Review: Legends of Callasia - The Stoneborne Expansion26 Oct 2016 6
Review: Legends of Callasia - The Stoneborne Expansion
Released 19 Oct 2016
Legends of Callasia is a war-strategy game that offers a well-paced campaign mode, a skirmish mode for quick games, and a cross-platform multiplayer mode. If it feels like we just featured this game, we did, I gave the game a well-deserved four stars a mere month ago. Boomzap just released The Stoneborne, an expansion featuring the dwarves of Callasia. I've played it, a lot, and am back to give you my thoughts.
In days long past the elder races ruled the world. The Faeborne, creatures of the wood and wild, ruled the plains and forests. All lands beneath the open sky were their domain. The Stoneborne made their home in the vast caverns below the surface. These two peoples lived peacefully, though somewhat uneasily, with each other for countless centuries.
This delicate balance was irrevocably upset with the coming of other races. Orc tribes invaded the caverns and warred with the Stoneborne. This bloody conflict forced the Stoneborne to the surface where they established a new kingdom within the mountains of the world. They came to be known as dwarves to those above.
Meanwhile, the humans of the Hundred Kingdoms rose up and began flooding across the land. The Faeborne greeted the newcomers peacefully at first, but soon found themselves being displaced from lands they had owned since time immemorial. A conflict between the ancient Faeborne and up-and-coming humans was all but inevitable.
The human magi also turned to dark forces to slake their hunger for power, creating zombies and other undead creatures. Once tools, these beings threw off their shackles and declared their independence from humanity and the Revenant were founded. This dangerous new faction had its own plans for the lands both above and below.
In Legends of Callasia the Great Callasian War, for control of the world's surface, began. The Hundred Kingdoms, Faeborne, and Revenant became locked in a bitter struggle for dominance. The Stoneborne had attempted to build a new dwarven empire in the lands of Pellia, but were attacked and harried on all sides by the Faeborne, humans, and orcs. They abandoned their plans for an empire under the sun and decided to retreat to their ancient homeland beneath the surface.
The Stoneborne expansion picks up at this point. The dwarves wish to reclaim the cavern kingdom of the Great Dark. They will have to fight many foes to achieve this goal, however. The orcs remain, and won't go easily. The Revenant too have made a bid for subterranean dominance. Worse yet, horrible creatures known as the Cavespawn have emerged from the deep to attack and the Stoneborne as well.
The Stoneborne expansion didn't change much about the gameplay from Legends of Callasia. The action remains centered on heroes who serve as your generals. They lead armies to conquer and subdue territories, defend the land you control against aggressive foes, and build towns and towers to grow your population and military. Once controlled, your territories basically serve as a tax base and recruitment source for military units. There's no micromanagement of finances or public approval seen in other games of the genre, this one is all about war.
Battle is quick and automated. You pick units to build your armies to go on the attack or defend that which you already control and the game does the rest. There are two pretty self-explanatory phases of combat, melee and missile, and various tactical considerations regarding units and terrain.
I discuss the gameplay in far more detail in my initial review and recommend you check it out if you want more information.
The heart of the update is a new ten-level campaign where you can play as the Stoneborne. You meet and then command their heroes, eleven in total, each with their own special traits and abilities. You'll face familiar foes—orcs, the Hundred Kingdom, the Revenant, and even the Faeborne—as well as the new enemy faction the Cavespawn. There are also over twenty new cards. You get one card per turn, they can be played on your turn, and have a variety of effects on territories or in battle. There's also twenty new maps for use in skirmish mode or the cross-platform multiplayer mode.
The Stoneborne campaign kicks off with an opportunity to get acquainted with the new bad guys, the Cavespawn. The Stoneborne, under your watchful command, must eliminate the vile spawn from a cavernous underground map in order to press onward. Once victory is assured, things go back above ground once more in the search for the Sea of Salt. You'll need the help of the Faeborne, which does not come without a price.
The campaign moves forward one level at a time, each one a different chapter in the overall story and milestone in the journey home. You'll cross paths with the other factions as allies or enemies, sometimes both. The story is enjoyable and adds enough of a narrative kick to, you know, justify all the war stuff.
The game is also fast-paced for the genre, a big selling point for the original and I was glad to see it did not change. I averaged about two hours per campaign level, which is about perfect for an extended game session or to play through in a couple chunks. Assuming my pace is average, the campaign itself should provide around twenty hours of entertainment, which is some very solid single-player content.
One of my favorite features of the campaign, and the expansion overall, are the new maps. I'm a sucker for well-done maps. The underground maps, in particular, are very well done indeed and offer a good change of pace. You'll find gaping chasms, forests of mushrooms, prairies of mold, crystalline hills, rivers of lava, and underground lakes.
The Stoneborne units follow largely along the lines of the other factions. The basic and cheapest units are the Tunnelers and represent your basic militia types, best for defense. The rank-and-file ranged fighters are Gunners with their arquebus-style firearms. There are Defenders, your frontline troops and tanks, of which you'll want many. Sappers are the big-hit melee fighters and Onagers and Artillery do the long-range killing. These last three are squishies who will want to hide behind the Defenders until it's their turn to shine.
The Stoneborne have eleven new heroes and naturally there are some synergistic options available. On one level I teamed up Karol (50% attack bonus during the missile phase) and Allan (gives all melee units trample damage) to give a buff to all unit types and crush enemy armies that dared oppose them. As in the base game, every hero has their special traits. Billy is a conqueror and gets a 50% attack bonus while fighting in neutral and enemy territory while Abner is a protector and gets a 50% attack bonus on your territory. Bloodsand, on the other hand, is a pillager and gets a 200% bonus to gold gained when razing buildings and winning battles. Bloodsand is also pretty freakishly frightening.
The AI is good but not great and makes some odd choices. For example, some routed units would withdraw from battle only to attack my overwhelmingly superior force again the next turn. If a player had done it I might guess it was a tactic to stall my larger force by sacrificing a hero to lock them in combat but I doubt that's the case with AI.
A few AI flaws notwithstanding, I found the campaign plenty challenging. There are some particularly difficult levels where you start with a significant population deficit and cannot create new units. This really forces you to conserve your forces and accomplish the game goals with what you have on hand.
I've primarily focused on the campaign mode with this review, that's where the bulk of the new content comes into play, but Legends of Callasia features a cross-platform multiplayer mode as well. The expansion opens up the Stoneborne as a playable faction in multiplayer. An update to the base game accompanied the expansion and has added new two, four, six, and eight player maps—twenty new maps in all. The alliance system that lets you setup teams before you enter a game (or during one already in progress) has also been updated, allowing for groupings of 3 or more players. Prior to this expansion, all you could have were two-player alliances. If you don't own Stoneborne, you can still join the game of someone who has and experience the new maps for yourself.
This expansion is aimed at existing Legends of Callasia players. If you haven't played it yet, you absolutely should. There is a free trial that gives you plenty to sink your teeth into before you decide if you want to buy the game. If you own Callasia and enjoyed the single-player campaign mode, the Stoneborne expansion is definitely for you. It offers more of everything you already like. Another playable faction, more heroes, more maps, more cards, and more fun. I once again found myself caught up in the game and unwilling to put my iPad down. Just-one-more-turn syndrome is definitely in full effect, which is why the pacing and reasonable length of time to complete a level are so important here for busy gamers.
If you don't care as much about the single-player campaign and are in it for the multiplayer, it is really only worth it if you very much want to battle as the Stoneborne against others. Price is also a factor here: Legends of Callasia will set you back $15 and the Stoneborne expansion is another $8. My assessment is that both the game and expansion are well worth their price tags assuming you enjoy this type of game and your gaming budget allows it. The expansion campaign will provide you over twenty hours of entertainment for that $8. That's a far better return than you'll get at the movie theatre (especially after your $15 popcorn) or even your movie-rental service of choice.
The bottom line is that this is one of the better mobile war strategy games I've played in some time. It sucks you in but doesn't demand all of your time. The gameplay is fun and lightweight. I certainly hope Boomzap develops more expansions in the future. Pick it up on iOS.