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Archipelagos are nothing but trouble; someone or other is always trying to take the darn things over. And of course it always ends in tears. Just ask the people of Celtica.

The story so far: Sogrom, who is the master magician's star-pupil-turned-bad, is lusting after the Rochebrume archipelago, and plans to make it his own. The only person who can stop him is Eskel, another magician who does a bit of righteous do-gooding on the side. The fate of the centre kingdom of Celtica is in their clammy hands.

Just a bout here you begin to wonder whether you've accidentally stumbled into a Clive Barker horror novel; but no, this is the plot of Celtic Legends, a good old-fashioned strategy/war game with lots of gratuitous spell-casting and a welter of silly names.

You take the part of Eskel, and you have to fight Sogrom over the 23 islands of the archipelago. Each island is divided into several interlocking hexagons, and each hex in turn can be one of seven landscape types: plain, forest, marsh, mountain, castle, cromlech or hill.

You begin with a legion of creatures (known as units) each, you and the computer (or another player) take turns to manoeuvre your forces around these hexagons. Each side has a number of movement points which are used at a rate dependent on the terrain that they are trying to cross. Once the movement points of one side have all been exhausted, then the other side moves.

At any time, but usually when you met your adversary, you can access a tactical screen. This is a blown up version of the hexagon your legion is currently occupying, and it's here that the battles take place.

Boys and Gaels
The tactical screen is itself divided into hexagons, each unit occupying one. Units can be given orders to move a number of hexagons, to cast a spell or to fight another creature by attempting to occupy its hexagon. Your turn comes to an end when every character has used all its action points or when you click on OK. At this point the computer has some deep thoughts and bashes hell out of you via its creations.

As if all this wasn't enough, you also have to deal with the local population of the archipelago: the savages. Though not directly on anyone's side, they despise anything that uses magic and will attack it ferociously. Savages can only appear in the pentacles at the middle of cromlechs, so occupying these hexagons staunches their flow.
And so it goes on until you or Sogrom manage to annihilate the other side completely.


It takes the best bits from other games and combines them into a style of its very own

Celtic twilight
The first thing that strikes you about Celtic Legends is the impressive intro. It's a short scene-setting animation, with a rousing battlemarch of, er, bagpipes, which sound surprisingly tuneful. After that the effects tend to go downhil, though not by much.

The scenery and creatures for each hexagon are well drawn, but not awe-inspiring. Some imagination has gone into their design but they're marred slightly by having only two or three animation frames each.

There's a general 'ow!' sample when anything is hit and some reasonable background noise - howling wind on a plain hexagon, crickets in the marsh, and so on. On the whole, the effects have almost left the good region and are teetering on the edge of being really good.

Legendary
There's no doubt about it though, Celtic Legends is simply great fun. It takes all of the best bits from other games - the style and number of creatures from Lords of Chaos, the hexagon and move-based approach from Battle Isle and combines them in what is an easily approachable, but thought-stimulating game with a style of its very own.

There's enough variation in the islands to ensure that the action doesn't become too repetitive, unlike say a game like Powermonger, where if you'd completed one island then you'd basically had done them all.

There are faults, of course. The limited animation frames and samples for the creatures become slightly tiresome after you've been playing for a while, and the logic of the game's layout is confusing at first, meaning you need to play two or three games just to get an idea of what you're doing.

Celtic Legends is a really absorbing, and pretty intelligent game that has real long-term potential and is only missing a bit of spit and polish of the effects side. If you're after something to make those long winter nights just fly by (and the only alternative is illegal or immoral), then you could do worse than to invest in a copy - even if you don't like Clive Barker novels.


Spells can be direct or, amazingly, indirect. To cast a direct spell you must have a clear route between the casting unit and the target, with no trees, rocks or mounds in the way. The spells available vary between islands and the amount of magical energy your wizard currently possess. The blanked icons are for spells not on offer at this stage.

Celtic Legends
FIREBALL: Quick, cheap and singularly undevestating.
Celtic Legends
WEAKNESS: Lessons the damage that this target unit will do in combat.
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CLUMSINESS: Reduces the target's desterity and therefore its combat worthiness.
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INEXPERIENCE: Reduces the target's experience to its original level, so robbing him of all gains in strength, dexterity and magic.
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AMNESIA: Similar to inexperience, but removes all magical knowledge completely and permanently. Expensive, but a real bugger when used against powerful magicians.
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VICIOUSNESS: Gives the victim a violent sickness that means he loses five combat points each turn, until you return to the strategic screen.
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CONTAGIOUSNESS: Has the same effect as Viciousness, but the sickness is contagious and any unit (of either side) passing by the victim also becomes infected.
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AND MANY, MANY MORE...

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Alte Legenden berichten uns, daß Strategiespiele mit Fantasyszenarien eines Tages groß in Mode kommen würden. Jetzt ist es soweit: Nach "Mega Lo Mania", "Rings of Medusa" und "King's Bounty" kommen nun die keltischen Monster-Horden...

Leider hinkt der Vergleich, denn wo die Konkurrenz eine komplexe Weltensimulation, Rollenspiel- oder Wirtschaftselemente bietet, haben die keltischen Legenden nur eines im Sinn: Schlachten, Schlachten und nochmals Schlachten!

Die beiden Heerführer (einer darf auch ein Amiga sein) dirigieren Armeen aus Zauberern, Engeln, Zyklopen, Goblins und ähnlich charmanten Wesen.

Neben den regulären Truppen treiben sich auf den 23 zu erobernden Fantasy-Inseln noch wilde Einheiten mit Wölfen, Schlängen und Kobolden herum, die vor allem zum "Warmkämpfen" gedacht sind.

Auf dem Screen sieht man links die Insel, um die gerade gerangelt wird, in der Übersicht; klickt man dort einen Punkt mit dem Mauszeiger an, wird er rechts daneben in einem vergrößerten Ausschnitt gezeigt. Darunter befindet sich eine Iconleiste, über die man sich z.B. Informationen über den Gegner einholen oder zum eigentlichen Kampfscreen wechseln kann.

Gefightet wird mit magischen Blitzen und anderem Zauberkram, darüberhinaus kann man seine Figuren auch teleportieren oder kurzfristig in einen stärkeren Charakter verwandeln - vorausgesetzt, man investiert genügend Magie-Punkte.

Grafik, Sound (Musik & Fx) und Gameplay von Celtic Legends sind nicht schlecht, auf Dauer wirkt das Strategical mit den dezenten Rollenspiel-Anleihen (Erfahrungspunkte) aber doch etwas eintönig. Also besser erst anschauen, dann kämpfen! (C. Borgmeier)



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Mix hex-based strategy with 8-bit classic Chaos, the result is the year's surprise success...

Hot on the heels of Heimdall, the greased pig-toting Norse warrior sim from Core Design, comes another departure form the usual rote of role-playing games - Ubi Soft's Celtic Legends. Like Heimdall, and like the recent Shadow Sorcerer from SSI, Legends offers a sprite-ly overview of the action, but in spirit it's very different.

In fact, with its hex-based movement on all levels (both map screens and closer-quarters character movement) and decidedly strategic-cum-tactical bent, it at first appears to be taking a diametrically opposed approach to Core's light-weight, puzzle-based offering.

On closer inspection though, they do have a fair amount in common - both games, in their different ways, work because they remove much of the complicated, trainspottery stuff from role-playing, allowing the layman to get straight into the action.

As Celtic Legends has been programmed by a Frenchman, I anticipated something a little out of the ordinary, and I was right - there's oddness from the off. You're plonked into a scenario that has little to do with the Celts of their legends (a shame) - there's not a tree-worshipping Druid in sight, though at least the intro sequence comes with an 'interesting' bagpipe tune!

What it offers instead is a swords and sorcery-style soiree featuring an assortment of monsters, a mythical land called Celtica and much fighting - AD&D fans will feel very much at home. (As will fans of 8-bit classic Chaos and the more disappointing Amiga follow-up Lords Of Chaos, but we'll get to that in a minute...)

The story is simple - there's an evil sorcerer (Sogrom the Scarlet to his mates, but Demog the supreme magician to you and I) on one side, and an equally powerful - but nicer - wizard (you) on the other. As all-round good-egg Eskel the Blue you're charged with the familiar task of vanquishing anything that shows up positive on the obnoximeter - and as far as the land of Celtica is concerned this basically means pitting your forces against the hordes of Demog in a series of battles.

These take place over a series of local islands, built up of a number of hexes on the map screen which each represent - once you've moved to combat mode - a single screen. Once you're in combat mode you'll see the ground is made up of lots of smaller hexes too - each individual character's moves are made from hex to hex, and when two guys from opposing 'teams' meet on the same hex they fight. Anyone who's ever seen a wargame will know exactly how this works.

So what's new? Well, quite a bit as it turns out. For a start, the game sets out to free the player from all the tedious mucking about the basic human needs and petty actions - eating, sleeping, going to the loo and so on - that seem to pervade the hard core of role-playing games. Legends offers an action-orientated to-do which, through losing much in the reality stakes, should help it find favour with the blood-and-guts brigade. It also completely dispenses with D&D's obsession with parties of characters and quests and the like - it's all-out-war we're talking here.

THE CELTIC PITCH FOR SUCCESS
The game kicks off with a strikingly impressive parallax-scrolling intro screen (presentation is generally top-notch), quickly whizzes you through the choice of one or two-player option, then gives you a strategic view of the particular isle chosen for conquest. Things start easily enough: you're standing about near a castle and have several legions of soldiers at hand to do your bidding. The enemy is shown as a red figure at the other end of the island and it's up to you to acquire the wherewithall with which to acquire the wherewithall with which to smite him.

And boy, there're a zillion ways to go about it. The game really scores on the number of combat options at your command, from direct sword-wielding confrontation between two characters to your using a welter of cunning spells. As you progress through the levels you gain the ability use higher level magic and your henchmen become more able fighters - during combat, statistics on both your forces and the enemy's are conveniently shown at the edges of the tactical screen, which makes the matching of adversaries to your own advantage a quick and painless affair.

Such fun tactics as blasting the opposition with fireballs, giving them diseases and transforming friendly troops into more powerful fighters make the early stages of the game a right old roisterous romp not unreminiscent of the fights in Populous. Don't be mislead by the initial impresion that Legends is a little too easy, though! Each successive campaign gets more vicious as bigger, badder and bolder monsters begin enter the fray - you'll find you've soon got more work cut out for you than a Beirut brickie.

So how do you actually go about trying to win? Well, to start off wit, the use of magic is vital. Only efficient use of magic is vital. Only efficient use of magic can ensure you sufficient firepower to counter the gathering momentum of Sogrom's campaign, providing a whole battery of spells, from simple fireballs to the all-encompassing Fatal Fire - the last word in anti-personnel conjuration - which handily zaps every foe on the screen.

Similarly, magic enables you to create new legions of entities to join in the good fight at any of a number of pentacles found in the castles and sacred sites that litter the landscape - at lower levels, more soldiers and expert fighters called Lords can be summoned, but as you powers increase, such fiendish creatures as cyclopes and archangels can be called.

You'll certainly need your creature chums too. Sogrom is no slouch when it comes to world domination and his efforts become more formidable from island to island. I frequently found myself in all kinds of bother as his forces streamed across the landscape, picking off my weaker legions and isolating Eskel from strategy-saving magic sites.

As mentioned before, fans of Julian Gollop's Chaos will be familiar with much of the gameplay - in fact, the whole game comes across as 60 percent Chaos, 40 percent wargame (if you can imagine that).

From the opening screens Celtic Legends is a very good looking game. Graphics and sound are generally impressive, although it has to be said that some of the sprites move in decidedly mysterious ways - soldiers twitch their weapons about as it afflicted with St Vitus' dance when they're not fighting, for instance. Even so, combat is a hoot to watch, particularly when a cyclops lays in with his club, say, or spells like Transformation and Teleport are used, accompanied by a theatrical puff of smoke.

The backgrounds to the tactical screens are full of nice touches too - snow in the mountains, the sun glistening on the sea in fenland - and atmosphere sound effects of frogs breeking or the wind howling complete the picture.

The only dodgy bits really are the game's speed and agility. The computer opponent takes quite some time to decide its moves, which - while giving you time to think - rather detracts from the all-action impetus. And it's impossible to move your legions through hexes occupied by friendly legions for some reason too, which leads to strategic headaches on narrow terrain.

But overall, the game is a winner. It looks good, has plenty of action and there are numerous ways to win each fracas, be it a simple punch up on the tactical screen or a long-range action plan over a whole island.

Such scope means all the controls on offer must be used to the full - there's no cure-all combination of spells and moves that will work in any given scenario. As such, Celtic Legends proves a real challenge to master even against the computer player, while the two-player option brings to light numerous new ways of completing the game. Rather surprisingly, it proves to be absolutely fab.


SPELLING IT ALL OUT

Magic is the key to Legendary victory and, luckily, Celtica is just slopping over with the stuff. Magicians slurp their arcane powers from various sources, the most potent of which are pentacles - natural magic 'springs' dotted around the landscape.

The range of spells available is more than wide enough to facilitate some tricksy tactical casting while in combat. The bog-standard fireball may have its uses, but interesting stunts can be pulled with such things as contagion - a life-sapping spell for devotees of biological warfare - and teleport, whereby you can shift the most powerful creature on your side straight into the ranks of the enemy and watch the critters fall like nine-pins. Oh glory.

Magic is only restricted by the number of points you have, but they are fairly easy to amass, relieving Legends of the 'I'd make more of my wizards, but they're crap in a fight and take ages to cast something useful' syndrome inherent to some role-playing systems. Again, this all adds to the action-based nature of the game. Sorcery during combat is speedy and everything that you cast has a real effect on the outcome. Happily it's away with lengthy incantations - splatter-gun sorcery is on tap here.


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Hidden somewhere in the instructions for Celtic Legends and the usual mystical tosh about long-forgotten kingdoms, unicorns and dyslexic dwarves is a highly playable slice of strategic combat gaming.

The scenario for this French-programmed game revolves around two wizards, Sogrom and Eskel, involved in a titanic battle for power after the demise of the world of Celtica's original ruler. It is a classic case of good against evil, with the winner taking all the spoils.

The conflict is set on the island archipelago of Rochebrume. There is a choice of two-islands to wage your campaign on, each of which is divided up into hexagonal grids and which act as 'playing squares'. In fact, as Celtic Legends unfolds, it has much in common with board games like chess and, less abstractly, Risk as it does with role-playing.

The action takes place across two screens: one for the strategy element of the game, the other for the tactics or action. Having chosen an island to fight on, you move to the strategy screen. This is divided up into a small window depicting the island, and a larger magnification of the area you are concentrating on. Each wizard begins with a finite number of legions composed of creatures with a variety of combat power.

These can be split or moved whole around the playing area. Each move costs a number of points, limiting the amount of ground you can cover with heavy units using more points. It is possible to construct castles from the strategy screen, but these cost magic points and magic points are the key to Celtic Legends, as they determine the power of each particular wizard.

Each player has a turn on the strategy screen, moving his units into positions of strategic power and challenging the opposing army as it attempts to build up power and control the island. When you're satisfied that you've set your strategy you wait for the other player or the computer to make their move. This generally results in a small or large scale conflict, taking you to the area of combat and putting up the tactical screen.

Legions are composed of foot soldiers, dragons, cyclops and magicians. Each has a certain amount of strength and stamina in battle when it comes down to straight hand-to-hand combat, but the best approach is to use magic to overcome the opposition, saving your troop strength and protecting your key players.

Both magicians and troops are limited by a number of factors displayed down the left-hand side of the screen. Hit points simply determine your ability to carry on; magic level denotes just how many spells you can use; experience shows your level of experience which, as it increases, boosts you spell knowledge; action points denote the number of actions possible each turn; strength shows the amount of damage you can inflict with a blow and dexterity shows just how good your chances of hitting the target are - this is particular crucial in spell casting because wasted spells mean wasted opportunities.

Pentangles situated on the islands allow you to create new characters, while the game can be thrown randomly when savages on the island attack either side without warning.

Celtic Legends is an entertaining slice of fantasy combat, that combines some nice animation, action sequences and sound effects with a serious amount of strategy. Each of the characters is readily identifiable and the islands are given character and variety with mounds, castles, swamps, and trees.

The only reservation which exits about it is that its role-playing element is restricted. If you compare it to some top-of-the-range D&D games you get the interaction and the exploration combined in the package. There again if you only ever play them for the combat then Celtic Legends has more than enough depth and variety to keep you going.


SPELL CASTING There are some 15 spells which come into use during the game. These grow as you gain experience and accrue magic points. Since each spell cast costs points you have to budget your actions accordingly. At the lower end there are simple spells like fireballs which only cost five points, but the stakes rise as you begin to cast spells like contagion (which sends one of your units over to the opposition carrying a deadly plague), or lightning which zaps them with a particularly effective bolt from the blue. Other spells allow you to heal your own men or teleport out of trouble. Some of the spells can be blocked by natural objects in their path so it pays to manoeuvre the enemy so you have a clear 'shot' for something like a fireball.
SPELL CHECK
FIREBALL Effective at its cost (five magic points) but only useful against weaker opponents. A clear shot is necessary.
CLUMSINESS Reduces opponents' skill in combat.
WEAKNESS Weakens the victim, diminishing the damage he can inflict. In large doses it will cause death.
INEXPERIENCE Causes the object to lose all experience it has learned in previous battles - particularly effective on magicians.
FORGETFULNESS The victim suffers from a violent illness, losing combat points every turn.
VICIOUSNESS The victim suffers from a violent illness, losing combat points every turn.
CONTAGIOUSNESS A virus that can be passed on to the opponent's entire army, depleting them of their strength.
INVISIBILITY Subtracts time from enemy attacks since they can't locate you to attack.
CARE Allows you to heal sick or wounded units.
VAMPIRISATION Sucks the victim's energy, but only to be directed at warm-blooded adversaries.
PARALYSIS Stops the victim from moving, making it easy prey.
DETECTION Allows you to identify anybody afflicted with a contagious illness allowing you to send them to infect the opposition or cure them.
LIGHTNING A highly destructive bolt of energy. Two are fatal to any creature no matter how strong.
DIVINE IRE Very costly but highly effective against large enemy groups, subtracting 15 points from each.
FATAL FIRE The ultimate spell - instantly killing anyone in its path.