Young nobleman Lucas awakes one day to find that his war hero daddy’s vacated their estate along with its standing army, having set out on some quest of great importance. Like any well adjusted medieval youth Lucas decides to invite his Elf and Dwarf buddies to hang out while the castle’s under his watch, but as luck would have it, a horde of undead minions arises to crash the party. Now it’s Lucas’ job to not only make sure the front gates aren’t broken down by zombies, but to raise his own giant army and take the fight to enemy bases spread over a vast continent.

If the above description doesn’t already make it clear, the fact that Elves, Dwarves, and Humans have been restyled “Elfys,” “Dwarfys,” and “Knightys” in the world of Legendary Wars (Out Now, $2.99) is warning enough that the game’s story doesn’t always take itself seriously. Nevertheless, Liv Games has done an excellent job pumping it with well-penned humor, often making creative jabs at the current state of iOS gaming to hilarious effect.

Players might have doubts about Legendary Wars at first because aspects of its satisfyingly complex army system are introduced in piecemeal fashion during its initial battles. Judging from the first training mission alone I would have thought it an unwieldy sidescrolling brawler with a MMORPG-style battle system, as I was tasked with guiding a lone Knighty and watching him automatically slash away at enemies once he reached them. The exercise is intentionally simplistic so the player can get a feel for the rock bottom basics: individual soldiers can be ordered to march, retreat, or halt by tapping directly on them. A tap at the environment will instruct them to travel down one lane or another, and tapping an object or enemy will send the currently highlighted soldier to go take care of business. Soldiers attack automatically when in range, interrupted by subsequent movement commands or a special attack virtual button the player can press; an energy meter shared by the entire army ensures that these are used only sparingly, most usefully when the player observes a particular soldier trying to bite off more than he can chew.

After this training exercise the battle system quickly blossoms into something really incredible; the fun isn’t in directing individual soldiers as much as it is in shaping the movement of an entire army once dozens of them are onscreen, gradually steering the wider phalanx’s activities in one direction or another through this sort of micromanagement. Thankfully all soldiers can be given movement instructions in one fell swoop by tapping and holding long enough for appropriate virtual buttons to spring up, but that never removes the player’s need to keep reassessing battlefield conditions and tweaking soldier actions as necessary to maximize their combined effectiveness.

Legendary Wars keeps the action consistently frantic by pasting a thick layer of resource management over its core army-directing gameplay. A typical battle begins with the player dispatching a few mining Dwarves to go pluck gemstones out of a mine in background, a process that continues throughout the battle. These gems essentially act as currency for purchasing new troops on-the-fly, so the player must divide his or her attention between what’s happening on the battlefield and snatching gems the Dwarf miners keep digging up. The player racks up an impressive array of soldier types with noticeably different properties, special attacks and deployment costs to consider. Victory or defeat ultimately lies in how well the player balances all the different gameplay mechanics simultaneously vying for his or her attention.

Lest Legendary Wars‘ basic formula threaten to wear thin over the course of its lengthy story campaign, Liv Games mixed in a healthy amount of variation in player objectives. The goal isn’t always to hack at an enemy fort until it collapses; sometimes the player must keep a VIP guest character alive or slay a giant boss monster, and some “battles” even take the form of obstacle courses that scroll by at breakneck speed, with the player guiding a prominent character in rescuing NPCs or defeating monsters while avoiding traps and battlefield debris.

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