REVIEW: The Lost Legion

This second book in the Dangerous Worlds Gamebook series will take you deep into a primordial jungle; an environment that is as much a central character in this story as any other (human, or non-human) to be found within the adventure. Immediately thrust into a position of authority and responsibility over a large expeditionary company of men, you search for the 17th Legion: a lost company who are believed to be somewhere on the mysterious landmass you have landed upon.

You are from the naval carrack ‘The Nemesis’ and so begin the story using attributes for both yourself and your company of motley adventurers. Your company is governed by their motivation, vigour and total numbers: attributes that determine their mental state and attitude towards your leadership, overall general health, and their capability in battle against what are often great numbers of determined enemies.

The book uses a diceless game mechanic, where combat is resolved by calculating the company’s attributes to determine their fighting strength. Thus, keeping your men happy and alive, and therefore ensuring that you retain sufficient numbers, becomes an important consideration as you navigate the jungle and seek clues as to the fate of the 17th. A ghastly and terrible sickness is slowly killing your men, and together with the cloying jungle, which is a landscape rife with clouds of insects, hazardous bogs and unknown creatures, your challenges are multiplied as the men suffer from heat, fatigue and the madness generated by the long trek through such difficult conditions. As your numbers reduce, so do your chances of survival.

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As with Restless Heart of Evil – the first release in this series from author Marc J Wilson – one of the most notable elements to be found within these gamebooks is the high quality of writing and storytelling that he is able to deliver; a style that is rich in atmosphere, detail and intrigue, and one that generates an enjoyable sense of wonder and immersion for the reader. His characters are created with individual faults and emotions, and you will often question your own assessment of their motivation and trustworthiness when judgements must be made and decisions taken to advance the branching storyline.

The Lost Legion provides plentiful options that will allow you to weave together your own personal tale through the dense jungle, although much of the content will ultimately progress the story towards its destination and conclusion, rather than create a wholly different adventure. Restless Heart of Evil was a very engagingly written tale, and The Lost Legion is all that and more, with the addition of an even greater natural environment to travel through and explore in detail.

This 600 section adventure has much to recommend, and thankfully doesn’t suffer from the numerous typos and formatting errors found in the early version of Restless Heart of Evil. As with the first book, Elmundo Garing has again delivered some superb interior illustrations, including the attractive cover image of the Monkey King on his throne, surrounded by two Eloysian slave girls. I’ve no desire to give away anything specific about the plot, as I believe that the readers should wholly discover this particular type of gamebook for themselves – reflecting the nature of your expedition through an unknown land, and of the mysterious disappearance of the 17th Legion. Suffice to say that many odd, disturbing and revelatory developments will be unearthed within these pages.

Marc J Wilson has already established the Dangerous Worlds Gamebook series as one to watch, and this second book delivers an interesting and exciting journey through a dynamic and hostile environment that imparts an ever-present menace throughout your adventure. It’s impossible not to fully feel the intimidating influence and threat of the surrounding jungle as you read the vivid descriptions, and your ongoing need to win the approval of, and then successfully lead your men to safety, provides ample motivation and purpose to create a fascinating adventure of personal discovery and dramatic tension. The Lost Legion deserves a wide audience – make sure you’re part of it.

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STORYLINE: An adventure through an evocative jungle, leading your company of men to ultimate success, or an untimely death. Everything has depth here: the characters, conversations, discoveries, hostilities and all the many required choices each have an important impact upon your journey and ask much of your ability to unravel complex personalities and situations. The writing is powerfully descriptive and the plot never falters, always requiring your keen attention and maintaining an absorbing level of mystery.

GAMEPLAY: This series features a ‘light’ rule set that favours an uncomplicated play style. Attributes are calculated for both yourself as an individual and for your company, which then determines group motivation, vigour and fighting strength when involved in mass combat. Retaining a significant number of men, or locating new followers, is likely to be a key consideration during your adventure. The branching narrative creates tension and real choice with the available options, often requiring specific items or keywords to progress as desired.

PRESENTATION: Very effective cover and interior illustrations, however, the midtones and highlights of the black & white images have not been suitably adjusted for the print stock, often resulting in a murky effect that diminishes their artistic quality. Book design is neat, with only a few unwanted blank spaces marring the simple layout.

REPLAY VALUE: Your individual choices will result in a particular path through to the end goal, so plenty of content will be missed on any one playthrough. Even though you’ll constantly be directed towards certain plot points, there is much to be found on multiple readings if you seek out the various approaches given in key moments, and choose to experiment with alternative strategies. With a tale told this well, rewarding adventures can be experienced with multiple attempts.

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Review by Michael Reilly

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