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Yet even here there are some frustrations. Attack moves are limited, those angular visuals look even worse when viewed close-up, and even the simplest bits of scenery prove impossible to navigate. In other words, any direct comparison with Spartan: Total War would be horribly unflattering. Of course, some of these complaints can be safely ignored if you just remember that this is primarily a strategy game, not an action title.
The sad thing is that the developers have – at times – forgotten this as well. There’s a horrible on-rails shooter section in the Alexander campaign set on the sea, and it’s followed by an even worse effort that sees the mighty king fighting elephants and catapults in the arena. It would just be irritating, but the fact that you actually have to chip away at these giant beasts and rumbling siege engines with your sword makes the whole thing spectacularly risible. Annoyingly, similar efforts await you in the Cleopatra campaign. It’s hard to imagine any action fan finding them that enjoyable, and most RTS fans are going to find them a serious annoyance.
Still, simple skirmishes – whether played against the computer or against other players – show the game in a much more favourable light. The RTS gameplay is for the most part entertaining stuff, and hero mode really does elevate it into something special, giving you a means of pressing home the advantage or turning the tide of battle when all seems lost. And it’s at these times, when the game is at its best, that Rise and Fall has an almost mythic edge. The interesting thing to see will be if anyone else can harness its best idea – hero mode – to a better underlying RTS. Suddenly, a Battle for Middle Earth 3 doesn’t sound like a bad idea, after all.
Take hero mode out of the equation and you have an epic RTS undercut by so-so gameplay and a clutch of irritating niggles. With it in, however, you get an entertaining hybrid that adds some much-needed wallop and splatter to the traditional RTS experience.