Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast Review07 Jul 2016 5
Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast Review
Released 05 Jul 2016
I became aware of Iron Maiden in elementary school, so long ago I’m sure my memories are more pastiche and invention than clear, accurate narrative. I recall associating it with the “bad kids”—the kids who didn’t have perfect disciplinary records like mine and all of my friends*. So it’s kind of odd that I also remember being fascinated by the glossy pins I saw on the jean jacket of one of those kids, and found him quite agreeable when asked about them, guiding me to a store in the mall where I could find my own. I’m pretty sure I had one with a cyborg mummy bounty hunter, and I recall thinking that, while it might not make any actual sense, it was dramatically more interesting than a photo of the band riding motorcycles or surrounded by lovely ladies or whatever else people do to display their coolness in real life.
I never really integrated my understanding of the evil Iron Maiden with my recognition that they seemed humble enough to think that advertising themselves was less interesting than featuring the evocative artwork of Derek Riggs, which seemed to hint at a whole story in a single image. Most of them seemed like wicked cool stories.
Apparently, there are still people who think those stories look wicked cool, because Roadhouse Games have made a free-to-play RPG based on Iron Maiden lore. “More pastiche and invention than clear, accurate narrative” seems equally fair as a description of the resulting plot. You play as Eddie, the protagonist of all the Maiden stuff I’ve seen, and an animate mummy. Your soul has been stolen, broken into pieces, and is now being used to fuel the magics which empower your adversaries. Right away, you might be wondering why Eddie’s soul wasn’t chilling in Aaru or condemned to Duat, which we’ll call the ancient Egyptian heaven and hell and not worry about how much more complicated it is than that. Don’t worry about it—you’re a mummy named Eddie wearing jeans and a leather jacket, so we’re not going to get into careful questions about the nature of the afterlife or what it means that you didn’t notice the theft of your soul at first.
As the game progresses, you’ll assemble allies which you can use to fill out your three-person party with, say, a trio of winged mouths, or a floating pharaonic head, or perhaps a sentient hourglass. You also earn other “aspects” of Eddie—you can equip up to three of them, and once every couple turns Eddie can switch to a new one, as the situation warrants. So Eddie the biker can swap out for Eddie the burning wicker man to deal with enemies who don’t cope well with magic fire. Among the rewards available are talismans (which give you static benefits, like a boost to your magic resistance or special meter fill rate) and souls. Souls are physical crystals which you feed into a stone head resembling Eddie. The aforementioned allies emerge from this process bound to your will, but you can sell them if you don’t need them. Does it sound weird to you that an undead time-traveler who enslaves his allies is the protagonist? Because I would have said that if you just called those shards of Eddie’s soul “horcruxes”, he’d have the makings of an excellent villain.
The story appears to be linear. You proceed through battles and dialogues to which Eddie only ever contributes punctuation in a set order (though you can return to earlier battles at will, and each is available in three difficulty levels). The battles themselves aren’t complicated—each character has a basic attack and a special move, and Eddie can perform an even more special move if he gets angry enough. An expanded rock-paper-scissors alignment system means it helps to target the enemies who are weak to the attacks of the unit you’re using, and there’s a little bit of tactical decision-making to choosing which special moves to use, and when. But, beyond a tiny amount of real-time interaction to boost the efficacy of your moves, there’s not much to do that isn’t straightforward. Indeed, the game includes an option to hand your characters over to an AI which can play at double speed, which nicely abandons all pretense that the battles are intellectually stimulating and turns the game into something more akin to Football Manager for bizarre warriors.
"Football Manager for fighter squadrons” was actually the phrase which made me decide I wanted to write for Pocket Tactics, so that’s not such a terrible thing. But your squadrons of bizarre warriors are small, and each has relatively limited upgrade options. Both your warriors and talismans improve over time, but generally in ways over which you have no control. So your input mostly amounts to choosing allies and equipped talismans, and it takes a long time before those decisions seem to matter much. It’s possible I just got unlucky with my drops—had I earned many more talismans early, my options would have been more open.
I feel a surprising amount of affection for Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast. The character designs manage to rely on tropes, yet combine them in ways which seem totally wild. It’s standard, shallow free-to-play dross, except when it does something really interesting: you can borrow someone else’s hero (probably that’s just a way to advertise the desirability of the in-app purchases, but it’s brilliant and enjoyable). I don’t want to reduce the lesson here to “Maiden heads are actually alright (according to what I assume is the consensus bourgeois morality)”, but I can’t figure out what made me so judgmental as a kid. I grew up in a tradition which holds that I was literally eating the flesh of God on Sunday, so I ought to be able to cut time-traveling English mummies a little slack when they’re fighting against demons.* I don’t recall having friends at that age, but I do remember the bad kid I most associated with Iron Maiden going on to win an engineering contest about building the farthest-flying paper airplane.