Being a warrior in an age where the most technologically advanced weapon was a sword must have absolutely sucked. Just imagine it: stood in a shield wall, your enemy mere feet from you. You frantically jab with your blade at any exposed head, legs or groin you can see, whilst also hoping that your head, legs and groin remain safely hidden behind your far-too-small shield. Get it wrong and you’ll soon find yourself lying in the mud, holding your own intestines and with the newfound ability of being able to touch your toes – mainly because they’re now detached from your body. No wonder warriors in the Middle Ages would get absolutely wasted prior to battle on booze and hallucinogens.
Not that you’d know that from playing Ancestors Legacy, it’s a strategy game that allows you to orchestrate your armies movements with skill and discipline, rather than the more historically accurate version of having to force a bunch of lice-infested inebriates to go vaguely where you want them to.
Ported to console from the 2018 PC game, Ancestors Legacy is an old school inspired RTS that shares many links with Company of Heroes thanks to its focus on commanding smaller sized units that can be upgraded. Thankfully, rather than just a straight console port, developers Destructive Creations have made some smart choices to ensure their RTS remains playable with a controller.
Global commands are a great addition, at any time you can pause the game to effectively and efficiently manage resource collecting, way points, research of technology and the recruiting of units. It makes controlling the game an absolute doddle, a magnificent achievement considering how traditionally ineffective a controller is for playing an RTS. There are other brilliant changes made to the standard RTS formula too, whilst you still have to collect resources you don’t have to waste time commanding individual peasants to do so. Instead you just order a village or town hall to collect all of the resources in the local area. A brilliant alteration that entirely mitigated the irritating setback of accidently switching to the control of a peasant during an intense battle. You also don’t have to bother placing buildings, instead they just pop-up in the most sensible location like an automatic self-building Ikea cabinet.
There’s a nice range of tactical options on hand for the armchair strategist to enjoy. Your units can move into a variety of formations for defensive and offensive perks, build pit traps, and hide in the foliage to launch a surprise attack. You also need to pay attention to the actual manoeuvring of your units too, rear and flanking attacks give such a boost that they prove vital, send all of your units into attack in one big mess and you’ll have nothing left in reserve to attack the enemy’s rear and win the day. A particularly neat touch is that archers can cause friendly fire, necessitating careful consideration and manoeuvring of this powerful unit to achieve its full potential. It’s a shame then that you have to hold your unit’s hands to such an extent. Path finding can be a little woolly, units seemingly delighting in seeking out fences to comically crash through, so you can’t leave your troops to it. Fortunately with a tight unit cap this additional maintenance doesn’t prove too much of a problem as long as you’re aware of it.
What does prove a problem is the repetitious nature of the campaign. You have four different factions to choose from; Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Germans and Slavs who, due to this being the Middle-Ages, are all a touch too similar. Sure, Vikings are better with infantry, Anglo-Saxons have superior archers and the Germans have powerful knights, but they still lack the variety and individuality that an RTS with a fantasy, sci-fi or modern setting could provide. Tactics prove remarkably similar for each faction, the 30 single player campaign missions just don’t differ enough from each other, which can lead to plenty of repetitive gameplay moments.
That isn’t the case in the remarkably solid multiplayer mode however, where the similar nature of the factions proves a boon – neatly sidestepping the issue of one faction being vastly superior to another. Here the faction balancing is spot-on. Though on occasion playing in single-player you’d struggle to know it. The enemy cranks out units at such a tedious slog it often makes winning a battle a case of stubbornness and throwing units as quickly as you can into the meat grinder, rather than developing strategy. All the parts are there for a solid RTS single player campaign, just be prepared to find moments where those parts don’t fit together as well as they could.
Visually Ancestors Legacy is a treat, zoom in close to a battle and you’ll see your warriors leap to attack, swing their blades and pirouette away like an overenthusiastic extra from Braveheart. Zoom out to take in the whole of the battle and you’ll be very pleased Destructive Creations included easy to read and yet delightfully detailed unit icons, a quick glance at one will tell you how well or how badly your warriors are doing, even if the mess of bodies on the battlefield gives you no clue. Sadly I encountered several frustrating bugs in my playthrough, the frame rate drops in cut-scenes make the comic book visuals jerk like marionettes, whilst the bizarre occurrence of an entire enemy town disappearing into an empty black hole for no explicable reason will forever haunt my memories.
There’s also the question of historical inaccuracies and period idiosyncrasies. I couldn’t help but grind my teeth when characters repeatedly referred to Anglo-Saxons as ‘Brits’ despite Britain not coming into existence until hundreds of years later. Though this is the least of the problems the dialogue and vocal performances face as – outside of the cut-scenes – they are awful throughout the game. Then there’s the in and out Viking raid on Lindisfarne Monastery which instead plays as a drawn out attack on a fortress. These issues are particularly frustrating as Ancestors Legacy is being sold as an ‘historically accurate’ RTS. Though, on the plus side, there wasn’t a horned Viking helmet in sight, thank Thor.