The medieval strategy game Rising Lords has players taking on the role of a lord ruling over their serfs and seeking their own way of rule. It combines turn-based tactics, deck-building, and resource management in an interesting strategy game reminiscent of games like Heroes of Might and Magic. The game came out in full release on January 18th from developer Argonwood, and I have to say, it still feels like it's waiting to live up to its full potential.
The artwork and overall aesthetic work well for the matter of the game. The "ye olde" art style plays into the medieval aspects of Rising Lords' story and setting. The tutorial and story campaign mode use Byzantine-Romanesque art and a book to tell the main character's story in their rise to power. The audio, art, and storytelling mesh well together and are certainly positives for Rising Lords.
A problem I had initially was that if I had to quit Rising Lords to come back to it later, it had the most annoying user interface for saving. When I open the story campaign, it starts me back near the beginning in a story situation I can't exit and have to click through to finally be able to hit the ESC button and reload the game from a point I actually want to return to. It was extra annoying because of all the loading that had to be done at a time when games are starting to have fewer load screens and load screen times. The brutal missions in the story campaign make this problem worse because if I lose and want to restart/save scum, I had to go through the most annoying process on earth to get there. That is until I discovered that if I want to reload the story campaign from a point I last saved from, I don't hit the "story campaign" button to get to the load option. I have to hit the "singleplayer" option under which the load button appears. From there, I can reload. Most games hold the story campaign and singleplayer and multiplayer campaign saves under their respective sections, so I'm curious as to why Rising Lords is set up this way.
A dear friend of mine believes that user interface can make or break a game, and I'm beginning to think they're right. There are a couple of other little things about Rising Lords' interface that make it less enjoyable to engage with. The game should better clearly mark out plots of land that belong to different territories. It uses dotted points that are pretty easy to miss. Its pop-up hints and info windows when hovering over an item on the screen bug out at times as well.
Story campaign missions are brutal. I had little time to prepare before the next big threat. The devs seem to want to challenge players, but making those challenges too difficult with seemingly only one way to prepare correctly makes the game frustrating. This, in turn, makes the game's real challenge become deciding whether one even wants to continue playing Rising Lords at all. Is it even worth it?
At least, that's what I think about the story campaign mode. The real potential in Rising Lords lies in its singleplayer and multiplayer modes. These modes seem to have received the most attention, as they have loads of customization options for setting up singleplayer campaigns against AI and multiplayer opponents. Setup options include a robust selection of maps and the ability to decide how many resources, weapons, and more each player needs to begin the game with, as well as victory conditions, all typical options for any turn-based civilization-like strategy game.
Combat in Rising Lords is very reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic but without all the magic and powerful monsters that make those games so interesting and fun to play. The combat units in Rising Lords are very similar to those available when playing the Castle faction of Heroes of Might and Magic, plus peasants along for the ride of being used as fodder. Building up hordes of units is part of the strategy, and managing resources allows players to build up those units. However, that's not the only strategy for winning battles. As players win battles and gain experience, they can 'purchase' cards for their combat deck to be used on the battlefield to turn the tides of war. Gaining cards and using them well can really change up the game.
The resource management aspect requires a more conscious and in-depth strategy as it's not just about building up sources of wood, stone, and iron. Players have to keep an eye on their food, available dwellings, and the overall happiness of their serfs. Make them too unhappy, and it's not just other players that can overthrow a Rising Lord. Revolution can upend a game just as fast as another lord with a hunger for conquest.
Rising Lords has loads of potential within its combat aspects and outside of its story campaign. I played a lot of Heroes of Might and Magic back in the day and could always use more games like it. However, its story campaign could use a lot of polishing for it to be excellent. I'm looking forward to seeing it rise to its potential, I just don't think it's quite there yet despite it going into full release.
Rising Lords is available on PC (Windows, Mac), Nintendo Switch, and Xbox systems.