Taking such a dangerous step away from traditional RTS themes was no doubt a brave choice on Big Huge Games' part. Tim Train continues: "The tricky part, and something which we realised once we'd started, is that the reason everybody draws from Tolkien is
because people feel like they know that an orc is evil and warlike, and that elves are good and kind and in touch with nature. So the way we approached that problem was by drawing inspiration from our cultures throughout human history. That allows people to feel like they have a connection to those cultures and races. I mean, when you look at the Vinci race, you understand they're inspired by Da Vinci, you know they're inventors and that they're all about technology. They dominate nature and extract all the resources from it."
Besides the hugely original setting and the fact that the game is now in full 3D (another discarded gripe from Rise Of Nations), Big Huge Games has taken steps to add everything it missed out on the first time around. It's also refined the gameplay by removing many of the resources and replacing them with a few basics such as Timonium, an ore that can be mined, and Wealth, which can be gained through trading with caravans. Again, even things like trading are dressed up in Rise Of Legends' fantastic new style. The Vinci race transport goods in propeller-driven blimps, while the Alim use scarab beetles to get from one city to the next.
The cities, while we're on the subject, have been overhauled too. You now start with a capital city which you can physically expand by building one of three types of districts around it. For each of these districts you build, bonuses are granted in the form of more caravans for increased trading, more available military upgrades and other treats. The much-loved dynamic borders system has been left intact, and each race has been given a whole host of unique spells, technology and units.
THE SKY AT NIGHT
For example, one of the high-end Vinci technologies is a massive copper telescope which, while looking fantastic, allows you to cast your line of sight across a narrow cone-shaped area of the map in any direction. Couple this with another power, such as an epic spell which shatters an area of ground with nature-killing death machines, and you've got a powerful longrange attack combination.
Equally, heroes now take on the form of ancient Aztec gods, massive clockwork beasts and mythological scorpion kings, capable of laying waste to squads of foot soldiers with ease.
THE HOLY TRINITY
Next on the list of things that weren't in Rise Of Nations but probably could've been is Rise Of Legends' full campaign and storyline. Three of them in fact, one for each race, which follow the adventures of a young Vinci inventor named Giacomo.
More interesting however, is the redesigned online mode which promises to refine the multiplayer game from the hour-spanning grinds of RON to 20-30- minute games. Micro-management has been toned down to negligible levels, while the district building aspects of the single-player game lend themselves to three distinct playing styles online: rush, economy boom or defend. Improvements to the online game also come in the form of custom maps with randomly generated elements such as mountain passes and rivers, and matchmaking algorithms taken from Xbox Live, as well as persistent stats and even a built-in messenger service.
So while Big Huge Games deserves every plaudit for attempting to forge ahead and take the genre to wonderfully new places in terms of style and art direction, it remains to be seen how well the three radically different races can hang together, and whether the Rise Of Legends universe will be even remotely believable. Or perhaps a market drowning in World War II remakes and Lord Of The Rings lore may simply soak up such an innovative and dangerously brave idea.