Gameloft’s Rise Of Lost Empires, a real-time strategy game that looks a bit like a Warcraft II homage, tells a tale as old as time. It’s good versus evil, light versus darkness, man versus touch controls… waitasec, that last one isn’t supposed to be in there! But it is, unfortunately, and it turns what could have been a competent RTS into a messy, frustrating free for all.
The lovely she-elf and her treefolk.
Rise Of Lost Empires is a single-player game with two distinct campaigns. First, you play from the perspective of the “good guys”–the human Empire and its Elven allies, who are struggling to repel an Orc invasion.
Part of the way through the Empire campaign, the Raiders campaign opens up, letting you switch sides and get to plundering as the brutish Orc-led horde. This is the better half of the game, in our opinion. Although both sides play similarly, it’s interesting to hear the other side of story, and the levels are more creatively designed as well.
Both the Empire and Raiders missions center around heroes, super-powered units that serve as focal points for your forces. Heroes can give and take huge amounts of damage, making them tough to kill. They also have special powers that can heal themselves and nearby units, multiply their speed and toughness, or slay enemies outright.
But the most important thing heroes do is lead your forces into battle. When regular units are grouped with a hero, the entire squad is selectable by tapping on the hero’s portrait. You then issue orders to the group. Soldiers and archers are weak individually–you can produce up to nine at a time from a single barracks–but in large groups they serve as a force multiplier for your hero.
It’s one of those three-hero days.
All of this was probably meant to simplify gameplay, but it ends up quite the opposite. Coordinating clumps of regular units with your heroes is simply a pain, between group-selecting everyone, toggling between individual heroes and full squadrons, scrolling around the map, and then actually issuing orders. The interface is fully of tiny touch buttons, double clicks, pop-up menus, and other frustrating traps for the fat of finger.
Meanwhile, these troubles are compounded by the need to constantly train new soldiers to replace dead ones, and then send them across the map to join your hero. If your guys encounter an enemy on the way, they’ll break your orders to chase after it, scattering themselves all over the map and leaving their hero high and dry.
It’s not like there are really other viable strategies, either. The best way to win is usually brute force–build everything you can, and then overwhelm the enemy with numbers, using the nearly invincible heroes as spearheads. Some extremely large battles can slow the game to a crawl, although we noticed that this issue abated somewhat after the iPhone 3.0 update.
It’s too bad that Rise Of Lost Empires isn’t more fun to play, because it certainly doesn’t look or sound bad. The graphics are bright and charismatic, if somewhat lacking in animation, and every unit has a few sound bites, just like in Warcraft II.
All in all, you don’t play Rise Of Lost Empires so much as you wrestle it into submission. It can be done, but most players won’t have the patience for it. We suggest saving your $4.99 for something better.