Thus, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends was born with one of the most redundant and unnecessary titles I've ever seen from a game. With this new title, though, came three completely original races: the Vinci, the Alin, and the Cuotl. Each race is so fantastically different in both play style and visual style that it simultaneously serves as RoL's greatest strength and weakness. The plus side is that all of the units are ridiculously neat in terms of their design, realistic animation, and art style as are the architecture of each race's buildings. The downside is that all of these differences make getting into the game a tremendously difficult experience. There really isn't a Starcraft-like quality to the game's races in terms of logical play style. What I mean, for instance, is that you can't just say: the Zerg are quick and rely on numbers, the Protoss rely on ridiculously strong units but with a far higher price tag for each, and the Terran are the defense-oriented median between the other two. In Rise of Legends, each race has a variety of strengths and weaknesses, but there's really no simple classification (at least, not one that I've found in my time with the game)... And this makes the game a lot less accessible than most of the other RTSs I've played. I'd give it the title of "Real-Time Strategy With The Most Deceptively Strong Learning Curve" -- it's a title-in-progress, obviously -- but I've played Earth 2160 and Perimeter, and that would just be unfair to compare RoL to those two... Games?
One very fantastic thing about the game is that Big Huge Games has performed a near miracle in the way that the game's interface has been designed. It's deceptively simple but after I had been playing for a while, I started to realize that there's a decent amount of depth to the whole ordeal that I was able to glance over from the beginning. I was also not a big fan of the lack of builder units in the game -- I mean, I love seeing my little construction workers erect giant buildings in my base -- but the point-and-click to construct a building at any place within your "influence" area is something I've come to appreciate and enjoy as well. I do think that the amount of units on-screen is a bit excessive at times, and can occasionally make battles a bit difficult to manage, but I do like the sense of scale that all the units creates. It's also a blast to see a giant spider-mech thing stomp down on an unsuspecting foot soldier and watching him fly into the air as one of the game's ragdolls. If nothing else, Rise of Legends has a true sense of destruction associated with it that makes a player, for lack of a better phrase, feel all warm and squishy inside.
In order to keep the detail up without getting some mind-boggling slowdown in some of the larger conflicts, you're going to need a fairly extensive rig to play the game. I'm currently running on my AMD64 3500+, 2gb DDR400 RAM, and a 256mb GeForce 6800GT, and while I can play the game with fairly high detail levels (though with most extraneous polygonal details, such as trees/shrubs, and a lot of the physics detail turned down or off) major battles really make my computer want to go into a corner somewhere and cry until he's just crying air since its tear ducts have dried up. Sure, I could make the game ugly, but with all of the textures, building/unit details, and shader/effect quality up the game just so damn perty. And it has some of the best fire, smoke, and explosion effects that I've ever seen in a game. Period.
It's a shame that Big Huge Games had to record all of the special effects inside an aluminum can instead of putting more time into getting some really quality sound effects. Currently the game is like watching a supermodel play volleyball and then hearing her occasionally talk and make your ears bleed. Sure, it may not be quite that bad, but the sound effects in the game sound so muted and tame that I've now resorted to just playing some music through Winamp to drown out that aspect of the Rise of Legends experience, if I may.
To be honest with all y'all, I have yet to even attempt to venture into the multiplayer aspect of the game. I suppose the act of reviewing a game isn't really complete without that aspect of it really being tested out, but outside of my beloved Warcraft III I've never bothered to play more than one or two games online with an RTS. I care primarily about the quality of the campaign and the skirmishes than I do that the multiplayer portion. Though, to be honest, I can say this about a vast majority of the games I play. Social experiences are totally overrated. And as far as the single-player experience goes, I'm glad to say that Rise of Legends delivers. The campaign is kind of a neat, though mildly linear (compared to the Conquer The World campaign in Rise of Nations, anyway), Risk-esque map that allows you to pick-and-choose the order with which new territories are conquered. This campaign is split into three parts, and I'm now going through the first part of the campaign, since I had played through the first and second on the beta, in an attempt to get back to where I was so that I can give the third segment a go. The storytelling is a bit wonky (I'm being generous, here), but the overall experience is still one that I'm getting a whole lot of enjoyment out of, so I suppose that's all that matters.
Overall, though, Rise of Legends really meets my seal of approval as the RTS that I'm most likely going to be playing until Supreme Commander or the new expansion for Age of Empires lands. It's not perfect, by any means, but it is still a very fun real-time strategy game that has a mildly overwhelming amount of depth -- depth which may jump out of the bushes and maul you if you aren't prepared. But... I still maintain that the sound effects in the game are best left unheard by any mortal. I'm fairly certain that if you had Hansen playing in the background and heard some of the effects in this game, you'd actually be sent into a homicidal rampage. Or your ears would just sever themselves and run away from your head. Forever.
Great game, though.