When was the last time you played an RTS that showed any real imagination?
I’m not suggesting for a minute that we haven’t had any good ones in the last few years, just noting that the best – Rome: Total War, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, LoTR: Battle for Middle Earth II – have all been based either on well-established worlds from other media, or on a firm historical base.
There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Doing justice to rich source material takes some skill, and history has been the grounding for some of the best games of all time. Yet one of the reasons we play games is to see new worlds, get to grips with new landscapes, see strange creatures at work, and lose ourselves in someone else’s imagination. So why do we keep on settling for the same elves and orcs; the same WWII tomfoolery; the same tired space marine rip-offs; the same near-future war clichés we’ve been hit with since the first days of Command and Conquer?
Who knows? Thankfully, Rise of Legends is different. True, it is a fantasy RTS, but the team at Big Huge Games hasn’t abandoned the historical basis that underpinned the brilliant Rise of Nations. Instead, they’ve simply given it a new spin. Imagine the Italian city states of post-renaissance Italy had Leonardo Da Vinci’s plans and sketches become the basis for a rapid high-tech revolution; a world where bands of mercenaries ride into battle against clockwork giants while steam-powered ornithopters race through the skies overhead.
Now imagine a race of sorcerers pulled straight from the Arabian Nights, their domed fortresses floating above the sands, their hosts led by giant scorpions and fireball-throwing Djinns. Finally, picture a Mayan culture infused with extra-terrestrial technology, its gods taking shape on the battlefield and mechanical snakes and jaguars defending its Ziggurats. Wouldn’t you rather get to grips with those on the battlefield than another collection of dwarves and goblins?
Damn right you would. And when you combine these civilisations with an enhanced version of the Rise of Nations engine, it makes for a spectacular RTS. It might not have some of the individual unit detail and glossy lighting of Battle for Middle Earth II – which for my money is the finest looking RTS around right now ¬– but it has a greater sense of scale and some superb physics-based troop scattering, base demolishing effects. And the art design is, if anything, better. From the steam-pumping labs and industrialised cities of the Vinci faction to the mysterious glows and arcing electricity of the Cuotl civilization, the buildings look spectacular, while the sight of a colossal Cuotl sun-idol striding into battle never fails to impress.