Crossfire: Legion First Impressions – A New RTS With Old-School Roots

RTS fans have had it rough for a while now. Despite the success of Starcraft 2, there hadn’t been a major RTS released in years until Age of Empires IV launched last October. As MOBAs, mobile games, and FPS titles continue to wow shareholders with lootbox profits, it has become harder and harder for RTS games to get made. That’s why — as a former RTS fanatic — I was so excited to get a chance to check out Crossfire: Legion. It’s a new RTS based in the hugely popular Crossfire universe and developed by Blackbird Interactive, whose CEO happens to be Relic Entertainment co-founder Rob Cunninghman.

If you’re an RTS fan, I probably don’t have to tell you that Relic was the company that developed two of the greatest RTS franchises in Homeworld and Company of Heroes. Both games offered RTS gameplay that was fundamentally different from the games that had come before, and they were also both fun as heck. I’ve probably spent more hours in Company of Heroes 1 and 2 than I’ve spent on any other game in my library — and by a significant margin.

While Crossfire: Legion doesn’t represent nearly the paradigm shift that CoH and Homeworld did, it does bring a new core mechanic to the table: pre-game army customization. While this feature has been used in Real-time Tactics games like the Myth series, it’s rare to see it in an RTS that includes base building. I’m really excited to see how this ends up playing, and in particular how it affects the PvP meta. Usually, RTS games end up being fairly predictable in terms of how the factions play against each other; with more potential variability in terms of what units each side brings to the battlefield, it follows that matchups in Legion will be less repetitive than in something like Starcraft.

crossfire legion screenshot 1 base building

I didn’t get a chance to check out the army customization in the build I played, but I did get to play a 1v1 with BBI developer Maurice. We chatted briefly before our match, and he came off as incredibly passionate about creating an awesome RTS. However, our conversation ended quickly once we got into the game and started macroing our butts off.

My impression of the early game was positive; Legion has all the modern quality-of-life features Starcraft 2 introduced. You can select multiple production buildings and tab through them, resource nodes indicate when you’ve got the optimal amount of workers assigned to them, and workers can be set to automatically begin harvesting when they’re created. It’s hard to judge since all the units and buildings aren’t in the game yet, but it seems like there’s some decent flexibility in terms of build paths, and obviously the army customization will offer additional options. There will also be leader units you can bring to the battlefield that have their own special abilities, a la Dawn of War and Warcraft 3.

crossfire legion screenshot 3 cardinal ability

Units feel responsive and easy to control, and most have at least one special ability, either by default or unlocked with an upgrade. Interestingly, units don’t flow through each other smoothly like they do in most modern RTS games, which gives me immense hope for the future of Crossfire: Legion. One of the best things about the original Starcraft was how much micro and positioning mattered. This was due in large part to the fact that units had pretty terrible pathfinding; by making units in Starcraft 2 path through each other easily, they incidentally removed skill expression from the game.

While the pathfinding isn’t bad in Legion, you do need to actually micro your units to prevent them bumping into one another and screwing up pathing — and I think that’s awesome. Personally, I find SC2’s death balls pretty dull to both play with and to watch, and it appears that Legion might not end up having the big boring clumps of units that SC2 has. I found my units weren’t all able to attack if I simply attack-moved them into the enemy, and I had to reposition the frontline troops in order to make room for the units behind them. These little tasks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but people who miss Brood War’s gameplay should be pleased with how microing feels in Legion.

crossfire legion impressions screenshot 5 – battlefield

If Crossfire: Legion does have a weakness, its the story and setting. Crossfire (the FPS that Legion is based on) started life as a Counterstrike clone, and the plot boils down to “Freedom-loving terrorist group fights global capitalist counter-terrorist group around the world”. It’s a modern setting, and so Legion has all the units you’d expect: infantry with rifles, tanks, machine gun towers, and so on. Visually, the units and maps are as bland as the story. Still, I did find the graphical style to be pleasant-looking and easy to parse, and there’s a yet-to-be-revealed third faction that could add some much-needed excitement to the plot.

During the presentation we were given before trying out the game, Blackbird Interactive continuously hammered home the point that they wanted the development of Legion to be a collaboration with the community. BBI plan on improving and adjusting the game based on feedback from players, and will be seeking to work closely with the community throughout development. There will be a technical test sometime this month, a “first look beta” in February, and then the game’s open beta in April.

Given the immense success of Crossfire, Smilegate Entertainment (who are publishing Legion) should be able to give BBI all the time and money they need to make Legion a success. Here’s hoping they do just that.

Excited for Crossfire: Legion? Did I miss an excellent RTS that came out recently? Let us know in the comments!

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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.

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