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The big, three-stage campaign will likely keep you going for some time, but the thing that will really ensure Rise of Legends’ longevity is the quick battle mode, in both its online and offline forms. Admittedly, there are technical issues with Internet play, with many players complaining of poor synch and dropped connections, but Big Huge Games is at work on these, and once it has them sorted it should be on to a winner. That’s mostly because the three different factions are actually very well balanced.
The basic race, the Vinci, is heavily reliant on technology, and seem built for a more traditional build, dig-in and then blast style of gameplay. Yet – as with the Terrans in Starcraft – more covert options that rely on air power can prove every bit as effective. The Arabian Nights gang – the Alim – are magic-based and can create numerous and powerful units fairly quickly, with some fantastic units based on a strange glass technology when your cities reach the right level. Rise of Legends is too considered a game to have an equivalent to Starcraft’s Zerg, but the Alim come closest to that bill.
The Cuotl are the hardest to get your head around, but boast some great defensive structures and possibly the best super-units in the game. What’s important is that no civilisation seems to have a major edge, and just when you think you’ve spotted one, the game throws up a defence or an offensive option that you hadn’t thought of. In this respect, it’s very similar to Starcraft and – let’s face it – millions of Koreans can’t be wrong.
I do have one niggle. The sound effects aren’t all they could be, never quite finding the blood and thunder to match what’s going on onscreen, and there were times when they stuttered in the heat of a packed siege. Still, as niggles go it’s a small one. Perhaps the best thing I can say about Rise of Legends is that it’s one of those few games that gets better and better the more you play it.
At first it seems a little staid, even conservative; an efficient RTS that relies on its innovative setting to grab your interest. Yet as time goes on it grows more and more satisfying, more challenging, and more engaging. It’s the Mercedes SLK of strategy games – other games might have more initial impact, but Rise of Legends is beautifully engineered and provides just as many thrills when the pedal hits the metal. And what’s more, it has the staying power to last. For me, that puts it way ahead of the RTS pack in just about every way possible.
The best, most essential RTS of the year so far. The setting is inspired and the gameplay, while initially underwhelming, broadens out to enthral and challenge on every level. It might take time to build a reputation, but it’s one that will hold for many years to come.