If you’re expecting Rise of Legends to offer “more of the same but with some refinements and better graphics,” as is typical of many sequels, you’re in for a surprise—but a pleasant one.
Big Huge Games pulled out all the stops to deliver something that looks and feels entirely new, while maintaining Rise of Nation’s core gameplay mechanics (such as attrition and national borders). The historical backdrop is gone, replaced with a new fantasy setting that dusts off the magic-vs-technology debate.
RON’s 18 playable factions are replaced with just three very balanced races: the tech-focused and steampunk-inspired Vinci; the magically minded and Arabian Nights-inspired Alin; and the Mayan-esque Cuotl, which straddle the fence of the other two. And finally, RON’s four resources are also gone, replaced with just two (energy and wealth). These reductions let you focus on getting to the good stuff—battles—as quickly as possible.
Only a handful of inhabitants must be captured to advance the storyline, but each one you add to your rule adds resources to your cause. On a few occasions, particularly in the Alin campaign, it seemed that vital story info was missed because of the way we chose to advance. And, while there are several inventive missions in each campaign, they all suffer from “capture all enemy cities and eliminate all resistance” redundancy.
Still, thanks to the eye-popping visuals and pyrotechnics (this is the best-looking RTS we’ve played), unit variety, and pure cathartic fun the game brings to the table, it’s possible to overlook these relatively minor flaws.