Medieval mayhem ensues as Ancestors Legacy marks return of strategy games to consoles

The strategy game Ancestors Legacy is a fun and satisfying alternative to the shooters, battles royale and open-world sandboxes that dominate the game scene.


By BRIAN BOWERS | Published: July 3, 2020

When considering where to start with Ancestors Legacy, I thought about the results of my DNA test. If I wanted to dive into my ancestors’ legacy, I figured I should start with the Anglo-Saxons. After all, they provided 48% of my genes.

Instead, the medieval strategy game’s campaign forced me into the role of a Scandinavian — only 2% of my genes. But it wasn’t long before I finished pillaging the English countryside as a Viking and got down to pillaging the English countryside as an Englishman. All was as it should be.

Ancestors Legacy was developed by Destructive Creations, originally for computers and later ported to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and most recently to the Nintendo Switch. I was dying to test the game’s touch-screen controls on the Switch, but my wife’s ongoing obsession with Animal Crossing: New Horizons made that impossible. I opted for the Xbox One instead.

It’s a pretty standard real-time strategy game that features resource gathering, building construction, unit creation and combat.

The game features four medieval European cultures: Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Germanic and Slavic. Each has two story-based campaigns, which add up to a hefty single-player package. Each culture also has its own specialized warriors. Vikings have Berserkers and mounted scouts. Anglo-Saxons have slingers and longbows. Germans have crossbows and armored cavalry. And Slavs have cavalry and mounted archers.

The campaign missions are usually very engaging and provide a surprising variety of challenges. You’ll guide heroes as they skulk amid the brush or lead daring cavalry charges. You fight through cities and defend against sieges. The detailed battlefields and well-developed scenarios cause you to think and fight hard to secure your goal.

The missions in each campaign also provide a glimpse of medieval history. Some of those glimpses are clouded by the fog of war — or actually the fog of simplified storytelling and a pinch of anachronism. Look to these missions for fun, not a history lesson.

Fans of strategy games will be familiar with the rock-paper-scissors combat style. For example, archers beat spearmen, spearmen beat cavalry, and cavalry beat archers. Woe to you if you send three companies of archers to capture a village and are met by a squadron of charging cavalry. As a result, you’ll need to build your army with an eye toward mixing its capabilities and positioning your individual units where they can be most effective in your line of battle.

Once you’ve played through the campaigns, you’re well prepared to engage in a skirmish, either against the game’s artificial intelligence or against a human opponent.

In the skirmish mode, you can select your culture, battlefield, technology level and number of players. If you’re playing against the game’s AI, you can even set the difficulty and pacing. However, be aware that even an easy AI opponent is difficult to beat unless you’ve honed your tactics in the single-player campaigns. In the beginning, it seemed that AI opponents were always optimized to recruit and upgrade units far faster than I ever could — unless I stacked the deck by setting my opponents on easy and gave myself a more advanced ally. The game’s default pacing seems to be set to accommodate PC gamers rather than the more limited controls offered by consoles.

The major concern with any strategy game that moves from computer to consoles is the control system. Taps on a few keys and a quick bit of mousing are usually preferable to using combinations of controller buttons and a ponderous joystick to train and marshal your forces. However, the game’s control system is pretty robust and relatively agile by console standards. Ancestors Legacy benefits from the fact that it’s more like Company of Heroes than Warcraft or Age of Empires. You aren’t building and maintaining a sprawling settlement. You’re equipping, training and leading an army. As a result, everything is streamlined so the focus is on fighting. That dramatically cuts down the mechanics and menus required to play the game.

My biggest complaint about Ancestors is still related to the control system. Many functions aren’t mentioned — or at least aren’t described very well — in the game’s tutorials and info boxes. There are a number of shortcuts embedded in the control system that I discovered only by accident or by trial and error. Once I learned these, my performance and enjoyment improved dramatically.

Graphics are a mixed bag. The battlefields are loaded with detail and are very appealing. The units also look pretty good from a bird’s-eye view. You also have the option of tapping the joystick and zooming in to watch the battle up close. In this view, however, it becomes apparent that the character renderings are relatively rudimentary — at least for the Xbox One — and that they quickly get so covered with blood that all detail is obscured.

The game has a mature rating — presumably because of the blood-covered warriors, unless I missed something else.

I haven’t played a strategy game on a console since Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 — way back in 2008. While Ancestors Legacy didn’t exactly make me yearn for a new crop of games in the genre, I found it a fun and satisfying diversion from the shooters, battles royale and open-world sandboxes that dominate the game scene.

Bottom line: B-
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch
Online: nintendo.com/games/detail/ancestors-legacy-switch