Re-Legion is like Syndicate with cults instead of corporations

Every religion starts with a prophet. Ours was about to fall to a pack of unbelieving citizens before even getting a decent following. "Just a second!" says Mateusz Pilski, co-founder and lead programmer at Ice Code Games, demoing the recently announced RTS Re-Legion at PAX South. While he was busy explaining the initial set-up of the demo our starting forces fell, and now our prophet's in danger of being swarmed by non-believers.

Pilski micro-manages the prophet around the rabble, firing off some holy lasers of righteousness while staying ahead of their fists. The prophet is clad in purple robes and a closed helmet encircled in spikes. He cuts an imposing figure among the urban sprawl of this glitzy cyberpunk world, but some folks are less than impressed. 

Though low on health we emerge victorious, surely a sign that our burgeoning cult is the one true faith. Now it's time to recruit. "In most RTS games in order to get an army you have to build a factory or something," says Pilski. "In Re-Legion you convert citizens, then upgrade them to advanced units."

Give me that old-time religion

Re-Legion is s unit-focused, classic top-down real-time strategy game from Ice Code Games, being published by 1C Publishing. It’s set in a bleak future where the masses beg for a strong leader to emerge and save them.

As we make our way to the north we use the prophet’s conversion ability to spread the word to some citizens, transforming them into units under our command. A good leader knows when to delegate so we upgrade some of them into preachers who can also convert, rapidly building our forces out of the surrounding population.

Penitents are slow, powerful warriors who don imposing hoods and cut off their own hands to replace them with cat o’ nine tails to whip the heretics.

When converting neutral citizens to your cult, units kneel in front of the prophet (or preacher). "For a while we had a mechanic where all the units would kneel whenever the prophet was near," said Pilski. "It was really cool but it slowed things down too much. I was sad to see it go but maybe we can add it in for single player."

Converted citizens become walking blueprints that can be used to train more powerful units, depending on the dogmas we have chosen. "Dogmas are a very important mechanic in Re-Legion," Pilski explains. "They determine what our people actually believe, as well as unlock special skills and unit upgrades."

Functionally, dogmas are the individual abilities and units that make up your custom-built religious faction. In the full campaign, you'll select dogmas and customize your cult throughout the story. In multiplayer skirmishes, both players purchase their dogmas, letting you plan and design your faction as you play.

An early scenario offers us a moral choice. We happen on a bunch of enemy hackers and worshippers at a capturable building: slaughter them all, or show pity? 

We opt for the latter, which unlocks a new merciful dogma. This grants the ability to upgrade our basic fighting units (God’s Warriors) into Penitents. Penitents are slow, powerful warriors who don imposing hoods and cut off their own hands to replace them with cat o’ nine tails to whip the heretics. Ice Code Games promise a dark future world and the unit designs I saw certainly reflected that.

Gotta have faith 

Upgrading units isn’t free—every cult has to generate faith and money, Re-Legion’s two primary resources. Faith is generated by converting some of your citizens into Worshippers, who encircle your temple headquarters as well as any shrines on the map. Money is acquired by denoting others as Hackers and capturing access points to siphon money from cyberspace. 

Units with more technological upgrades, like the gun-wielding Purifiers, cost money, while the Penitents require mostly faith to train. "To become a guy that replaces his hands with cybernetic whips to flagellate himself to repent his sins, you have to have lots of faith," says Pilski.

With our large army we make our way to the east, toward enemy territory. Ice Code Games is focusing on 1v1 multiplayer skirmishes, so we have to deal with a single nearby heretic cult. We make short work of the enemy forces, though Pilski noted that one limiting feature is disabled in the demo. 

Enemy-controlled territory would normally drain our units’ inner faith, an individual bar on all your troops. If this faith ever dropped to zero, the unit would abandon our cause altogether. The prophet exudes an aura around them to protect nearby forces against this drain, and there are other units you can train to do the same in order to split your forces. The enemy also suffers from this effect, and a key strategy involves lowering enemy faith in order to neutralize and convert them.

Using actual humans as a limiting third resource is a fun concept

The enemy cult has one surprise up their sleeve. A large spider-like robot emerges from the east, laying waste to a sizable portion of our force. This 'Ascended One' was also a unit upgrade, as we saw when we zoomed in to see the flayed woman strapped to the top controlling it. "There’s no magic here," said Pilski. "The power and abilities from each unit comes from their deep faith." That’s some serious faith."

Our prophet's slain, but we win the fight with our army of Penitents. A religion can never truly be killed as long as you have at least one faithful unit, and one of our worshipers back at the temple is uplifted to become the new prophet. Unfortunately, we hit a game-stopping bug as our newly crowned prophet is stuck in the non-pathable upper portions of the temple building, unable to rejoin the army.

The demo was a pre-alpha build and a bit rough around the edges, and the graphics and animations felt at least a decade old, but I was intrigued by the mixture of classic cyberpunk with religious body horror. Using actual humans as a limiting third resource is a fun concept, and the ability to convert enemy forces directly on the battlefield gave me fond memories of Sacrifice, or Age of Empires' priests. 

A single-player campaign is planned along with online multiplayer skirmishes, though only 1v1 has been confirmed. For more about Re-Legion, check the website.