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So it’s more than lucky that Rise and Fall has a trick up its sleeve. Now, there’s nothing new about in-game hero units – we’ve seen them before in both incarnations of LOTR: BFME, Rise of Nations, Age of Mythology and, most recently, Rise of Legends. The difference here is that here your heroes really are crucial to the game. For one thing, they actually have a resource of their own, glory, which can either be used to level them up or can be spent on recruiting advisors for specific bonuses. For another, in Rise and Fall, levelling up your hero means more than just some new super power or a small boost to health – it’s the only way to obtain access to certain buildings, troop types and capabilities.
That’s all well and good, but not good enough to turn an average game into a good one. What is is ‘hero mode.’ Select your hero, press the Q hotkey, and the game suddenly zooms into a third-person view behind them. Using the mouse and the classic WASD combination, you can move your hero into battle, switch between melee and ranged weapons, and wreak your own brand of bloody havoc on the battlefield. It’s a bit like Rome: Total War and Spartan: Total Warrior combined, and it’s Rise and Fall’s single biggest saving grace.
Why? Because hero mode isn’t the gimmick it first sounds. A hero can wear down whole regiments or snipe lurking archers before the body of the troops wades in. Best of all, he or she can still shout commands, urging the army forwards to charge against the enemy, or demanding they stand firm to hold a breach. Suddenly, what usually seems like a rather remote experience becomes brilliantly visceral and immediate. Lead a foray as Achilles, his blade swinging crimson through the enemy ranks, and you can see exactly what Homer meant by his “rage.” And if this is fun in single-player, it couldn’t be better suited to multiplayer. After all, what could be finer than demolishing your rival’s forces, then wading in to batter his hero toe-to-toe. If any RTS deserves to be played on a LAN against people in the same room, it’s this one.