This is an edit of my original review, which I posted soon after acquiring the game. Since then, I've edged a fair way into the campaign and played numerous "quick battles".
What's been said about the campaign is mostly true - it's neither polished nor very appealing. To be sure, there are some good strong characters, but they are not fleshed out very well, and the story feels overall quite by-the-books and predictable.
Not so the world behind the game, though. It takes a lot for an RTS setting to come alive, which has put me off from them somewhat. But Rise of Legends rises to the challenge, with three very distinct cultures, each of which has a well-developed internal realism. The steam and clockwork of the Vinci feels worlds apart from the more traditional eastern-based magic of the Alin, and the strange Mayan-style of the Cuotl is rarely portrayed in recent video games. Along with these are excellent game mechanics, oriented for those who prefer combat to endless nation-building and running after resources. National borders appear as colored lines on the minimap, soldiers take attrition damage when traveling through hostile territory, and the capitol city is one's prime target. Added to this, the units are quite diverse and complex; even basic soldiers have multiple combat styles/abilities, and the many heroes available are powerful and help your nation in various ways. Each culture can obtain a master unit, which is an alternate way of achieving victory - save enough for a master unit, then, if you use it wisely, your game is won. This is often more enjoyable than simply sending hordes of lesser warriors into enemy territory. It takes some time to master these details, but the game's AI choices are varied and quite well-balanced, so you won't be crushed time and again as a beginner, nor wind up trouncing the hardest settings easily.
Graphics are quite stunning, as well. The game camera changes elevation based on terrain, and very realistic atmosphere responds to this. Flora is beautifully detailed, and some of the more exotic maps especially are incrediblly well rendered. Those with a computer powerful enough for maximum settings are in for a real treat. I mostly make do with medium-low settings on my laptop, which is in need of RAM. While the minimum requirements list 256MB, my 384MB doesn't cut it; this game needs about 1GB to really do it justice. Also, a 256MB video card is required for a couple of the highest-end effects. Fortunately and finally, each graphics setting provides detailed information as to what part of your system it will affect, making fine-tuning astronomically easier.
Rise of Legends will probably never be as popular as, say, Company of Heroes, for the sometimes strange fantasy world will not appeal to all. As well, the campaign leaves much to be desired. But if you, like me, buy an RTS much more for the skirmishes than the campaign, you'd have to try hard not to like it. Quick, intense games, good strategic combat, and probably the prettiest RTS world to date, combined with all the originality this title commands, it's well worth trying. You might well be inspired, yourself.