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ups: Excellent artwork, good balance of technology and magic
downs: Terrible storytelling and voice acting

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Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends Review
game: Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends
three star
posted by: Jason Perkins
publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
developer: Big Huge Games
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date posted: 08:15 PM Sat Aug 5th, 2006
last revision: 08:15 PM Sat Aug 5th, 2006

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Click to read.Rise of Nations garnered no less than 25 awards from various well-respected gaming publications in 2003. Living up to all of the hype is often a daunting task that developers could only hope for complete, but Big Huge Games lived up to its name and produced an excellent game with a superior blend of turn-based and real time strategy. The Thrones and Patriots expansion proved it wasn\'t beginners luck, yielding even better reviews than the original. Their third attempt, Rise of Legends, drops the historical angle and replaces it with a more fantastic setting.

Before getting into the meat of the story and gameplay, it should be noted that there are problems with dual monitor setups. Traditional Microsoft hoops were leapt through and eventually gave way to a human voice. The overseas tech support was friendly, knowledgeable and well equipped, but ultimately unable to solve the problem, directing me to the manufacturer for further assistance. As it turns out, there is no patch or workaround to resolve this issue other than disabling secondary monitors and display adapters, physically removing the related video cards, then reinstalling the game.

Once running, the game introduces you to the world of Aio. Giacomo, the inventor of Miana, is on a cross-country mission to find the source of a mysterious plague affecting his people. Before you know it, the Doge of rival city-state Venucci has assassinated your brother and heir to the throne Petruzzo. The storytelling is amateur at best, and its weak writing is only made worse by the subpar voice acting. The first of three Acts takes place in the region of Vinci: a land of clockwork men and gyrocopters, heavily influenced by DaVinci\'s drawings and Italian Renaissance, in general. Like the title of this section implies, your goal is Vengeance. Repaying the Doge for his actions and wiping him from the map is top priority. At your disposal are all of Giacomo\'s inventions. Clockwork men, steam cannons, giant telescopes and mechanical spiders are just some of the varied and distinct units you\'ll have access to as you trudge toward your target.

I\'ll spare the details, but after accomplishing that goal, the story takes you to a new area where the Alin people have settled. The shift to a desert climate is not subtle, and all of a sudden, you have to learn a whole new set of units to fight the would-be intruders. The mystical Alin creatures are in stark contrast to the Vinci, who pride themselves on technological prowess. These come in three flavors: sand, fire, and dark glass. The heroes would have you believe that they\'ve never seen these beasts before, even though the lands are only a short march away. Regardless, they all have their own elemental powers, and provide the first taste of high fantasy in the game.

After you slog through the Alin portion, you find yourself in charge of the Protoss, I mean Cuotl, a Mayan-inspired hybrid race. They have a highly advanced alien technology yet use nature as its source of power. Our protagonist Giacomo pushes onward and upward, fusing their technology with his own in his quest to exterminate the false gods. The ending is weak and might as well have a link to the next expansion pack, but as of this writing none have been announced.

Despite the changing armies, locations and heroes, there are a lot of constants in Rise of Legends. The excellent artwork and character design doesn\'t stop with the Vinci. Fire elementals are just as entertaining when flying around as they are fighting, Giacomo\'s mech construct ambles along like you\'d expect it to given its weak legs. Cuotl death spheres. \'Nuff said. Every unit of every race is detailed, colorful and well animated.

City construction begins with a single hub, and a number of districts to increase its properties. Zones to increase your population limit and resource gathering or produce other troops should be constructed to increase the size of your city and extend your national borders. Like the earlier RoN games, attrition damage when in an opponent\'s territory dissuades some from early rushes. As you get larger, each subsequent type of building increases in cost. Instead of sitting back and building a huge, impenetrable fortress, you\'re encouraged to expand, capture more land and cities, and eventually push into the opposition. Ditto for units. Massing a huge number of the most powerful units is economically inefficient, as each one costs more and more. Rise of Legends pushes the player to use the entire gamut of weapons available to them, which is a welcome nudge.

One area where this invariability hurts the game is its difficulty. Many players will find the first Act to be the toughest, because of the unique mechanics and the time it will take to get used to them. The game throws a lot of information at you, like detailed damage calculations, but not as much in the way of how-to. Once you become adjusted to the game\'s workings, it is exceedingly simple to accomplish what you want. The difficulty never ramps up in later parts of the campaign, and even on the hardest settings, your foes will be no match for you. The AI seems content just throwing low level infantry at your most guarded areas, never mounting any significant assaults. Through the assimilation of competing cities and adoption of their troops, it\'s very possible that a scenario can be completed without building a single one of your own.

Bookending each real-time scenario is a simple turn-based strategy. Your forces, represented by Giacomo, may choose which territory to attack next, each with different rewards. Some afford you a larger army, others may grant you one-time uses of additional resources or units, or other benefits to be used in the larger part of the game. Similar to the real-time game, the regions on each map can be built upon to produce more money, faster research, etc. It isn\'t immediately intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, it only takes a second to do what you have to, then plunge into the next mission. It isn\'t annoying enough to be in the way of the rest of the gameplay, but invention is painfully slow. By the end of a campaign, you\'ll only have enough points to research one or two useful and powerful upgrades.

Contrary to this, the upgrading or leveling process is steady [i]and[\\i] well-paced. There are a few too many heroes for them all to be useful, due to the finite number of points with which to improve them, but it isn\'t hard to max out the skills of two or three of them. Summoning each one uses significant resources and time, but it is unlikely that you\'ll ever need more than three for victory.

Controlling your forces in the real-time parts is very easy. There are no separate buttons to move, attack, stop, defend, etc. Simply drag a selection box around the chosen ones, right click to send them on their way. They will, for the most part, act accordingly, depending on their surroundings and target. Clicking on a building, for example, puts them in defense mode, and any attackers will be dealt with without any further instruction needed.

There are a few more technical problems that crop up from time to time. Most noticeably is any time a sizable group of enemies attacks a city. The amount of units on screen, calculating damage for everything, plus the weapon, smoke and fire effects, add up to one Big Huge slowdown, even on mid-to-high-end PCs. Another which I haven\'t been able to classify as a glitch or just an outright omission, is the absence of certain battle sounds. Even when launching a major assault like the one described above, it\'s entirely possible for the scene to be quiet. I\'ve never been a part of a real Vinci/Alin/Cuotl three way skirmish, but I imagine it gets damn loud.

Overall, the game is decent if you don\'t mind a convoluted story told by amateur voice actors. Like any game, there a few bugs that didn\'t get worked out, but the art and animation alone should be enough of an incentive to look past them. Personally, I\'d stick to Rise of Nations or Warcraft III, but if you\'re in need of a newer, prettier, and different RTS, Rise of Legends is certainly playable.

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