At E3 of 2005, Big Huge Games shocked and amazed many fans when they announced that the upcoming incarnation of Rise of Nations, their now-classic RTS series, would not be historically based. Rather, Big Huge Games was making a big huge change, and taking their game into the realm of “steampunk” fantasy, a world that was part mechanical, part magical and most definitely unique. In the steam powered pseudo-Victorian world of Rise of Legends (the game’s new moniker), players could use magic and technology to pursue their political and military machinations.
Upon firing up Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, you’d almost think you were playing Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. It’s understandable, since both games mixed fantasy and sci-fi, and seem to share a lot of design elements (the mechanized elements most definitely mirror those from Dawn of War, such as the Mechanized Spider and another unit you’d swear was The Avatar from Warhammer’s unit list). However, the landscapes and structures have a look not seen in other titles, as buildings feel truly organic, and with their constant machinery-in-motion effect, feel as if they are truly alive, and not just another generic structure that you’re forced to stick on the map and protect from attacks all day.
Speaking of resoursces, Rise of Legends takes a cue from another classic RTS, Total Annihilation, by having only two: Timonium (“materials”) and Wealth. As with all other RTS games, you’ll use these resources to build structures and buy units. Nothing really new here, though the resource collection gets interesting as Wealth is generated by creating trade routes. To create a route, you need to build a caravan, which is a kind of Zepplin, and send it on its merry way. The caravan unit develops the trade route, and so long as the unit’s alive, your Wealth continues to increase. Timonium mining is basic, as you just build a mine, a bunch of miners (or the “Clockwork Man,” a mining ‘Mech) and the miners will do the rest.
Following the Rise of Nations’ traditions, Legends uses a system of National Borders to define a player’s control of the map. The bigger a player’s city gets, the more his borders expand, and these borders prevent the enemy for building anything within that zone. It seems so basic, but it requires a lot of strategy, as you and your enemies must find ways to expand your borders while taking care of your cities at the same time. Within a city, players must build districts, which are simply structures with a predefined purpose, as is standard with any RTS. In Rise of Legends, however, some of these districts are nation-specific, so the Alim earn resource points, while the technology-minded Vinci earn bonuses at their Prototype Factory.
Another new feature is Storming, which places a premium value on footsoldiers. In most real-time strategy games, footsoldiers are just scrappers used to annoy the enemy, but in Legends, a large stock of footsoldiers allows you to storm a structure and take ownership quickly. This seems basic, but it’s a great way to snag a lot of unprotected masonry, expanding your empire with minimal resource costs.
There are several more new features in Rise of Legends, but the real kicker are the new Dominances. When a player performs a specific set of actions, he’ll earn a Dominance ability which can make or break a campaign. Some of the Dominances include (but aren’t limited to):
Military: The first player to build four footsoldier units earns this skill, and it allows him to capture enemy footsoldier units during battle, quickly adding to his own unit totals.
Resource: The first player to accumulate 500 resources without spending them. This player will then be able to heal units on the battlefield, even while in combat
Tactical Dominance: The first player to destroy a specific number of enemy resource units (miners, caravans and mines) earns the ability to call cease fires and immediately end all current combat.
Dominances can be stolen by out-perfoming the owning player. For example, if one player earned the Military Dominance by building four footmen, the opposing player may steal it away by building six footmen. Capturing Dominances becomes a race, as the costs increase each time a Dominance is controlled by a player.
Lastly, no RTS worth its salt would be without hero characters, and Rise of Legends isn’t any different. Each race can have three distinct heroes at a time which bestow various bonuses to the players’ units.
While the preview of Rise of Legends we got our hands on was limited to just one single-player mission, if the game continues on track, we expect it to be a big hit easily on par with the rest of the Rise of Nations series and might just dethrone Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War as our favorite sci-fi/fantasy RTS.
— Craig Falstaff