Whilst I feel that I’ve begun every one of my Xbox reviews lately with a rant about the lack of strategy games, I’m beginning to think that someone out there is actually listening to me. Today’s review is for Destructive Creations squad based RTS Ancestors Legacy, which recently made its console debut.
This interesting take on the moderately complex mix of tactical and strategic gameplay — first pioneered by games like Company of Heroes — is unusual because of its setting. Unlike many games that deal with skirmish level combat and tend to take place in relatively modern theatres of war, Ancestors Legacy comprises of four campaigns that each focus on a different faction during The Dark Ages.
Opening up proceedings are two sequences, each five missions, that set the scene for the game. Rome has long since fallen, over several hundred years Europe has descended into chaos as rival warlords rise and fall. Now, with England divided under a weak King, the Vikings strike — beginning with the raid on Lindisfarne.
The remaining campaigns, each lasting five to ten missions, focus on the Anglo-Saxons, the Slavs and, finally, the Teutonic Germans that would ultimately form the Holy Roman Empire. Each has its own set of units and objectives, as well as a distinct style of play that allows players to focus on different kinds of combat at a strategic and, in particular, tactical level. Combined arms has never been so important.
Of course, we’ve already covered much of the detail about Ancestors Legacy in our previous review of the PC version, in which Lennart explained that “The setting and presentation sets Ancestors Legacy apart from others of its kind and offers plenty of content both in the single-player and multiplayer departments”
Lennart’s review also called out some interesting issues that remain in the console version. Each faction only has five units, which feels quite limiting even if it does allow the players to become highly familiar with the Rock-Scissors-Paper style gameplay that often plays a deciding role in the small scale combat.
Some other minor challenges begin to crop up after the — admittedly excellent — campaigns are done. The selection of maps on offer for multiplayer and skirmish games is small and relatively unexciting, although the exceptional attention to detail poured into each one somewhat makes up for that. Similarly, I fully understand Lennart’s criticism of the Annihilation mode — which can ultimately bog down into a bit of a stalemate.
These issues though, I would say, are somewhat more apparent when comparing Ancestors Legacy to other PC real time strategy games, since there are so many more of them. On console, it’s possible to flip these factors the other way and look at them as features — sure, the maps, modes and unit count is limited, but there’s still a lot of high quality content compared to the average console RTS.
Continuing on the theme of Ancestors Legacy’s specific console attributes, control scheme is always a concern when an RTS moves onto gamepad based devices. In this case, Ancestors Legacy falls into the category of ‘good but not great’ although the design team deserves merit for trying to shake the standard approach up a little bit.
Firstly and most basically, squads can be selected by either tapping X to select them, or by double tapping X to select all squads in play. The player can then fine tune their selection by holding the L trigger and choosing several squads (by pressing X) to form a smaller group from among the whole army. It’s also possible to choose squads from the banners at the top left of the screen in a similar way.
Orders and waypoints can then be set with face buttons, whilst special abilities such as raising shields or going berserk can be activated by using the left and right bumpers followed by selections on a radial wheel. This can be fiddly with multiple units of different types selected, but in general, it’s about as fast and functional as a console player could expect.
Next, we have building management. Ancestors Legacy does away with a lot of building management features simply because it doesn’t allow players to build freeform bases. Instead the player will begin with a camp of sorts, to which new buildings can be added in a fixed manner. You can choose to build a house, or a barracks, for example (spending resources to do so) but the game chooses where that structure will appear on the map.
As your home base expands, so too will your options for building units, researching technologies and enabling buffs, and again, these things are all managed via radial menus that can be navigated fairly quickly. In addition, the same radial menu will allow players to jump to the villages that they have taken control of, for the simple purpose of recruiting peasants into different jobs, or building just about the only structure to appear outside the main camp, which is usually a defensive structure like a watchtower.
Somewhere between these simple, reasonably intuitive controls and the very detailed maps, I found myself becoming more and more drawn into what Ancestors Legacy had to offer. What felt as if it might have been limited as a PC game began to feel as though it offered good value on consoles, and as a direct rival to a much lower class of competition, Ancestors Legacy becomes a standout choice.
Aside from the limitations I’ve already mentioned, you will likely notice issues with historical accuracy and continuity. Factions are referred to by various names and the campaigns, whilst setting the scene well, don’t always deliver on the depth of story that they initially promise.
Even with these limitations, Ancestors Legacy is a really satisfying, bloody and brutal exploration of combat during the darkest years of recorded history. The lack of historical accuracy is well hidden behind superb visuals and tactical gameplay that challenges players at all difficulty levels and across all campaigns, preparing them for what will be a lasting multiplayer experience.