Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends Review
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
2GB DDR2 RAM
GF Go 7800 GTX Video
Big Huge Games took the RTS world by storm with Rise of Nations, their strategy game that took the best parts of Age of Empires and Civilization and mashed them together just right. The fast-paced RTS gameplay of historical titles like Age of Empires was fused with unique elements like territorial control and other bits and pieces to make for a true RTS masterpiece. While many parts of Rise of Nations felt a little by-the-books with regard to its source matter (how many historical strategy games have we seen over the years?), it played smooth and was very complex without flooding the user with tons of options at once. Now Big Huge Games is back with Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, a whole new take on the genre that brings in a totally original fantasy world while keeping many great Rise of Nations elements. While this has worked in many ways, the game just lacks that final polish that could have made it a true gem in an otherwise innovation-starved RTS world.
The first of three playable races in Rise of Legends is the Vinci, a nation of human warriors that use many robotic and clockwork constructs to help them in battle. Many of these units are based on the real sketches of Leonardo daVinci. In the single player game, you’re introduced to the Vinci and their leader, a young inventor named Giacomo, and will follow his story throughout three parts of the campaign as he fights one Vinci opponent and makes other allies as well.
The next playable race is the Arabian Nights-style Alin who use many types of magical creatures summoned from their glass palaces in the desert. Finally, Giacomo will encounter the Cuotl, a Mayan-style culture who have been invaded and assimilated by an alien race. This last race is probably the weirdest, as it combines crazy alien technology like lasers and shield systems with Mayan priests and other religious bits and pieces.
During the game’s campaign you’ll be presented with a turn-based strategic map where you will move Giacomo’s army around like a piece in a board game; attacking a new territory will start a RTS battle. This works great and would have made for a very interesting element, except that many of the territories you will move into have only the barest form of any story and others are just a plain RTS battle. The thing is, the plot itself is bad enough (along with the voice acting) that I actually preferred doing the story-free, straight-up RTS battles instead. Some of the more unique missions are interesting, like the one where Giacomo goes mad temporarily, wandering the desert without you being able to stop him, and the rest of your forces must protect him for the entirety of the battle. This works pretty well since Giacomo moves around slowly, and the mission is pretty easy overall; if this one had been even remotely difficult, it could have been the most frustrating mission in the campaign.
While most of your battles will require you to control a city and build units, some will just feed you a fixed number of units and force you to make do with what you’ve got. Many of these missions are particularly frustrating because the Warcraft 3-style heroes you use are very powerful, especially in regard to their immensely useful special powers, but they can still die fairly easily in some cases. There are a few missions in the game where if even one of these heroes dies, you won’t be able to resurrect him or her and you’ll be screwed.
Rise of Legends makes the move to a fully 3D world, but many of the units and some of the environments just lack the detail we have come to expect from modern strategy games. Battles can be very large but if you look closely at any smaller unit, you’ll see some very basic 3D models with the most simplistic animations. I do like how cities are built in districts rather than a dozen buildings just sitting near each other, and the way these cities' buildings fall apart when they're attacked looks great. From a visual perspective, the game's both impressive and rather ugly at the same time, but at the very least the unique art style is always refreshing to look at.
It seems that Rise of Legends was built more for the multiplayer modes than for the single player campaign. Many of the more subtle things that balance the game are tough to notice when fighting the AI, but become much more important against other players. I do appreciate the game's large 3D battles and have found that there are many "levels" of play you can attain as you learn more and more about what counters what and how to beat certain strategies.
Overall, Rise of Legends does a good job adding in a new visual flair to the tired RTS formula, but I feel that a development team like Big Huge Games probably could have done quite a bit better. While the many signature BHG ideas like national borders and their unique look at tech trees are still interesting, it's not always easy to see just how important these little additions are. I think this game could have used a few more months in development to tighten up the campaign and make it more fun, but at the very least I've found the multiplayer to be very entertaining. In the end, the uniqueness of the three civilizations in Rise of Legends (and little else) is what makes this game stand out; I only recommend you pick this game up if they look really overwhelmingly interesting to you.