by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
ONE MAN CAN’T WIN A BATTLE
Imagine a Viking D-day: a bit like that scene from Saving Private Ryan (or the game equivalent in every WW2 COD game), but instead of armoured troop carriers, longships surge towards the shore. Some are shattered against the rocks and others are hit by flaming projectiles, but the raiders in your ship look on ambivalent. The prow grounds on the beach and a lone warrior-Dane, long axe in hand, charges into the fray. Is this our hero? He dodges blow after blow, bringing his weapon to bear against the defenders. He is shouting his war-cry, he is immortal, he is unstoppable... until a stray spear thrust catches his neck and he bleeds out on the shore.
This is the opening statement of Ancestors Legacy: that one man can’t win a battle - a point surprisingly apt for an RTS - and one you will see repeatedly proven, as, across history, you your warriors face a trial after a trial. In the game’s first scenario, I played as Ulf Ironbeard, a shipmaster bringing his host to join a raid against the affluent monastery of Lindisfarne, but who is separated by a storm and inclined to rebuild his forces. This took the form of a variety of missions: capturing towns, sneaking around Saxon patrols and raiding farmsteads - just generally wreaking havoc. There are also a variety of other scenarios, following the Holy Roman Empire under Rudolf, the Saxons under Edward or Harold, or the Kingdom of Poland under Mieszko. But in what I would consider an old fashioned design decision, the scenarios could only be completed in order (like Age of Empires) however separate they actually were.
Ancestors Legacy is very much in the style of an old RTS like Age of Empires, consisting of the traditional elements of combat, resource gathering and some recruitment/base management. But there is also a bit of a twist in that the game contains combat animations (like a Total War game) and a super close camera mode which is almost POV and allows you to observe the visceral glory of a fight. Tactically I wouldn’t say the game is especially incredible: there are formation choices of defensive or offensive, raised shields or lowered shields, but like most old style RTSs, you can generally get away with amassing the best infantry type and just charging.
The combat is also tactically limited by the fact that troops can’t disengage from combat, so once you’re in a fight, there isn’t any formation work. The game does, however, have absolutely beautiful RTS map design and scenery. I remember in Dawn of War (some would say an RTS pinnacle) the story maps contained all sorts of little areas to explore, rewarding you with tiny narrative events and even special units. That is the sort of map design that Ancestors channels, and it made me seriously nostalgic. But, all in all, the game does play very smooth, effectively combining the older style RTS with its own elements of visceral combat animation and interesting map design.
A LITTLE SILLY WITH HISTORY
The characters I played as in Ulf’s scenario were that kind of modern Robin Hood- esque depiction of Vikings: Rogues with a sense of honour. It is a depiction that personally leaves a bad taste in my mouth, lest we forget how ultimately sadistic the Vikings actually were. Especially as in the scenario you repeatedly burn down houses for no reason, out of which walk burning, screaming innocents, and maybe that was supposed to add 'Viking' flavour? But, for me, it’s a bit uncomfortable in a game that seems to be trying to paint your characters as the good guys. But, in all honesty, I’ve never seen an old style RTS that takes its history super seriously (remember Age of Empires III with The Fountain of Youth and that Knight Templar who lives for like 300 years?). So, although I may gripe about English-speaking Vikings repeatedly calling Saxons ‘Britons’ (Britons were not Saxons), the story and the well-illustrated cutscenes make it engaging enough.
Though I only finished the first scenario, I enjoyed Ancestors very much. It’s such a solid RTS, reminding us of many of the best elements of the genre, so much so, that I would dare any RTS fan not to enjoy it. Even if you didn’t enjoy it, you’d still be infected by nostalgia for the many classic RTS games that Ancestors is taking inspiration from. The only real criticism I would level (other than the history) is that by creating an old style RTS, you also bring along many of the problems that genre had. Problems such as fairly samey missions: getting a base, building a base, building a mega army, to then overwhelm their base, and there are a fair few missions like that in this game. But, all in all, Ancestors adds enough of a twist to that classic formula to keep most RTS fans on their toes, while giving them a decent level of enjoyment.
Channels classic RTS with some interesting twists upon the formula, amazing visceral combat.
Not always great with history, a little samey at points.