If you take the essential, exciting ingredients you remember from classic RTS games like Command & Conquer and StarCraft, and render them down into an intense stock, you get something like Crossfire: Legion. It’s an upcoming strategy game from Homeworld developer Blackbird Interactive that emphasises its bombastic combat, while streamlining the fussy economy stuff enough to make it approachable for newcomers.
It’s set in the near-future warscape of Crossfire, the massively popular Korean FPS game that launched in 2007. While it’s not a household name in the West, it’s a major phenomenon in Asia – according to SmileGate, Crossfire has a staggering 689 million players across 88 countries, and sees concurrent user counts that the top Steam games could only dream of. A Chinese television series based on Crossfire has racked up 1.8 billion views.
You don’t really need to know anything about Crossfire to get into Crossfire: Legion, though. It’s a pick-up-and-play RTS that instantly feels familiar if you’ve played any version of multiplayer StarCraft in the past 20 years. You start with a base structure, recruit workers to collect resources and build initial structures, and start pumping out units as quickly as possible.
During a private press preview last week, we got a chance to play with one of the two factions Blackbird Interactive says will be ready when Crossfire: Legion hits Early Access, which is currently scheduled for sometime in April. In a 3v3 matchup with the developers and other members of the press, we play as the Black List, a scrappy, stealth-focused group of guerrillas who are dead set against the more hegemonic and high-tech forces of the Global Risk faction.
Blackbird Interactive says it wants to focus players’ attention on battlefield strategy, letting them imagine and execute tactical plans without having to divide their attention between micro and macro tasks as much as they would in classic strategy games. The tactical element of Crossfire: Legion, the developer explains, is in unit deck building and commander selection, which you’ll do before each match.
Legion instantly feels familiar if you've played any version of multiplayer StarCraft in the past 20 years
Matches begin in classic StarCraft format: you’ve got a headquarters building and some worker units – forklifts, in my case. I quickly queue up several more at HQ, placing a rally point at the resource collection node at my start location. Once I’ve filled up my metal and gas nodes with as many workers as they can take, I pop up a barracks and start pushing out soldiers.
Matches progress quickly, and it’s not long before my teammates and I are taking new territory and clashing with our opponents. When I see a stream of soldiers, tanks, and helicopters heading north through a choke point near my second base, I send reinforcements along to help out.
Commanders aren’t physically present on the battlefield, but they have abilities that drastically shape your approach to a match, so your choice of commander is effectively a commitment to a specific playstyle. Cardinal, the Global Risk commander available during the test, can call for an artillery barrage with his Fire At Will ability, or heal and buff units in an area with Rally. Meanwhile, the Black List leader, Phoenix, can place a Ghost Core structure on the map, which can recall units to it in a stealth state, preventing enemy units from targeting them.
your choice of commander is a commitment to a specific playstyle
The Ghost Recall ability takes some careful timing to pull off – it’s not an instantaneous cast, so it’s important to activate it as soon as it looks like you’ll need to withdraw. Wanting to do as much damage as I can during offensives, I find myself waiting too long to use the ability, and only a few of my units successfully teleport out of the fray before our attack is blunted. Fortunately, I’ve been pushing out to new HQ sites and keeping my production queues full, so a fresh attack force is ready to go right away – this one fielding some heavy trucks with powerful mounted lasers.
Another faction will be revealed in February, which is when Blackbird plans on opening up Crossfire: Legion’s first public demo. March will see the addition of ranked modes and voice communication, with army customisation, an open beta, and the Early Access launch all slated for April.
Blackbird says it’s planning on adding an army card system, a full single-player campaign, co-op scenarios, and more of just about everything that’s already present: more units, more maps, more commanders, and more online modes. Steam Workshop support for mods is also on the to-do list during the Early Access phase.