Gamers expect much from development studios. Graphical quality, balanced and fun gameplay, engaging storylines, epic soundtracks, interesting mechanics, and replayability are all things that players demand from developers. To call expectations ‘high’ would be an understatement, and rarely do even the biggest and best AAA studios manage to hit every mark. For a small studio with only two games under its belt to do so is an accomplishment worth celebrating—and, with the release of Ancestors Legacy, Destructive Creations has every reason to party like the year is 793 AD.
During the game’s announcement in May 2017, developer Destructive Creations described Ancestors Legacy as a real-time strategy game with a “crude and bloody story about dark ages when brotherhood and courage meant a lot.” Through statements on the project’s official website and showcase at Gamescom 2017, the development team spoke of its determination to accurately depict Viking Age Europe and design each faction to feel like a true representation of its historical counterpart. A gameplay trailer followed, giving players a glimpse at a special “cinematic camera view” that would allow them to zoom in on their armies as they engage in savage battles on blood-soaked fields. Now that the game has released, RTS fans will find themselves delighted to discover the game delivers exactly what was promised—a brutal, barbarous, good time.
The mood for war is set immediately upon loading the game, as the main theme of Ancestors Legacy is a droning, deep-voiced battle paean to the gods. Written and performed in Norwegian, the lyrics invoke the names of Odin, Baldr, Bragi, and Loki—a Viking prayer for safe journey over the seas and a demand the gods witness the raider’s glory in combat. An animated slideshow depicting battlefields littered with the bodies of the slain plays in the background of an easy-to-navigate main menu as a perfect accompaniment to the warrior hymn. From this page, players can choose to engage in multiplayer and single-player skirmishes or embark upon one of six story-driven campaigns.
Each of Ancestors’s campaigns is based on historical events that occurred in medieval Europe, among them the Norsemen raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793 AD—the attack that marked the official beginning of the Viking Age. A second Viking campaign follows Rurik, Varangian chieftain of the Rus’ in his 892 AD quest to gain control of Ladoga and build the settlement of Holmgard. In addition to the two Viking campaigns, the release version of Ancestors Legacy contains two campaigns for the Anglo-Saxons, and one campaign each for the Slavs and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The latter two factions are slated to each gain an additional campaign in a free update, evening the disparity, but, even without them, Ancestors Legacy should appeal to any gamer interested in this era of history.
The first of the aforementioned campaigns—the Viking attack on Lindisfarne—serves as a tutorial, teaching players the basics of gameplay. Veterans to the RTS genre will find no surprises, though they may appreciate the lack of blatant hand-holding present in so many games. Users are guided through the mechanics of movement, combat, resource management, and terrain advantage in an engaging, entertaining manner, educating newcomers to the genre while at the same time not feeling tedious to those who have played other RTS titles.
The gameplay of Ancestors Legacy feels similar to that of Company of Heroes, with the atmosphere of Age of Empires thrown in for good measure. Players may recruit up to ten squads of combat units, each having unique strengths and weaknesses, as well as hero units with special abilities, such as improving squad effectiveness or lowering enemy morale. Squad units also have their own abilities, such as archers temporarily increasing their rate of fire, berserkers throwing their axes as they rush into battle, and shield units pinning their enemies down to prevent escape. Units earn experience in combat, gaining veterancy levels that increase their statistics. Users may choose one of three paths for veteran units to specialize in: Speed, Defense, or Attack. This upgrade mechanic allows gamers to customize their armies however they desire to counter anything their enemies throw at them.
Maps are well designed, featuring balanced resources and terrain advantages in both campaign and skirmish modes. The graphical user interface is much like that found in Company of Heroes, overlaying a gameplay world rich in detail and ambience. Fireflies flicker through tall grasses during the night cycle, and headstones in graveyards contain readable inscriptions. Weather effects such as rain and snow add both atmosphere and gameplay effects, while thick forests, rocky hillsides, and bodies of water act as both boon and obstacle for player units. Squads can set up ambushes in thick brush, create traps at chokepoints presented by bridges over streams and rivers, and take advantage of terrain elevation to hide from enemy lines of sight.
Armor and weapons are, for the most part, period-correct with a few exceptions, such as Anglo-Saxon units wearing tabards, which were not common until the 15th century. However, small anachronisms of this kind can be forgiven in the overall scope of the game, as they do not detract in any way from gameplay. Use of the cinematic zoom feature allows gamers to take a peek at the painstaking attention paid to minutiae such as individual links in chain armor while watching their squadrons cut bloody swaths through their enemies. The sounds of sword against shield and arrows thunking into flesh rise above the raucous cries of the embattled warriors. Blood gushes from the wounds inflicted until it falls from the sky in a sanguine rain, painting the earth red. If Ancestors Legacy has one thing in abundance, that thing is brutality.
All of this praise is not to suggest the game does not have a few small issues, though they are minor enough that a simple patch could fix them. The most annoying of these problems is the inability to manually disengage a unit squadron from combat without using the “retreat” command. This oversight leaves players unable to order a squadron to change their target from one unit to another should reinforcements arrive. While one could argue the developers intended the lack of target switching to act as a strategic element forcing users to exercise caution and avoid over-commitment of troops, it has the potential to become aggravating in mass-scale conflict.
Another small annoyance is the inability to recruit troops from a forward base. No matter how many villages are captured, users are only able to summon units from the original starting point. Due to this limitation, gamers playing in skirmish mode must wait for their troops to travel from one side of the map to the other, which can take a considerable amount of time depending on the size of the map. The result is that reinforcing ongoing battles as troops fall becomes next to impossible as players expand their controlled territory, and outlying villages are hard to defend. Although these “problems” may be frustrating at times, optimistic players may simply choose to look at them as one more layer of strategy that must be considered when playing.
Overall, Ancestors Legacy is an excellent addition to the RTS genre. While the game is not revolutionary, it takes all the best elements of its forebears and fuses them together. Destructive Creations has hit the nail on the proverbial head with this offering—an axe to the face of those who doubted the studio after its debut title, Hatred, was almost universally panned by critics. The care and dedication to detail so obvious throughout the game serves as a testament to the development team’s love of Scandinavian and European history and should please anyone who is a history buff or fan of real-time strategy games.