There’s a process called tangential learning that is vastly underused in the majority of games. What it does is introduce context clues and references to real-life ideas, mythologies or history, facts that can encourage players to auto-educate themselves. Not only it educates on uncommon or rarely discussed subjects, it also allows developers to expand on their work. An inspiration through tangential learning can allow for plot points or even a game’s themes to be deducted based on optional studies which helps deepen the lore. While I can’t say for sure if it was the intention here, I definitely see it in Ancestors Legacy.
I do need to admit that I’m not a seasoned RTS player. I used to play real-time strategy games in my younger days so I’m definitely familiar with the genre. These days, though, I rarely play them but Ancestors Legacy’s setting and tone seemed enticing enough for me to pick it up for a go. The most immediate thing that stood out in the game was the interface and the graphics. I remember playing games where the groupings of my army had distinct looks and icons. Even if they were muddled among the landscape, I could distinguish my allies from my enemies, thanks to often striking visual differences, and moving them across the playfield used to be simple and precise. However, that wasn’t the case here as selecting and commanding troops turned out to be a nightmare.
To begin with, the colors used for friendly and foe units alike were extremely similar and for a person with partial red/green colorblindness like me, there was much difficulty knowing the units apart. Add in an A.I. controlled friendly units that boast yet another similar color, and the field turned out to a cavalcade of confusion. What makes the matter worse is that there’s no noticeable distinction to inform which factions I was attempting to order when selecting them. Now, this color issue might have just been due to my disability but nonetheless, it felt like a massive flaw that discolored (pun intended) my overall experience.
On the whole, the ordering of the units was just frightfully erroneous in its design. When trying to get them to move, yet again there was no visual indication that they had acknowledged the location I pointed out, so letting them out of my sight was always risky. While instructing my units to attack enemy troops benefited from an icon change, there was still no concrete feedback to show that they accepted orders. Multitasking became nearly impossible, as the groups would fuse back together and march towards an objective as entire army against my wishes.
Speaking of objectives, Ancestors Legacy did try something with them that I thought had potential. Rather than just a basic goal of “kill all enemies”, objectives often featured story beats that added to the overall variety. For example, playing as the Anglo-Saxons, I started off a mission having to escape from a town. The scenario made inevitable skirmishes feel less offensive in nature and more so for the sake of survival. The Viking missions also benefited from different objectives, such as an early mission that had a small team looking for other survivors.
The game boasts four factions, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Slavs, and Germans, so it’s a shame that only the Vikings are playable at first. This is because their early missions serve as a tutorial, which I found to be the worst part of the game. Rather than preparing me for the campaign, the tutorial slurred out instructions in a very sluggish way. As the tutorial also hold my hand way too much, I didn’t feel like it prepared me enough to play the campaign.
Ancestors Legacy art direction got me really pumped up. Cutscenes and still images were on-point, showing off a dirty, almost disgusting nature of visuals. The art was actually a bit repulsive, but it had such a character to it that it was charming nonetheless and it’s what I will most remember of the game. The art was also utilized effectively and conveyed the mood of a narrated plot perfectly with strong colors and lighting.
The in-game character models were also fine. When zoomed in, the individual soldiers had a unique feel to them, but it was their animation in battles that was their most impressive feature. Sadly, the combat lacked any sense of weight, and while being able to watch the battles was kind of cool, it got old quick. Add in my early complaint of too similar colors and it became disorienting at times trying to tell who was who in the heat of a busy skirmish.
The speed of the fights was sluggish, which I felt was yet another major flaw. Your troops would move very slowly across the map that caused lot of waiting around. This was made worse by the inability to reliably let your men out of your sight. As a result, everything moved at a comatose pace - except for the waves of enemies. Each lone warrior in a grouping was capable of dying on an individual level. While it’s a good idea, it meant conquering your foes was a lethargic task and became overwhelming when trying to overtake larger armies.
Ancestors Legacy made me rage quit during the first Anglo-Saxon mission. It started with the aforementioned escape from the city segment, a setting that I found exciting. Later, the quest led to an allied camp that was meant to give me a chance to breathe - or so I thought. As soon as I started building up my home base, enemies started attacking my camp so frequently that I couldn’t keep up building forces. The pressure kept growing without any ability to decompress things and eventually I succumbed. I didn’t feel like I had failed a challenge but rather like I had been cheated.
Gathering resources was also problematic. They are collected over time based on your territories, which could again lead to a waiting game. Overtaking villages can create more assets, but the unending onslaught of ever-refreshing enemies ensured I hardly could make progress. The lack of progression or a solid foothold had me burn through precious resources just to maintain a status quo. That is, until I eventually could complete an objective that locked the area down, so to speak, and suddenly I had infinite incomes. There was never a middle ground to this.
Due to unfortunate design choices, I just wanted to rush through everything and couldn’t exactly enjoy my time with the game. In short, Ancestors Legacy felt too much like a chore to play. Saying this doesn’t bring me any joy because the Middle Ages setting and the presented factions were actually cool. The idea to make a history-based, story-driven RTS title with dynamic features could have been great, but all these sides didn’t mesh well here. I really wanted to get into the gameplay, but the best I could muster was excitement for engaging cutscenes and disturbingly alluring images.