The real-time strategy genre has always been strong on PC, with the keyboard and mouse lending itself to many different commands in the midst of a tactical affair. When games of such ilk make their way over to consoles though, it can often lead to an unintuitive and limited experience due to the far fewer buttons present on a controller. The latest RTS offering, Ancestors Legacy, looks to ensure this isn’t the case as the developers, Destructive Creations, have put a huge focus on it being controller-friendly.
So let’s find out how it holds up by gathering our troops, traversing to medieval Europe and engaging in a spot of strategic brutality.
Ancestors Legacy is an RTS that’s been inspired by historical events that transpired during the medieval period. As such, the single player campaign, which is essentially the main draw, tells numerous fictional stories and enables you to play out parts of them. It shines a spotlight on four specific nation’s armies and their subsequent conquests, with the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Germans and Slavs all getting a look-in. Each of these has two different stories to tell and they follow the triumphs of notable warriors and leaders within each faction.
Beginning with the Vikings, you’ll meet Ulf Ironbeard and his army storming England’s Northumberland region; the island of Lindisfarne to be specific. This invasion develops over five chapters, with the majority of the action lending itself as a learn-as-you-go tutorial, drip-feeding advice and explaining features, before throwing you in at the deep end for the climatic encounter. Initially, getting to grips with selecting individual squads is a bit fiddly, but it soon becomes second nature thanks to the ability to select multiples of them at once or even everyone available in the nearby vicinity – this is especially useful when you just want to grab all your troops to launch an aggressive, full-on attack.
What the tutorial also does though is introduce the tactical approaches that can be taken, including setting traps, hiding out in bushes to avoid being spotted and deciding upon a defensive or attacking formation. Throw in the option to burn buildings to the ground as a distraction, or simply to weaken an enemy’s compound, and there are quite a few things to consider. That’s without factoring in the managing of resources, like food to keep your army in good spirits, which isn’t going to magically harvest itself. At first, the resources seem restrictive and a bit of a hindrance, but in reality it helps prevent an unrealistic growth spurt and adds to the strategic side of proceedings.
And that moves us onto the base building aspect and the pillaging of local villages, because you won’t be able to replenish and enhance your army or garner food, iron and wood without these. Capturing vacant villages and those ruled by the opposition enables you to send the locals out to work for these resources, so there’s nothing much to worry about whilst you go on your merry way and butcher the enemy. There’s something rather sinister, and satisfying, about setting alight to the epicentre of a village, only to rebuild it and call it your own.
In regards the actual base of operations, and while nations may differ from each other slightly, there are a total of nine different structures available to be built. Obviously, barracks are the most important for training up squads for the battlefield, however houses/tents are needed as well to enable the squad capacity to increase. An archery range produces the archers, stables provide those on horseback, the church will allow a variety of stat boosting prayers to be answered, and the blacksmith ensures your equipment and such is up to scratch. Other than that, there’s the town hall, which is the focal point of a base, a well for putting out fires and towers to aid in protecting your assets.
Choosing the squads to train for battle shouldn’t be a throwaway decision, with specific types better against certain enemies than others. For example, those with shields are ideal for taking on ranged infantry and the ones carrying spears, but they suffer a tad against the warriors carrying two-handed weaponry like the Beserkers. I do wish there were more variety within each nation in terms of squad types, however the fact they can pull off special skills and can earns XP to level up and improve in stats is a fair compromise.
There’s a lot to process in Ancestors Legacy and over time, it’ll become second nature thanks to a series of prompts within the UI to remind about things like which buttons bring up the command wheel you’re after. The best way to learn though is to keep playing and the Campaign is great in that sense because plenty of hours can be spent here – each individual story will easily last a few hours.
It’ll start out setting objectives as simple as taking over a village and by the time you’re commanding the Slavs from Poland, it’s a case of capture this well-guarded base through force or by forming an alliance. Don’t expect any of these conflicts to be a breeze though; with auto-saves and manual saves at the ready should you underestimate the opposition. Even on Easy difficulty it can be a struggle and tactical nous is needed to gain the upper hand against an often greater number of enemies than you can defeat in one go.
Outside of Campaign are the single player Skirmish battles, with setting options including a wide selection of maps, A.I. difficulty, time limit, game pace etc. The big choice is which of the two game modes to decide to play: Annihilation or Domination. Annihilation is straightforward enough as the aim is to claim victory by destroying the entirety of the enemy’s base. Meanwhile, Domination sees you trying to capture and hold more villages than the opponent to earn points. Both work pretty well, although the latter mode can get overwhelming when there’s action going all over the place.
To be honest though, having relentlessly battled against the A.I. in Campaign, human competition is needed to freshen up the experience and that’s where the multiplayer aspect steps in. Sort of. There can be no complaints about the game mode options as they are the same as Skirmish, with the addition of PvP and PvE setups both being available. The problem is, no one ever seems to be in the hosted servers and the only quick matches I’ve found have been PvE 2vs2 – meaning two humans versus two bots.
Even putting the sparse online population aside, there are certain oversights that make playing online a real chore. The lack of a time limit is especially annoying as this can mean Domination matches drag on for far too long when the teams are well-matched. It’s also a kick in the teeth seeing a teammate quit out and the replacement A.I. is of a lower difficulty than the opposing bots. To add further misery, everything feels less responsive on the whole, from selecting squads to moving them on the battlefield. All that just ensures I’m waving the white flag where the multiplayer is concerned.
Visually, and the action during gameplay looks great from a distance as the squads scuffle in the different environments, but up close the character models aren’t so good and the attacks don’t even seem to hit their intended targets. That’s not too worrying when compared with the animated stills used in the storytelling cutscenes, which are a mess. Make no mistake about it, the gritty art style of these parts shows off the brutal nature of war brilliantly; the issue is in how choppy the scene transitions are and the frequency of stuttering. Even the accompanying voiceover gets cut out and then skips ahead, so you never really get the full story.
The interruption of the voiceovers is a shame, mainly due to the voice acting being of a good standard. Most of the other sounds, like the war cries and such do the job that is intended, but a special mention has to go to the music in the menu that reminds me of something Metallica might have released in their early days. It’s the perfect track to prepare you mentally for the conflicts ahead and never gets repetitive.
Overall, Ancestors Legacy makes the transfer from the PC realm to console relatively smoothly and delivers an RTS that’s good enough to warrant a look. Sure, the controls are still a bit tricky get the hang of given the sheer amount of commands, but it’s clear that plenty of thought has gone into making it work with a controller. Having a ton of single player content means you can enjoy it for hours and the historically-inspired aspects make it rather interesting. Sadly, the multiplayer side lets it down greatly alongside the technical problems that hinder the storytelling for those going down the solo route.
If you’re an RTS aficionado in need of a new game then Ancestors Legacy on Xbox One should scratch that itch – as long as you aren’t fussed about pitting your strategies against any humans, of course.