After much anticipation, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends arrives quietly in the immediate wake of Microsoft’s announced plans to reinvigorate the Windows platform for gaming. Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends certainly displays the strengths of the platform, with beautiful visuals, a robust set of single-player campaigns and hearty multiplayer options. However, a lack of depth and an uninspired story prevent Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends from being a truly compelling experience. It seemingly possesses the elements necessary for a great real-time strategy game, but wears thin due its largely uninspired gameplay.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends departs from the original game in style, but essentially retains its gameplay. Three single-player campaigns for each of three different civilizations can be unlocked, beginning with the mechanically-inclined Vinci, then the magical-wielding Alin, and finally the unusual, jungle-dwelling Cuotl. Each civilization possesses unique units, heroes, buildings and powers, which varies the gameplay across the different campaigns. In each, you’ll have to gather resources, build structures and raise forces to contend with both internal disputes and foreign conflicts. Of course, the single-player campaigns and skirmish mode are complemented by multiplayer functionality with support for both LAN and online gameplay.
The single-player campaigns borrow from the first game’s “Conquer the World” mode, having players select engagements via a world map. During a campaign, you’ll move a token figure of your hero across a partitioned world map to tackle objectives and conquer provinces. Each territory borders at least two or three others, meaning you usually have a bit of freedom in determining your course through the campaigns. Defeating enemy forces within a province rewards you with construction points to be used in building provincial cities. These points go toward building new districts on the world map, which in turn grant you benefits such as additional starting units, attack or defense bonuses, or reinforcement midway through a mission.
Once in battle, you’ll have to collect resources, construct a city and raise forces for combat. Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends thankfully limits resource collection to wealth and timonium. Wealth is generated through trade caravans and expanding of your city, whereas timonium must be mined. Resources are easily managed and only become an issue in multiplayer modes, when resource collection becomes a bitter race. Using wealth and timonium, you can establish a base consisting of a small city and complementary structures, such as research laboratories, barracks, etc. Like any real-time-strategy game, the structures you choose to build determine the units, technologies and powers available during a given mission.
During most missions, you have the option of expanding your city with four types of districts. Military districts enable you to increase the population cap and defend your city against attack, whereas merchant districts provide an increase to the per-minute resource gathering cap. Each civilization also possesses a unique district that can be built to enhance its specific powers, such as the Vinci industrial district, which improves unit attack and defense. The fourth type of district allows you to raise your city from small to large, and large to great. Similar to advancing through the ages in Age of Empires, improving your city results in greater access to units, expanded national borders and increases in both the population and economic caps. Cities certainly look impressive when built up with multiple districts, but ultimately the game feels like any other real-time-strategy title that requires you to construct a bunch of structures in order create units and unlock technology.
Thankfully, the diverse array of units available in the game does set Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends apart from other games in the genre. Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing that makes the game unique. The focus on magic and technology lends to a variety of interesting units specific to each of the civilizations: the Vinci have access to clockwork men and spiders, the Alin can conjure massive scorpions and glass golems, and the Cuotl control stealthy death snakes and eagle bombers. In addition to a wealth of creative new units, each civilization possesses super units that act in a similar manner as titans in Age of Mythology: The Titans expansion pack. Building a steam fortress and completing sufficient research enables construction of a land leviathan, a massive mechanical spider equipped with multiple weapons systems. Countering the land leviathan’s crushing attacks, the Alin can summon a translucent glass dragon, which can melt anything into glass. Originality is embodied by these units, easily making them the most enjoyable aspect of the game.
Hero units also play an important role, both in the narrative and during battle. Each civilization possesses a handful of heroes that drive the campaigns forward and provide leadership on the battlefield with an array of special powers. While you’ll play as one main hero through the course of each campaign, you always have the option of summoning additional heroes to help; moreover, you can recall fallen heroes by paying a substantial price in wealth and timonium. Heroes gain experience through combat — very slowly — enabling them to strengthen their powers and access new abilities. Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends does an excellent job of instilling each hero with character and style, but the role-playing aspects feel borrowed. Rather than truly innovating, the game simply follows other games in the genre by incorporating minor role-playing elements.
By no means is the incorporation of role-playing elements done poorly; rather, the game’s use of such gameplay simply adds to the generic feel of the game. Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends just doesn’t possess the innovation it claims and this becomes clear when you play more than a few missions. While a handful tasks you with defending a structure or escorting a unit, most missions require you to obliterate an enemy encampment and/or legion of forces. Most boil down to building a powerful city, creating an obscene amount of assault units, and bashing the enemy until the mission is complete. Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends handles this well and you’ll actually enjoy it the first few missions, but it becomes repetitive in due time. Small maps heighten this sense of repetition. Compared to other recent real-time strategy releases, the game’s maps are surprisingly small and limited in their design. Perhaps if these had been larger in scope, gameplay wouldn’t feel as limited.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends far surpasses any other game in the genre with its visual presentation. Big Huge Games sought to create a fantastic world populated by unique civilizations and they’ve certainly succeed. Playing the game gives you a sense of immersion in a colorful world of magic and technology that other real-time strategy games rarely achieve. Everything from the buildings to units to menus brims with style. As expected, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends is a substantial upgrade from the original game graphically, as well. Environments are detailed, even if somewhat small, and units and buildings possess a good amount of detail. Unfortunately, the game has issues with its audio. Even when turned up full volume, sound effects can barely be heard and the music occasionally pops in and out. The voice acting is quite good, although you’ll only really be exposed to it during the limited number of cutscenes.
Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends is an atypical real-time-strategy game that manages to draw attention with its unique style, but ultimately plays like any other game in the genre. Small maps and repetitive missions detract from the inventive unit and structure designs. Audio issues do little to encourage extensive play, although the option is there with three lengthy campaigns and online multiplayer. The game certainly deserves recognition for its beautiful visuals and wealth of gameplay options; however, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends borrows too much from other real-time strategy games without innovating on its own to be a truly compelling experience.
- Overall: 7.6
- The ingredients are there for a great game, but none enough of them is original enough to make the game as a whole stand out from the pack.
— Tracy Erickson