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Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends Review

I was excited about Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends from when I first read the premise. There are three competing factions: The Vinci whose powers derive from clock work and steam driven machines, The Alin whose powers are purely magical, and The Cuotl whose gods give them unique and interesting capabilities. Not having played the original Rise of Nations the overall impression the cover art story and press blurb left me with was an Arcanum and Age of Empires meet Warcraft III feel.

Upon reading what there is of a story, I realized that there are many unique elements to the game play and concept. After having played it and delved into it’s concepts a bit I have revised that initial feel to a taste of (ready?): Arcanum, Age of Empires, Kohan meet Warcraft III, Total Annihilation, Starcraft, (with, I’ll have to admit, a dash of Stargate SG-1).

Installation went essentially without a hitch (once I got my firewall settled down a little). The installation did do one thing that I always find highly annoying, it choose my install location. In the games defense, there was a blurb about getting the option to change where the game installs. Unfortunately there was no obvious place to make the change therefore I barely skimmed the blurb with the thought “surely they’ll still give me an opportunity to change it….” of course they did not. The real problem was not that it did not provide the option (it definitely is there). By modifying the standard presentation they have made it less obvious and therefore easier to miss.

After the long load (common these days) I was treated to a nice quality cut scene reminiscent of current cut scenes from Blizzard, perhaps minus a little style, still quite good. The crashing space ship seemed a little out of place as if they included it simply to show that they could pull off cool looking meteorites too, which they did. The cut scene, of course, showed the human looking Vinci as the heroes valiantly defending their city of iron, electricity and engines from the onslaught of the magical Alin. Most games choose the most human ’side’ as the heroes to more easily evoke an emotional response because they assume we will relate to them more easily. Little do they suspect !

From the main menu I selected Quick Combat. As a habit I always like to see first what the game is truly like including a fully available tech tree, and other upgrades. When first entering the quick combat game (after a longer-than-expected-but-not-unreasonably-long wait) a Tips window appears that wisely warns people who have not played an RTS to play the campaign game first. Options to keep tips from appearing are readily available. For the sake of reviewing the game I choose to scan through the tips. The tips are really more of a help system as might be expected for a commercial business app. Very thorough. There is a general tips tab, and a tips tab for each race. Of course not wanting to take away too much of the surprise of figuring out what makes the game tick I cut my tour of the tips short and after a few minutes of scanning through the general tips I closed the tips to start the game.

From the tips I was able to pick up the few vitally important pieces of data such as what the purpose of districts vs. buildings are, whether the Timonium mineral can be mined without a mine, the fact that there are only 2 resources, and that each has it’s own cap.. and that there are population caps etc.

The campaign game, while not as unique as it first appeared, is still rather interesting. It provides a strategic top-level view that allows (or appears to allow) a player to approach the situation in a non-linear fashion. I give any game that attempts to create a relatively non-linear flow (or even simply do a good job of making it appear non-linear) a few bonus points.

The graphic quality is general good to very good, (although some of the lack of detail in the units made me wonder if they weren’t using some of the tricks the Bungie team did in Myth). The environments are graphically very interesting. The sound quality and music quality are both quite good.

I was mildly disappointed to have beaten the computer my first time playing the Quick Combat mode. I did leave the difficult at the base level but still expected a higher level of resistance. I will be changing the difficulty to higher than the default. I also noticed in the middle difficulty level of the campaign game that beating the computer was disappointingly easy.

The races are very interesting and yet still seem well balanced. This combination seems like a decreasing rarity in RTSs.

Game play is very smooth and seems to remove any obvious Starcraft level if-you-don’t-do/have (fill in the blank, specific resource gathering or specific unit) it’s an extreme lost cause. This game has the resource forgiving feeling best captured by Total Annihilation and some of the freedom from micro management best done in the Kohan line of RTS games.

In my first Vinci game it took me a full 20 minutes to realize specifically how Wealth was collected. Had I not been able to collect the crystal resource for 20 minutes in Starcraft, I would have been obliterated in the next 20.

The hero system seems to have been taken directly from Warcraft III. However the heroes seem decently unique to this game. The Sites in the game (Relics, Devices, etc…) seem to be another concept taken indirectly from Warcraft III mixed with Kohan immortal sovereigns. While it is impossible for me not to notice the many elements of the game that either come from or are similar to other RTS games, these elements, in general, fit well. Big Huge seemed to walk the difficult line of doing what has been done well before without loosing originality. They also included a number of unique elements that contribute very well to making a fun, solid game. The campaign mode is a good example of an interesting way to make the campaign… well…. interesting. I tend to avoid playing the campaigns with their lame stories and earn-as-you go tech trees. This one actually has me interested.

Here’s a short list of the problems I had with the game. As most games embroiled in a well established genre are at risk of, there is an underlying feeling that this game is a little too much like any other RTS. I would like to see some type of built in mod support. Overall either the AI seemed a bit weak or the difficulty levels were a little over-labeled. I would like to be able to zoom in and out to higher degrees than the engine allowed. While it’s mildly unreasonable for me to expect this, I am waiting for an RTS to implement some features that will revolutionize the genre. Rise of Legends did not do this.

Final Verdict

Overall Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends glints with polish and quality. It is as most of us long time game players would expect an evolutionary not revolutionary improvement. I recommend it to anyone who likes to exercise the gray matter, plays RTS games, or is looking for an interesting twist. I particularly recommend it to those who get tired of figuring out that their favorite RTS can be easily trimmed down to competition between a few silver bullets with a lot of extra depth of interesting game elements that just get in the way. If you’ve liked and played any RTS that’s come out in the last 5 years chances are good you will like this one.

Score

8.5 out of 10

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Related Information

Posted by: Administrator
Date: August 1, 2006
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Big Huge Games
Website: Microsoft.com
Release Date: 05/09/2006
Genre: Strategy
Number of Players: 1-8
ESRB Rating: Teen
System Reviewed: PC

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Categories: PC Reviews, PC, Reviews

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