Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends
As You might be able to work out from its full title (you clever bunch, you), Rise Of Legends is the new Rise Of Nations game. To call it a sequel, however, wouldn't be entirely accurate, because developer Big Huge Games is sending Legends in a slightly different direction, keeping the core gameplay much the same but ditching the real-world historical setting in favour of a fantasy realm called Aio. In the past, we've seen Ensemble Studios take the ever popular Age Of Empires series in a similar direction, following up the historical Age of Empires II with the fantastical Age of Mythology. So it's not like it's an unprecedented step.
As I write this, however, details of Big Huge Games' change of focus have only been available to the public for a matter of days, and already a vocal minority of Rise Of Nations devotees has whipped itself into bitching overdrive on fansite message boards. "All hope for the new RON is gone," wails one unhappy chappy, while others toss around words like disgrace' and horrible' with typical Internet fanboy abandon. And to think, we sometimes wonder why gaming is considered a geeky pastime.
But the whining brainiacs aren't as lucky as us: we actually got to see the game up close and personal at its pre-E3 unveiling event, and what we've seen is... well, it's pretty damn exciting. Big Huge Games president Brian Reynolds (who honed his skills working alongside Sid Meier on the likes of Civilization II and Alpha Centauri), explains that Aio, rather than being your standard Tolkien-inspired swords 'n' sorcery world, is instead a place where semi-advanced technology exists alongside magic. There's not a goblin or pointy hat in sight.
The Da Vinci Coders
The single-player campaign sees you pulling on the fetching brown jacket of Giacomo, a fresh-faced inventor who winds up in charge of a city-state after his brother is mysteriously assassinated. This city is part of a faction called the Vinci, one of the two technology-focused nations that will appear in the game. With weapons and war machines inspired by the famous design sketches of (yep, you guessed it) Leonardo da Vinci, the Vinci is essentially a steampunk nation. Its cities are packed with the classic signs of industry: rotating cogs, glistening pipes, walkways and chimneys belching out clouds of smoke. A closer look reveals the tiny shapes of Vinci workers going about their daily grind. It's alluring stuff.
Another thing about Rise Of Legends' cities is that they aren't just a collection of buildings placed in close proximity to one another; they are single, monolithic entities. When constructing them, you'll be able to assign specialist districts (military, air force, science etc.) that are automatically added seamlessly to the existing structures. Sim City it ain't, but it should add another dimension to the game's visuals.
And goddamn it if this game doesn't look jaw-droppingly lovely. Our review of the original Rise Of Nations applauded Big Huge Games for the fact it had put gameplay before graphical willy waving. Well, now that the gameplay side of things has been sorted, the willies are coming out in force - and by golly, there's a lot of waving to be done. Reynolds tells us of his desire to create what he describes as blistering white-hot graphics, the sort of earth-shattering, cataclysmic shit that goes down when powerful magic goes toe-to-toe with advanced technology.
Cities are just one aspect of it; the units are even more impressive. Giacomo, for instance, strides about atop a giant two-legged walker, stomping enemies into the dust. He's backed up by the likes of airships, clockwork tanks and helicopters with corkscrew rotor blades. Another nation Reynolds showed off is the Alim, a magic-based civilisation that takes its cue from Arabian Nights. So instead of tanks, robots and aircraft, an Alim general can call upon genies, sandstorms and giant scorpions. Two other nations will appear in the finished game (one magical, one technological), but Big Huge Games is remaining tight-lipped with regards to names or details.
Every Doge Has His Day
The first major adversary you'll face in the game is the Doge, a power-hungry rival within the Vinci nation. He uses similar troops and vehicles to those available to Giacomo, but has a couple of enormously nasty tricks up his sleeve, at least if the level we watched Reynolds play through is anything to go by. First up was a gigantic mobile cannon that pelted our home city with huge shells from afar. Reynolds sent a fleet of bombers to destroy it, and the physics were demonstrated nicely as the massive barrel of the now defunct howitzer pitched over a cliff. (Incidentally, all the troops in the game will ragdoll when blown up, and can be crushed by falling buildings.)
The second surprise was a terrifying mechanical spider. This giant steel beast ploughed through Giacomo's Alim allies like a hot knife through butter, slaying dozens of units in seconds. A manic glint in his eye, Reynolds brings out the Alim big guns: a pair of soaring glass-winged dragons, which proceed to give the mecha-arachnid the sort of roasting that'd put a Premiership footballer to shame. Job done. Demo over.
Command And Conquer
Gameplay-wise, Rise Of Legends looks likely to pick up where its predecessor left off: the aim is essentially to conquer the world using a turn-based macrolevel mode (played out on a gloriously detailed map) backed up by the main real-time mode. Resource management will once more play a part - we've seen both gold and a substance called Timonium so far - but as you can see from the screenshots, the lie of the land in the latter mode is no longer flat; this will surely impact on the way you play the game.
We can't sign off without mentioning the plans for Rise Of Legends' multiplayer mode. Reynolds quips that if the fast-paced multiplayer offered by Rise Of Nations was "history on your lunch hour," then what you get from Rise Of Legends is fantasy on your coffee break." It's going to be even quicker, letting you get down to the nitty-gritty of fighting, spellcasting and so on in minutes, rather than forcing you to spend hours laboriously constructing bases and researching technologies.
All in all, it's fair to say that we haven't been so excited about a strategy game since the first Age Of Empires III screenshots saw the light of day. And with almost a year of development time left, it can only get better.
Magic And Machinery In Games
Original as Rise Of Legends' concept might seem, the idea of a technology-meets-magic background is not a particularly new one in the world of games. Troika Games' Fallout-esque Arcanum was located in a memorable world where flamethrowers, airships and steam trains co-existed with orcs, dwarfs and wizards. The setting alone made this flawed RPG worth a punt.
A less obscure example is the insanely successful Final Fantasy VII]. Guns, motorcycles, trains (again), airships (again) and various other techy stuff was balanced by the use of stupidly big swords, magic armour and some guff about the lifestream.' Our memories of the game are rapidly fading into the mists of time, but the forthcoming Advent Children animated movie should bring them flooding back.
The uneasy mix of the supernatural and the scientific is also seen in several tabletop wargames, most notably Warhammer, where chivalric knights, elves, pikemen and griffons fight alongside steam-powered tanks and helicopters.
Download Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends
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If you played Rise of Nations in the past, then I bet your expectations for Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends are fairly lofty. Rise of Nations was one of those rare games that comes along and makes everybody else look like slackers. Showing innovation that translates into exciting and balanced gameplay isn't something that happens often and especially to a matured genre like RTS. So does Rise of Legends leave a similar mark?
Well it definitely leaves a similar mark, but not in the way of innovate gameplay. Rise of Legends, as far gameplay, is extremely similar to its predecessor with only small modifications to the general flow. Frankly, I don't see this as a bad thing since Rise of Nations was such a success and carried a long shelf life but be aware that in many ways Rise of Legends is at most given a face lift. The limited micromanagement, city building, heroes, and technology trees all make a similar appearance.
However, Rise of Legends visually has very little in common with Rise of Nations. Rise of Legends is set in a completely new fantasy world revolving around three unique races and many distinct technologies and magical abilities. The creative juices must have been flowing as this alone will help counter the similarities in gameplay. The actual graphics have also been given a significant upgrade and helps to backup the uniqueness of the world.
There's also a decent story line that's generated through the campaign. Unfortunately it can get loose and doesn't always to a good job at opening this world up and personalizing it, but there's enough here to satisfy most.
Bottom line, if you liked Rise of Nations (and there were few who didn't), Rise of Legends will be right up your ally. If you missed Rise of Nations all together, then Rise of Legends will definitely be something to look into.