Rise of Nations


posted 5/20/2003 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
I’m quite a fan of the turn-based strategy games, such as the venerable Civilization series. Unfortunately, guiding a fledgling civilization from the Stone Age to the Future takes quite a large chunk of time, and there are a few occasions I wish I could just speed things up a bit. Well, the designers of Rise of Nations had the same idea, and brought us a great little real-time-strategy game with a bit of turn-based strategy feel. Think Age of Empires meets the Civ series, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

Actually, the Age of Empires analogy is appropriate, as Rise of Nations feels quite a bit like AoE with several additional eras of history. All the mechanics of traditional RTS games are here…resource gathering, construction of buildings and infrastructure, researching various technologies, and fielding military units. Resources consist of the usual food, metal, and wood, which are gathered by setting up farms, mines, and logging camps. Wealth is accumulated through taxation and the establishment of trade routes between friendly cities. A final resource, knowledge, is gathered by building and staffing universities. These resources are used in training troops, constructing buildings, and researching the technologies needed to improve the civilization and eventually advance through the various historical eras.

Game play will also be quite familiar to anyone who has dabbled with the AoE series. The controls are almost identical, and with a quick perusal of the various technology trees veteran RTS players will be able to jump right in. Unit strengths and weaknesses follow the “rock-paper-scissors” approach—a particular unit will be strong vs. some unit types and weak vs. others. Balancing these strengths and weaknesses when building the army is quite important. Since RoN covers such a wide range of history, things would get pretty confusing with all the unit types available, if it weren’t for the instant upgrades. Once a particular historical era is achieved and the appropriate unit technology is researched, all units of that type are automatically upgraded empire-wide. So, once the tank technology is researched, all of the heavy cavalry horses instantly become armored vehicles. It may not be terribly realistic, but it avoids the headache of dealing with quickly-outdated units. Land, sea, and air units are all available at the appropriate eras in history, which makes for a nice assortment overall. Special units, such as Generals and Spies, are also included to add a bit more depth to the mix. Spies can, well, spy on the enemy, gaining intelligence and even bribing enemy units to switch sides. Generals provide extra bonuses in combat to the troops, and they confer special abilities on their armies, such as the ability to entrench (giving a large defensive bonus) and forced-march (allowing units to move much more quickly for a short period of time).

The graphics in Rise of Nations also reminds me of Age of Empires, which is not necessarily a good thing. The graphics aren’t bad by any means, but they aren’t as clear as I would have liked. When there are several hundred units on the field, it becomes difficult to differentiate between similar troops, such as slinger units and archer units. When it becomes necessary to quickly command all the heavy cavalry to attack while needing the light cavalry to stay back, things become problematic. This can be overcome by careful use of the grouping hotkeys, but it still can be a bit bothersome.

Players can skirmish against the computer or against fellow humans via multiplayer support, like most other RTS games out there. There’s really not much more that needs to be said about these features, since although RoN has a nice assortment of single- and multiplayer scenarios, there’s nothing in these scenarios we haven’t seen quite a few times before. There is, however, a rather unique option, called Conquer the World. Set up as a sort of turn-based Risk meets the traditional RTS games, this is a refreshing take on the tried-and-true genre. Players assume the role of one of a very healthy number of budding nations and begin play with a single army on a map of the world. Each “turn”, players may negotiate with other countries, form alliances or other diplomatic ties, explore unconquered lands, or make war with the foreign powers. Only one army movement/attack is allowed per turn, so careful thought must be given as to which target gets special attention. Once an attack/exploration is made, the more traditional RTS mission begins, which can be anything from a siege mission, a build-and-destroy mission, or a defend-against-the-enemy goal. Actions taken on the world map determine what bonuses and penalties are given to each side before the battle begins. Once a particular empire’s capitol province is taken, that empire is out the campaign. The Conquer the World campaign makes for some very interesting play, and it’s nice to see some actual innovation in the RTS genre.

On a very positive note, in all the time I’ve been playing Rise of Nations, I haven’t seen a singe noticeable bug. Not a one. I’m not saying they’re not lurking in there somewhere, or that they won’t rear their ugly heads on a different system, but for me the game was quite stable. Kudos to the production team for sending out a polished product.

We’re at a point where every RTS game seems pretty much like the next one. Thankfully, the “normal” quality is usually pretty good, and can be enjoyable. But many of the games coming out these days are just variations on a theme. Even though Rise of Nations has a few unique elements, such as the Conquer the World campaign and the larger-than-normal sweep of history, it still feels much like many RTS games I’ve already played. Rise of Nations is a good game, it’s solid, enjoyable, and will offer players quite a few hours of diversion. However, it’s not really anything innovative, so those wanting the Next Big Thing won’t find it here. Bottom line, if you want a good RTS and don’t mind going over some familiar territory, Rise of Nations is worthy of a look.

A good RTS game with a unique, Risk-like Conquer the World campaign in addition to the more traditional skirmish-style scenarios. Once you get past the novelty of Conquer the World, however, RoN is just an RTS game like many others out there already.