Review: Ancestors Legacy22 May 2018 0
Review: Ancestors Legacy
Released 22 May 2018
The year has been good to Early Medieval fans (the ‘new and improved’ term for the Dark Ages). Less than a month after Creative Assembly’s Thrones of Britannia, another strategy game set in more or less the same time period (what’s a few hundred years between friends?), heaves into view. This one pillages the traditions of Company of Heroes, raids up and down the genre for good measure and then at the end brings it all back together again to start a new kingdom of its own. For those who may feel a bit jaded by endless sequels, 1C’s newly released Ancestors: Legacy is a welcome change of pace.
The best way to describe the basics of Ancestors is to think of a Dark Age version of Company of Heroes. Units are small, no more than ten men a squad, and the focus is upon the capture of territory, with resources a convenient by-product of that capture. There the similarities end. Whilst Company of Heroes focuses upon small unit actions that consciously ape TV shows like Band of Brothers, Ancestors is fought in a world where the old-fashioned sword and spear are king. If you enjoy Vikings and The Last Kingdom then you’ll be right at home. Formations, positioning and flanking, rather than cover and suppression, are the name of the game in Ancestors. The game handles these intricacies pleasingly well, with debuffs, charge bonuses and special abilities being handed out liberally. A simple but satisfying veterancy system provides the player with a range of ways to upgrade their units to suit their taste and rounds out a system that generally rewards thinking rather than pure micromanagement. Last but not least, special mention must be made of the role terrain plays in Ancestors. Day turns to night, changing the way factions play. Dynamic line of sight, as well as wildlands worthy of a MOBA, make ambushes and clever ruses as deadly as they should be.
Broader game concepts are also familiar but pleasingly different. In classic head-to-head multiplayer capture points are villages, with individual villages providing varieties of different resources in different amounts. It’s a small detail at first glance, but with the various factions relying on markedly different resource types for key upgrades and units, each faction is required to play the map differently in order to fight to their strengths. An added advantage is that, with these capture points scattered across the map, different styles of play are amply rewarded. Careful appreciation of the situation, knowledge of the map, the enemy’s strengths and their weaknesses, are rewarded just as much as killer set ups. In the game’s multiplayer beta (now wound down with the game’s release), it was entirely possible for myself and a friend to throttle an enemy’s economy through raiding and hit and run attacks that depleted his villages without engaging in head on fights that we would lose. The ability to switch between different play-styles as the game develops is one of the hallmarks of good design – and here Ancestors excels.
The changes to the formula do make for something of a learning curve. Whilst the campaigns go a long way to setting a player on their feet in terms of game mechanics, the differences between Ancestors and other entries can make for a bumpy ride. The inability to place buildings where you would like them to go, they instead are placed automatically, can be most off-putting at first. The interface’s cramped style can make reading what is happening tricky without a fair amount of experience. Likewise, the intricacies of defensive formation, a unique solution to handling the difficulties of representing a unit prepared to receive the enemy, take getting used to.
The campaigns themselves are impressive indeed. They are relatively compact individually, but there are a lot of them. Six are available in the review build, with two more “coming soon”. All are accompanied by impressive, comic book style visuals that really sum up what the stories are about: of great kings and battles.
Strategy games have a habit of attempting to insert narratives into their games that really don’t match what the genre excels at (great battles and great kings!). Ancestors goes the other way. Tribes squabble, Vikings (and Normans) invade and nations are built. The presentation can be let down by at times spotty translation work and the occasionally cheesy voice acting. Your mileage on this point may vary.
The presentation suffers most, however, on older machines like mine, for example. With the cutscenes being played whilst the game loads, those who otherwise find the game to run perfectly normally, will have to sit through stuttering and the narrator’s voice slowly falling behind the action on screen. As this is a hardware issue, your own experience of this will vary substantially. Given that these missions live or die by how much the player feels invested in the action, it would be nice to be able to let the game load before moving to the cutscenes in order to ensure stability.
The array of stories is still impressive. They range from the early Viking raids on the British Isles all the way up to adventures in Germany in the late 1200s. As a history buff, the inclusion of both famous battles and (to this Westerner) quite obscure settings, such as in-fighting amongst Polish tribes in the 900s is most pleasing. Whilst the difficulty is gentle to begin with, things certainly ramp up as you progress down the individual missions, each culminating in a significant battle. The fact that each faction has their own dedicated campaign, each with their own unique story lines and perspective, is particularly noteworthy. Let down occasionally by their voice work, these campaigns are well worth your time, even if only to look up the various battles afterwards on Wikipedia! Now if only there were co-op…
Historical RTS recently has had trouble breaking away from tried and trusted franchises. Ancestors Legacy offers perhaps one of the best re-imaginings of the genre in many years. Taking the best mechanics from the genre and adding its own unique twists, it builds something satisfyingly refreshing. For a grumpy old gamer such as myself, tired of poor releases and sequels that seem to remove more than they add, Ancestors is breath of fresh air.