follows a player turn, enemy turn format and you can choose who does what in an order that makes sense to you. Pull an enemy into range, slam another enemy into them and then do an attack that hits two squares and two guards might end up dead before they have a chance to fight you. Do enough damage and the camera will zoom in as you decapitate or brain an enemy, cartoony viscera and body parts collapsing in slow motion.
Tactics games need to ride on a very fine line when it comes to combat difficulty and character progression, and Sword Legacy: Omen falters about half-way into the game. Because your characters do not level up, your improvements to them come from the items you equip and the skills you unlock for them. That sounds rather standard on its own, but the issue lies in both systems relying on a shared pool of resources. To equip the party you are sometimes left with a hard choice: with only a small amount of gold available, someone is going to have to not get item upgrades. Sometimes several characters won’t get upgrades because you need the money for camping supplies or to stay in the inn to rest your gravely wounded squad. Similarly, character skills are purchased from a communal pool of renown that you earn from missions. While this stops you from feeling punished for not taking someone on a mission and them not getting any rewards, it does mean you have to make tough choices with upgrades for characters. Over time these choices can leave you in a bind when you reach a level that could really benefit from say, a fireball, but you can’t afford it because you spent all your renown on your barbarian the level before to make sure he fought efficiently.
Eight HP is about standard for your characters, and it isn’t difficult to find enemies with as much as 20HP that can hit for eight damage.
This is further exacerbated by two things: there is no way to refund your skill points into renown. Don’t like a skill or don’t use a specific character anymore? Sorry, those purchases are permanent. You can literally back yourself into a corner and the game has no way to fix that if you get stuck later on. Sad to say I am stuck about 2/3 of the way through the game and I have spent far too long replaying the exact same level trying to get lucky or find a way to cheese the scenario. A lot of the difficulty in the scenario comes from the small health pools your heroes have. Eight HP is about standard for your characters, and it isn’t difficult to find enemies with as much as 20HP that can hit for eight damage. How does this wizard have more health than a knight in full plate? No clue, but here we are and my hero lies on the floor.
There is a lot in Sword Legacy: Omen that I really like. The animated dialogue screens, the characters reacting to the various missions, a tactics game that promotes flanking, positioning and using the environment are all present here. But there are too many things that rub against the grain, like enemies walking through fire to reach you, or everyone having more health, damage and action points per turn that you do. The game doesn’t even explain what the rest of your party is doing when not taking part in a mission: there is just a rule that says you can only take four people into a mission and healing between missions is a slow, painful and expensive process, meaning you feel forced to take your healer on every mission to try to avoid the extra cost of staying in an inn later. Oh, and your healer can only heal in combat. I want to love this game but I have spent so much time playing the same level now, with its unskippable cutscenes and unfair fights that I am not sure I will go back to it. There are no sidequests, no method to get money or renown then come back to the fight with new skills and gear and I feel the only way to progress will be to restart the game and skill accordingly for this specific battle. Who knows if that doesn’t mean I will have the same problem a little further down the road…