Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends

Straddling the line somewhere between sequel and expansion, Rise of Legends stands on its own story-wise, but borrows heavily from the Rise of Nations game mechanics and structure that spawned it. Legends explores the fantasy setting in three directions at once: the steampunk Vinci faction, with clockwork and gadgets to thank for their power; the Alin people, who infuse every structure and combat unit with elemental magic; and the Cuotl, a mysterious alien race who borrow their strength from the gods themselves.

Our journey took us to the magical cities of the Alin, awhirl in motion and action. Turrets and spinnerets spun visions in our heads of 1001 Arabian Nights ... on magical steroids. We commanded the Alin elemental troops, like the Rukh - a high-flying fire dragon who literally toasted our foes with bad breath and flaming body-checks.

But the real fun comes from controlling the faction leaders, like Giacomo, leader of the Vinci faction. All leader units start with three or four special abilities, but Giacomo's clockwork juggernaut is filled with gadgets and gizmos that we liked the best. We especially loved his Demolition Team ability - three robots we were able to send out from his walking tank that exploded on command, consuming our enemies in fiery mushroom clouds.

However, we'll have to reserve judgment on actual strategic depth of Legends since the demo campaign happens in the wide-open desert, where your units can become a clumpy mess (a shortcoming of previous Rise of Nations games).