Preview: Ancestors Legacy13 Nov 2017 0
Ancestors Legacy was probably the most impressive game I saw at gamescom – and that’s saying something considering that I accidentally ran over a “cow-with-two backs” in the Far Cry demo. I had recently written how Dawn of War and Company of Heroes can’t be called revolutionary or influential, since other games didn’t follow their lead. But Ancestors Legacy did. They also added vikings.
We received a single player preview beta build, the same we saw at gamescom. But now we had free reign, with no developers to guide us and no game journalists from less austere publications to drive us away. We go to play three introductory missions that gradually familiarised us with the game. They come from one of the game’s campaigns, focusing on a historical viking raid and following made-up-yet-historically-plausible characters. The first two missions are of the best type in any RTS game: a scenario where you don’t have a base and have to defeat enemies via cunning rather than grind. The third one gave us the skinny on the economy as well as building and upgrading units.
In the game, you can expect to have a central base where you will hire your soldiers, one squad at a time. The maps will be dotted by capturable villages, which will serve as the engines of economy (providing resources for the entire time when captured) as well as good places to replenish your loses away from your base. The economy is only slightly more involved that capturing strategic points in Company of Heroes. You’ll be dealing with three resources: wood, food and iron. Food is interesting because lack of it can lead to decreasing morale among your forces. And we all know that you don’t want to face vikings while already dispirited!
While villages can take some time to capture – you have to burn down the main hall then wait for it to be captured – you will be able to harass the enemy’s economy by attacking resource nodes and slaughtering the poor peasants before running away. This is probably the most well established hit and run meta mechanic in an RTS that I have seen. Another interesting thing about production is that unit buildings will spit out unfinished units when burnt down. So depending on when you demolish the structure, you might face a 7 man (instead of the usual 8) squad of axemen.
Ancestors Legacy actually pays a lot more mind to individual soldiers a squad than, say, Company of Heroes does. A unit’s health bar is divided into as many pieces as the maximum number of soldiers in the unit. However, once you go into battle, the health bar doesn’t go down until you lose soldiers. The bits representing individual soldiers change color depending on their health. The game even has floating letters announcing the death of each warrior! This approach is something I like quite a lot, since you can have a unit that’s at full strength, but each of those soldiers would only be hanging by a thread.
But you needn’t worry about that too much, since any unit – heroes, too – can be ordered to set up an aid camp. This will let them patch up their wounds, albeit leaving them very vulnerable in the process. So if you you’re in skirmish and you know your rear is safe, you can retreat a beat up veteran unit, dress their wounds, then get them back into the fight.
You will notice that this also encourages the players to try and infiltrate some units past the enemy. For one, they can launch a charge from the back. On the other hand, a retreating unit – all done with a single button press, just like in Company of Heroes – will suffer casualties immediately if it runs into an non-routing enemy unit. So the retreat isn’t exactly a get-out-of-Valhalla free card. It also doesn’t send your soldiers running all the way back to your base, which is great, since it allows them to dress their wounds, recover morale and return to battle in a timely manner. That is, if the enemy doesn’t have anyone posted behind your back lines to ambush any vulnerable aid camps…
Shenanigans don’t end there, though! Wheat fields and similar tall growths act like jungles in MOBAs and allow you to launch ambushes on unsuspecting enemy troops. This works well both in campaign stealth sections, and in regular game. Soldiers can also build traps that can inconvenience and even kill enemies. Place them at choke points and enemy will have to maneuver a lot more carefully. Only units in defensive formation – which is much slower – can detect traps and even then, they don’t demolish them automatically. So just like a real warlord, you’ll have to stay frosty.
Units or rather unit types have other abilities that differentiate them even more than just rock-paper-scissors balance. Spearmen – naturally good against ranged units and bad against shielded ones – have a spear wall ability that makes them perfect at receiving charges, especially if you position them behind a trap. Archers can launch several devastating volleys in quick succession before sitting down to have a rest (and be super vulnerable in the meantime). Oh, and friendly fire exists, so be careful with those arrows!
During the game, units will be upgraded by both collecting experience and upgrading their gear. A veteran unit will be able to specialize in offense, defense or speed. Meanwhile, armor upgrades will make them more resilient – yet also slower at the same time. It all points to the fact that you will want to retreat and have your units survive – no viking warlord ever came to fame by feeding his men into an Anglo-Saxon grinder!
And what a pretty grinder that is! While Ancestors uses 2D cutscenes, it will also feature game engine cinematics, which look as great as they did in good Relic RTSs of yore. My usual complaint is that I think good graphics in an RTS are pointless: the battles are usually too fast for you to have time for a closer look. That’s a charge I level at both Total War and Wargame series. However, outside of totally outmatched forces that got charged, attacked from the rear and outnumbered, the fights will last for some time, giving you ample opportunity to get in close and admire the motion caption animations used to make the match up of any unit types look fluid and dynamic. It’s not just blind flailing in the direction of the enemy until someone falls down anymore!
But even from bird’s eye view, the game looks fabulous, and this is no small part an achievement of level designers. The demo levels are set up organically and you almost feel sad for the village halls that you have to burn down. Meanwhile, the forests and the roads and threatening wheat fields all look great. If I have one criticism, it’s that the floating letters appearing over the units once something interesting happens (take heed, Numantia’s devs!) are a little plain.
Ancestors Legacy is shaping up to be an RTS that inherited the good ideas from venerable RTS hits – highly structured campaigns, hand crafted scenarios and so on – without being a slave to the “old school” vibe. That’s why we’ll get to enjoy such things as hands-off economy management and commanding units of soldiers instead of training one dude at a time. This is a great promise in a time when Warcraft 3 style campaigns seem to be on the way out, replaced by Risk-style maps and emphasis on multiplayer. Maybe we can have nice things after all!