Rising Lords Offers Challenging Medieval City Building and Combat

Rising Lords is an interesting amalgam of different genres. It is simultaneously a city building, resource management, and real-time strategy title with turn-based combat, and it even has some elements that you would see in board games like Settlers of Catan. Oftentimes games that are an amalgam of different genres can be runaway hits or bloated messes that needed to pick a lane. So, which is it for Rising Lords? Let’s find out.

Rising Lords opens up its story campaign with a brief tutorial and information about how you’re a young lord who is thrust into a position of responsibility. The story is presented as if it were in a book, and you can read about the medieval fantasy politics and environs if you wish. For the most part, the story pops up quickly and can be easily ignored if you just want to get back to forcing your peasantry to fight bears.

The maps for Rising Lords are laid out in a hexagonal grid, and you can control how apparent the hex lines are from the options menu. By increasing the values, it can help you see exactly where you can and can’t build new facilities or move your armies. The title presents very similarly to Civilization, just with a Middle Ages visual appeal. You select your number of opponents, how many resources you begin with, what maps you play on, and things of that nature.

When you begin Rising Lords, whether you’re playing a custom game or the story scenario, you’ll effectively begin with just your town’s square. Your population is represented with peasant units you can move around and assign to tasks, such as threshing wheat or caring for sheep. This means that if your people get upset and leave your fiefdom, you’ll have fewer people to which you can assign tasks. As you develop your land, you’ll cultivate the fields, build new facilities to keep your people happy, and gather resources from the map by doing things like building mines to acquire ore.

Many of the hexagonal tiles you can build like farms, mines, and other things are predetermined based on the type of tile you are working with, so you may need to pay special attention to your development if you don’t have too many spaces around that you can use to house livestock, for example. After building a bathhouse, you may be feeling ready to conquer new lands. I mean, who here hasn’t just taken a bath realizing that it would be more refreshing to bathe in the blood of your enemies? We’ve all been there.

Development of your army is integral to both expanding your sphere of influence, as well as keeping your lands protected from other countries (or players in multiplayer). You can assign mounted knights, spearmen, and archers to your army, but you also need to make sure that you’re making weapons for them as an archer isn’t exactly lethal without a bow. So, even in preparation for combat, you have to make sure that you’ve built and stocked a blacksmith to keep your army well-armed and provisioned.

While buildings like a church may keep your citizenry happy with your rule, filling out your army’s ranks with peasants will very obviously make them more unhappy. Depleting your necessities like food, running out of money, or just pushing them too hard during times of war can make your peasantry turn against you and revolt. Heavy is the head that wears the crown – do your best to keep new populations happy while you conquer their land.

When you do finally go into combat, placement of the units of your army is essential. You actually get to decide how many of each unit you’d like to use – if you want to use 5 mounted knights, 10 spearmen, 30 archers, and 20 swordsmen, that’s the composition you’ll have access to when you fight. Archers benefit from elevation from hills, while other units can appreciate being stationed in wooded areas to have some defense against archers. You will unlock more units as you progress, too, so don’t think the earliest units are all you will ever have access to.

After placing your units on the battlefield, it’s time to fight. The title will provide you with a small selection of cards that can let you set up obstacles or traps against opposing forces, or that give attack or defense bonuses to your units. Your opponents will also have their own decks providing them cards, too, so you’ll have to be mindful that they can suddenly get some bonuses to their armies, as well. Beyond that, combat plays out pretty simply with you selecting each unit and ordering them to attack or bolster their defense at their current position. If you’ve played any other turn-based strategy title, you’ll have a great idea of how combat plays in Rising Lords.

So, what it comes down to is that there are two large phases for Rising Lords: you have your city building phase with resource management, you develop your resources to improve your armies, use the lands you gain from battle to accrue more resources, and continue developing your army to handle larger conflicts. And then secondly, you have the combat. That’s the core gameplay loop of Rising Lords right there – city building reinforces combat, and combat reinforces city building.

As far as controls, Rising Lords is in an interesting state on the Switch because the controls are clearly adapted from testing with PC as the primary platform with absolutely no thought about how those controls would translate to a Pro Controller for the Nintendo Switch. You control everything in Rising Lords through menu buttons or radial menus, and you only interact with those menus through a cursor you move on screen with the analog stick. Obviously, this isn’t ideal as joysticks are horribly imprecise and are not direct substitutions for a computer mouse, and it doesn’t help that the analog stick and button inputs can strangely lag and take a couple seconds to register an input.

Thankfully, Rising Lords on Switch does have touchscreen controls in handheld mode to make up for sloppily implemented analog stick pointer controls, and the touch controls don’t seem to be anywhere near as laggy as the analog stick controls. This does mean, however, that if you’re looking for a nice strategy game to play on your TV for the Nintendo Switch, this title shouldn’t even be in the running for your consideration – the analog controls are that sluggish and poorly implemented. However, if you’re willing to play in handheld mode, Rising Lords offers a great experience through its dichotomy of city building and strategic combat.

Another unfortunate tradeoff, likely due to a lack of optimization for the Switch, is that once you end your turn, the game darkens the screen so it can focus on resolving everyone else’s turn. In most other titles, this would only take a few seconds. In Rising Lords on the Switch, it takes over 11 seconds at minimum, with the length seemingly increasing every single turn. Combine this with inputs taking a couple seconds just to register, and you have an extremely sluggish and poorly optimized Switch console port.

One major positive about Rising Lords is that the visuals are crisp and detailed, with a great hand drawn aesthetic very reminiscent of drawings from the Middle Ages. The period appropriate music may not stick with you after the game has been shut off, but the music and sound effects are very similar to something you’d hear at a Renaissance faire. You can appreciate the visuals through the various modes available, from the campaign mode, scenario (single player sandbox), multiplayer, and even map editor. So, there is a lot to do, thankfully, and if the visuals click with you, there’s a lot to enjoy here if you enjoy playing in handheld mode.

Overall, Rising Lords is either a 2 out of 5 or a 4 out of 5 game for the Nintendo Switch, almost universally dependent on whether or not you’re willing to put up with touchscreen controls because the default control scheme of the analog stick quite simply is atrociously sluggish and imprecise. However, if you can tolerate playing your hybrid game console in handheld mode, Rising Lords can actually be a good amount of fun, as both halves of its gameplay loop play off each other quite well. Conversely, if the controls sound like something you don’t want to bother with, Rising Lords is on the PC through Steam, and has the same volume of content, which may be alluring for those who want a new strategy and city building experience, but want to play on a screen larger than that of the Switch.

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