Review: The Legend of Sand

LoS_PreviewThe Legend of Sand (Nelffun, Dirkies, 2006) is one of the most distinctive AoS concepts out there. It taps into ideas from a variety of other genres, and while the result lacks refinement, it’s certainly an interesting experience.

The game depicts the tale of two early settlements on an island called Sand, and how they wrestle to take control of the island by securing and exploiting its natural resources. Within the game, each major strategic decision is clearly represented in the form of a resource, which makes the game very readable and puts a player’s options right in front of them. There is also a good diversity of resources to choose from, making for a nice dynamic system of tactics and strategies.

Not the usual shape at all!

Lanes and Supplies:

Surprisingly for a relatively large 5v5 map, The Legend of Sand has only one lane along which troops march, running directly from base to base. This lane also has only one tower for each team, so once destroyed, it’s a straight march into the enemy’s base. The base’s primary structure has one final defence: a single commander unit which is moderately powerful, but won’t respawn if killed.

Each base is provisioned by three supply lines, which provide the team with crucial resources. Every 30 seconds, a caravan will spawn on each supply line, and make its way towards the base. Upon safe arrival, the resources are banked and the caravan disappears. Each supply line provides a different resource:

  • Food is automatically consumed by the barracks to produce troops. In the event of a shortage, less troops will be produced, and those which are produced will suffer a significant armour reduction to reflect their lack of provisions.
  • Stone is automatically consumed by the main base to progress towards the next tech level. Without any stone, progress will simply be halted, allowing the opposition a chance to pull ahead.
  • Gold isn’t used directly by the base. Instead, each mule to arrive will award 50 gold to all friendly heroes.


A human caravan, at the beginning of the game.

The caravans consist of both mules to carry the resource, and a small contingent of guards. The guards are weak, though they can see invisible units, and have an aura which grants bonus armour to nearby units, including the mules and friendly heroes. The guards can also stun enemy heroes on a moderate cooldown. This means that there’s a home-ground advantage, should heroes start fighting in the area.

The mules offer a small bounty when killed, and drop coins which can support a reasonable income, but can be picked up by players on both teams, so they aren’t reliable if the supply line is being contested. The gold supply line, located at the back of each base, has no guards, and its mules drop twice as many coins.

Unlike in most lane-pushing games where the enemy side of the map and base are danger zones, in The Legend of Sand players are expected to spend a significant portion of their time in enemy territory, sabotaging enemy supply lines. The towers guarding the supply line entrances to the bases are alarmingly weak: they have only enough damage to discourage low-level heroes.

Technology:

Despite being initially quite empty, each team’s base will grow substantially as Stone is used to expand and construct new buildings. Bases progress linearly through six tech tiers, each unlocking new benefits for the team:

  • New shops and buildings become available.
  • The caravan guards are increased or upgraded.
  • The commander unit defending the main base becomes more powerful.
  • The main base’s maximum life is increased.

Several of the tiers deserve a little further elaboration:

  • Tier 1: Access to basic shops; troops are weak; caravans spawn every 30 seconds.
  • Tier 2: Access to three new weapon shops.
  • Tier 3: Access to the light armour shop, caravans now spawn every 45 seconds with three mules.
  • Tier 4: Access to the medium armour shop, all towers in the base are upgraded to be a threat, and two new ones spawn to defend the lane entrance.
  • Tier 5: Access to the jeweller shop, and a new aviary building which commands invulnerable scout owls to patrol the supply routes.
  • Tier 6: Access to the heavy armour shop, and an extra top-tier weapon in each of the weapon shops.


Putting that Stone to use: Finally, some proper base defences!

If the flow of Stone is uninterrupted, teams will take exactly 5 minutes for each upgrade to the next tier. Thus, each raid on a caravan will cause up to 30 (or 45) seconds delay, depending on the current tier and mules killed.

Items:

Each hero in The Legend of Sand starts with a basic Weapon item: a Sword, Bow, or Staff depending on the hero’s rough archetype. Heroes can carry at most one weapon, and it must always correspond to their archetype (a Sword hero can never wield Bows, etc.). Weapons are the only “restricted” item type, heroes may use their remaining item slots as they wish.

The other shops include the Tier 1 basics shop which sells minor stats, wards, boots, and replenishment, the armour shops (which also sell non-defensive/general purpose items), and the jeweller which sells active ability items.

Once items start getting moderately pricey, they start to demand materials as components. These materials are harvested from creep camps: a material drops like an item would upon the camp’s death, and must be picked up, but will not occupy inventory space. Instead they are listed in a special table. The materials are:

  • Linen and Leather have a 30% chance to drop from each of the small camps on the left/right sides of the map, respectively.
  • Silk and Pelts have a 60% chance to drop from each of the medium camps on the left/right sides of the map, respectively.
  • Coral Gems and Lizard Scales have a 100% chance to drop, but are only available from a single boss camp each on the map. The Coral Gem is in the Centaur Region, while the Lizard Scale is in the Salamander region.

Dividing the neutral camps into distinct regions with their own types of creep camp helps players to learn and remember where each of the materials may be found (though they aren’t hard to learn).


The “mushroom cave” décor in the Salamander Region.

Since items only accept the listed ingredients, the game is slightly asymmetric. The creep camps aren’t quick to respawn, so later in the game the Coral Gem and Lizard Scale materials can be in short supply.

Several of the more expensive items require an item component as well as a material, which technically makes them recipes, but they are greatly simplified and quite manageable compared to the confusing, multi-layered ones seen in DotA.

Heroes:

The heroes in The Legend of Sand aren’t terribly complex for its era, but they do have a bit of character. The Elvish mathematician bores/stuns his opponents by explaining equations, while an oriental Pandaren uses a selection of fireworks to stun and deal damage.

Aside from the healing available in each team’s main base, there are two Healing Wells in the middle of the map. Presumably, the developers ran into the familiar problem with neutral fountains in AoS maps: they make combat near the well pointless, since a low-life hero can simply kite around near the well and never die. So instead of passive healing near these Healing Wells, each hero is given an innate ability called Drink, which must be channelled on the fountain to restore life and mana.


Healing, but unable to kite.

While I wouldn’t consider this an optimal solution to the problem of kiting around fountains, it is a solution, and much better than regular fountain stalemates.

While it’s not quite another innate ability, heroes can pay 50 gold to teleport themselves  to a special teleporter building in their base (available from Tier 1). It takes 5 seconds to recall, and incoming attacks will interrupt the channel.

Upon death, heroes leave behind a gravestone, and the owning player is given control of a Ghost. The Ghost can either pay a small sum of gold to revive at full life in the player’s base, or otherwise must travel across the map to revive at 50% life at their gravestone. This feature emphasises the need for non-broken fountains in the middle of the map to prevent lengthy retreats, and also lets players quickly continue to apply pressure to supply lines if killed while in the area.

Conclusion:

The Legend of Sand is a hybrid with the RTS genre (of course lane-pushing games are also a derivative, so one could say it simply leans more towards RTS than usual). Teams can progress through distinct tech tiers, must actively protect their economy, and strategic goals are represented by separate resources. There’s also a bit of RPG monster-hunting for materials in there as well.

I quite like tying strategy to resources, as it gives players a measure of how well they and their opponents are succeeding along each axis of success in the game. This gets players into the meat of the decision-making process without having to take the time to learn nuances, which is great for getting newer players involved and engaged early. It should be mentioned that both teams’ current resources are visible on a chart at all times in the game for exactly this reason.

I don’t like the implementation of supply routes. While only one lane has troops marching from both teams, the regular incentive to both protect one’s own caravans and intercept the opponents’ means that there’s actually seven lanes on the map: far too many to properly hold players’ attention. Indeed, players of the map reportedly had no idea what to do or where to be, and often resorted to bunching up and pushing the middle lane as 5, ending the game in a matter of minutes and ignoring all the strategy.

Possible solutions might be to have less supply routes, have them less frequently (so they are more of a map objective), or have caravans arrive when commissioned by players (so the enemy must scout incoming caravans to intercept them). There are probably plenty more viable ideas, but I do appreciate the thought of having a vulnerable supply line.

Requiring special materials for items is an unwelcome hassle in most games, and I don’t see The Legend of Sand as an exception. There are always those heroes who have difficulty obtaining the resource they need, and have to wait on favourable circumstances to resume their hero’s progression. Locking shops behind tier-walls is similar in practice, but since teching is a collective responsibility, I find it much more acceptable (and strategically interesting).

While not a popular or well-known map, The Legend of Sand definitely took its own path as a game, and I think with proper refinement, it might have been a title to really have captured some interest.

Download: Here
Further reading: Official Site

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Legend of Sand

  1. Nice article. I always had a pet peeve for fountain stalemates, and I like the idea of using a channeling ability to use them. Still, I wonder if fountains are the correct solution to healing your hero.

    The supply line issue you brought up seemed apparent right away. The supply lines need to be in a more contestable space to be relevant – the idea of traveling to the enemy’s gold supply line when there are so many other viable places to be seems like a clear source of issue

  2. Some really good ideas on this map. Supply lines may be too far away for most players to reach but should still be accessible to fast assassin type classes. The question is if it is worth for these classes to disrupt supply lines over helping their teammates push the main lane and gank other heros.

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