Developer: Destructive Creations
Publisher: 1C Company
Genre: Strategy, Real Time Tactics
Rating: M for Mature
The 2000’s were a bittersweet time for fans of real-time strategy games in the image of Command and Conquer. After the excellence that was C&C3 and Red Alert 3, serving as swan songs for the genre, the tradition of the classic resource gathering, army-raising RTS effectively died because of C&C4, and when Blizzard released StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty in 2010. I dare anyone to think of a modern RTS that has caught fire since.
Luckily for the industry, Relic Entertainment released Company of Heroes, seemingly as a meta-parallelism to C&C. They (alongside Massive Entertainment with World in Conflict) revived another long-forgotten genre—real-time tactics—from the days when Bungie was not making Halo, but a series called Myth. By streamlining resource gathering or eliminating it altogether, players are able to focus more on mircomanaging units, rather than macromanaging economy. With this backdrop, indie developer Destructive Creations has decided to take the route of developing a RTT game, Ancestors Legacy. Here, instead of warfare in the 20th century as seen in CoH and WoC, the studio sets its project in the Early Medieval Period, around the tenth century.
The primary contributor to Ancestors Legacy‘s M-rating is its violence. Story cutscenes are particularly detailed; many of them contain battlefields strewn with bloodied, mutilated bodies. Decapitated heads on pikes is are common during these sequences. In-game, character models are deftly animated to depict duels among squads of troops that will remind strategy fans of the Total War series. During these duels, deaths within the squads are demonstrated via spear impalement, throat slits, arrow piercings, and the like. Character models are perpetually bespeckled with the red stuff in a fashion seemingly inspired by Dragon Age: Origins. Arson is a core mechanic, much to the delight of pyromaniacs.
As Ancestors Legacy is historically based upon the Early Middle Ages, it might be shocking to discover that the Christian faith is considered to be an intrusion that is so offensive, it is often used as leverage in diplomacy. As it is religion of imperialism, one should be prepared to hear “Christians” with the tone of disdain. The Vikings, of course, are pagan; the Slavs become a Christian nation (Poland), mid-campaign; the Anglo-Saxons and Germans (Holy Roman Empire) begin their crusade *giggle* already a nation under God. Furthermore, building religious structures from churches to “places of Cult” allows players to gain timed advantages for significant resource fees.
I am impressed that Ancestors Legacy is judicious in its references to rape. I can only recall one direct mention of this as an act of war. Only Edward the Confessor’s campaign features nudity through the topless depiction of who is likely Edith of Wessex, his wife. This is ironic, because historians vacillate on whether or not Edward had taken a vow of chastity before his marriage—certainly, his religious devotion would render him a proponent of modesty, so a facsimile his bare-breasted wife as he kneels at the foot of the bed form which she beckons him might have him turning over in his grave. Lastly, lords with belligerently political ambitions proffer the virginities of their Christian daughters as collateral for the loyalty of allies.
While I do not recall any of the popular four-letter fouls popular in modern times, I do think there is at least one “S.O.B.” or d***n. Lastly, a built-in mechanic in the game requires players to subjugate villages for economic reasons. This could be interpreted as colonialism, if not straight slavery.
One of the primary aspects of Age of Empires 2 that made it endearing is the fact that its campaigns are based on actual historical figures such as Joan of Arc, William Wallace, and Saladin. Ancestors Legacy is similarly infused with historical fiction, though the “star” of the scenarios are not always the most famous. For example, one does not play as Edward the Confessor in his campaign, but the man who would become Earl of Huntingdon. My knowledge of the Early Middle Ages is poor, so even though I was not as excited to hear names I did not quite recognize (history buffs should get a kick out of me saying in the video above that there is no way a man called William the Bastard would ever be king), I still looked forward to learn from these digitally interactive biographies; I just wish that there was an in-game wiki so I could read more. At the time of this writing, there are six campaigns between the four factions—two for the Vikings, two for the Anglo-Saxons, and one each for the Germans and Slavs, with an additional scenario each for the latter two “coming soon.”
Included with every mission are cutscenes featuring artwork akin to the artwork of Alex Ross in graphic novel style. Players then take to the battlefield, where they must build and conquer villages to sustain an economy. Villages can be commandeered by vanquishing any nearby standing army, and standing next to the town center after burning it down; when captured, it will self-repair, and bestow control to the conquering player. Villagers are recruited in bunches together resources, and they are self-directed, with no management necessary. Still, enemies may raid farms or lumber campsites to cripple their foes’ economies.
Every village produces a small quantity of food and wood as basic resources. Wood is used as currency for erecting buildings, recruiting troops, or purchasing upgrades. Food is the upkeep mechanic for troops; it is possible to accumulate a large sum of food only to see it diminish precipitously under the burden of a large army that chooses to “turtle” rather than aggressively expand. Starvation issues the penalty of cause morale shocks that reduce soldiers to the toughness of cotton balls. Iron is used for higher tier units and upgrades.
Ancestors Legacy touts a rock-paper-scissors-glue balance system, though how hard one unit counters another can be magnified or curtailed depending on the veterancy, armor, and factions of the units in combat. For example, shieldmen naturally counter spearmen; soldiers with giant axes or cleavers counter shieldmen; archers counter everything but shieldmen, who can use their shields to impair the damage of incoming arrows. Calvary (hard) counter archers and practically everything else but spears, which counter them in return, as well as soldiers with axes and cleavers. However, Anglo-Saxon longbows enjoy better range and more damage than their archer counterparts. German crossbows can fire their first volley instantly. The Slavs have archers riding on horseback, who can shoot from behind while kiting units suffering the misfortune of chasing on foot. Viking Berserkers, who are in the large axe/cleaver class, decimate shield bearers, and can hold their own against their natural counters, but at the cost of being unable to retreat.
Here, I showcase the tactical importance of choke points to defeat overwhelming numbers, archer angles (watch for friendly fire!) and troop rotation via retreat, rest, and recruitment.
Retreating when things get tough is a core mechanic in Ancestors Legacy. Naturally, if a squad of troops suffers casualties, with all other things equal in a one-on-one fight, it would eventually lose against the same squad from another faction that has all of its troops. Power discrepancies intensify with upgrades, experience, natural counters, and morale shocks such as “outnumbered,” “flanked,” or “rear attacked.” Squads can be healed with rest, and restored to full strength in numbers at unit recruitment structures—even if a max-level troop is down to a single soldier, it can be restored for a fraction of the original cost of the troop (highly recommended). Yet both of these take time, leaving armies vulnerable to surprise attacks from enemies invisibly lying in wait in the bushes.
The production values in Ancestors Legacy are remarkable. Only the voice acting times betrays the games indie lineage at times, but I could not expect better scripting for individual campaign scenarios from the strategy teams at Blizzard, Ensemble, or Westwood Studios. Maps are sufficiently balanced and challenging, with some of them straight up hard enough to force me to restart, and formulate better strategies to my delight. I, after all, I prefer games that reward for perseverance. No matter how many troops or flora on my screen, not a single frame dropped, and every battle is animated with the vigor one should expect from men clashing in battle with the future of their clans’ existence at stake. Some battles, such as in the screenshot above, are simply epic.
Picking a favorite faction is tough. I am endeared to the Germans for their superior cavalry. Behold, as their might simply tramples the enemy under hoof. Oh, and pardon my micro.
Some, present company included, may be shocked to learn that Destructive Creations is responsible for the edgelord game Hatred, the Adults Only-rated game which made headlines due to its questionable content and poor reviews, yet made Steam’s top seller charts. Well, it would appear that the developer put those profits to good use, bringing forth an outstanding real-time tactics game in Ancestors Legacy. Quality such as this is rare, and the developer has successfully hit the mark.
Review copy generously provided by 1C Publishing
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