The RTS genre is more tightly packed than an England midfield. But the original Rise of Nations was able to clamour to the top of the teetering pile by offering something really quite different to many of its peers. The original brought to life 6,000 years of history from the ancient age to the information age - not just in warfare but also in city building, trade and diplomacy. It was also designed with the casual gamer in mind - thanks to an option that allowed one-hour games, a rare treat in the RTS field.
In the original, you didn’t need to resort to major military action to achieve victory - other tactics including espionage, political manoeuvring, technology races and population growth could also give the upper hand. But military action is what RTS games are all about and Rise of Nations excelled in this category too. No wonder it was voted PC Game of the year 2003 many times over. So with that kind of pedigree surely all the sequel has to do is turn up and offer more of the same. And it does that - but also throws some new twists into the mix - the kind of twists that may or may not sit well with die-hard fans of the original. Firstly, the good stuff - there’s an all-new 3D engine, jaw-dropping in-game cinematics, integrated story-driven gameplay, a multiplayer mode for fast-paced games (that can be as short as 20 minutes), and clan support to build online communities. Additionally, the popular Conquer the World Campaign makes a welcome returns with fresh concepts that make each strategic decision critical to eventual victory, proving that brains over brawn can occasionally win the day. There are even three new races, the Vinci (human pioneers of technology and engineering), Alin (mysterious desert dwelling masters of magic) and Cuotl (godlike beings of the earth who recognise no dominion) – each carefully balanced with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, despite them being incredibly diverse in attributes they seem to have fewer units available than in the previous installment. Also there are no longer any “ages” as it all takes place in one time period, making the tech trees are much less interesting and much smaller.
But don’t get us wrong, Rise of Legends is still an awesome game. Some of the conflicts between armies inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, Middle Eastern sorcerers and laser-wielding aliens really are a sight to see - presuming your graphics card can take the strain!