From Brian Reynolds,
[co-]designer of Civilization 2 and Alpha Centauri, comes Rise
of Nations, combining the fast-paced action of real-time strategy games with
the strategic depth and epic scope of turn-based strategy games. Rise of Nations
allows players to improve their city infrastructure, create new cities, and expand
Players have the option to win through military might
using everything from sling-shots to canons to stealth bombers; corner the market
on key commodities; and wheel and deal with a wide variety of civilizations. Unlike
other historical real-time strategy games, Rise of Nations allows the gamer to
quickly play through to the modern age.
Rise of Nations is one of the most anticipated
PC games of 2003, which is understandable when you consider the pedigree of talent
behind it. Headed up by Brian Reynolds of Firaxis fame, the game marks Big Huge
Games' first release, and they're set to make it a doozy.
While Empire Earth set out to tackle what Rise of Nations is trying
to accomplish, it only tapped a portion of the potential of what a game in this
vein can truly be. Looking to make a more refined strategy epic, Big Huge Games
is making the most of its past experience with titles like Civilization
to give the gameplay a more refined feel. It's no longer about rushing to up to
the next stage, as intricate planning of resources and alliances is now crucial
Rise of Nations
is looking to be the next logical step in the progressive Age of Empire,
Civilization, and Empire Earth style of expanded gameplay. Take
the tactics of Age of Empire, the research of Civilization, and
the pace of Empire Earth, along with additional elements to help flesh
out the experience and you're looking at what could be one of the best strategy
titles to be released in some time. With a release date of Spring 2003, it'll
be a bit longer before gamers can voice their opinion on just how well the game
turned out, but it's definitely a title to look forward to.
Even with just a few of the nations implemented and some features absent, the
beta of Rise of Nations shows one of the most promising titles in development
today. While expansive strategy titles are nothing new, they still have yet to
be merged with fast action and fierce combat as well as they could have been.
For all of Civilization's fantastic research tree and pacing, the combat
wasn't emphasized and was nowhere near as enjoyable as that found in Age of
Empires. Again, AoE's focus on combat meant it naturally weaned away
from the epic scale of Civilization, but then came Empire Earth. From former
Ensemble Studios employees, Empire Earth was the first release of Stainless
Steel Studios and it did an admirable job of marrying the two styles in a way
that made it engrossing, but with a great deal of fierce combat.
what all it did well, EE was not a perfect title, and many were left at
a glimpse of what could have been. Rise of Nations seems to fit that bill
by having the best aspects of all the stated titles and even some new tricks of
The playable modes that are functional thus far include the
following: diplomacy, which allows players to form alliances; assassinate, which
has one player designated as a target, and severe attrition damage is given if
someone attacks a person who isn't their target; survival of the fittest, which
allows for no alliances; barbarians at the gate, which has everyone against you.
All of the modes are great fun and barbarians at the gate offers a particularly
interesting challenge for all of those who feel that they can carry over their
Age of Empire skills. Victory can be accomplished a few ways: there's the
standard option of capturing all the territory, but the player can also control
over 75% of the map to win, or to bring the apocalypse, which is done by launching
a certain number of nukes during the game period. So, aside from whatever campaigns
will be added, the limited number of races and options in the preview version
was just oozing with replayability.
The name of the game here is balance,
and that is one aspect that is presented well in the beta. There are major studies
that need to be researched for a civilization to progress: War, Civic, Economy,
Science, and overall progression to the next stage. Each of these is crucial in
its own way, but what's new and exciting is the Civic option. All nations have
borders that are representative of their color on the map, so if there are two
players on the map, the parts of the map with either person on it will be that
color. Researching Civic, and also building structures like castles and fortresses,
push that nation's border even farther, shrinking their opponent's land mass.
This turns into a problem due to the fact that entering another nation's border
is seen as a big step and isn't taken lightly. Attrition damage is dealt to the
invading units, so if you have some civilians chopping trees and your border shrinks,
leaving them caught on the other side, then they will receive damage. This is
also intuitive in that it makes war a larger issue, rather than just having someone
amassing huge amounts of troops and rushing them in. War isn't taken lightly and
it can easily suck a treasury dry, and so being peaceful is rewarded with automatic
damage given to the aggressors.
If you have an itchy trigger finger,
then you'll need an army large enough to not only withstand the attrition damage,
but also the natural disasters. Entering Russia's border could give even more
damage due to their harsh winters. After all of the damage is dealt with, the
enemy's army is still a factor. To keep your army going will require food, wood,
minerals, oil, income from trade - which is received by caravans traveling between
cities and merchants setting up shop on special resources like cotton -- and knowledge.
Yes, knowledge is a huge factor in that scholars teaching in universities push
your society's intelligence up, allowing for new technologies to be comprehended.
Sure, you might have all the elements needed to make a tank, but what's the point
of having the resources if you're too stupid to build it?
smart, aggressive, and stacked with resources, and you want to invade. Luckily
for you, the aggressor isn't always beaten: destroying enemy buildings will actually
increase your resources, and if a capital city is weakened, infantry can storm
in and take it. If they are able to hold the city for five minutes, your borders
are then stretched to that area. In order to helping your troops along the way,
you can make use of a nice idea that was seen in Dragon Throne: the supply wagon.
While it doesn't deploy nifty tents like in Dragon Throne, it does heal
troops that are within its radius. This is also a useful means of combating the
natural punishment that's given for invading another's land. Another interesting
part about combat is that those who are slower to progress aren't necessarily
punished; unlike Empire Earth, someone with stone-throwers won't be steamrolled
by a few infantry. This stands to reason as people can miss with a gun, and stones
can always kill, no matter how advanced someone may be. This fleshes things out
somewhat as those who would rather build resources and research for a while can
keep a minimal amount of non-upgraded troops to stave off invaders, though only
for a brief amount of time, as there's only so long a sling can hold out against
a machine gunner. There are also great enhancements that are long overdue; for
instance, one of the cooler features is that scouts are no longer useless. Instead
of being mere cannon fodder, they can be upgraded to commandos and elite special
forces; with their ability points, they can snipe soldiers, parachute behind enemy
lines, and even set charges on facilities. Generals and spies are also much more
useful as they can gather crucial information and the generals can entrench troops,
set up ambushes, and inspire men to fight; all of these special abilities are
done using special points that gradually refill over time. These little additions
make combat a whole lot of fun and are destined to be the features that are immediately
picked up on and mastered.
Much as it is within other titles, the different
playable races each have unique benefits. For instance, the Aztecs get additional
resources for every enemy they kill, while Russia gives extra attrition damage
to invading enemies due to the Russian Winter. They are also quite unique not
only in gameplay methods, but style as well. Each race is detailed individually
and a great amount of time was spent with each unit to ensure that they look just
right. Some units were shared, but it's up in the air whether that'll stay or
be changed for the full-on release.
Even with what's available now,
I can say that Rise of Nations is the most graphically impressive strategy
title I have ever seen. The detail is just absolutely exquisite. Although playing
with the camera zoomed out is optimal for combat, I spent countless hours zooming
up as close as possible and just ogling at all the detail on the battleships and
the extra animations, like samurais wiping off their swords before putting them
away and cannoneers preparing gunpowder before shooting. It's just an absolutely
gorgeous title, and the sound is up there to boot. With a nice selection of music
to get the heart pumping during combat and calmed down for slower portions, the
tracks were great. The sound effects were also enjoyable as bombs could be heard
whistling down to their targets and the 'pows' of musket fire as volleys were
rained down on opponents.
Despite some pathfinding issues, graphical
glitches, and other little bugs, Rise of Nation's promise can not be denied.
The gameplay was refined, excellently paced, and enjoyable. The fact that this
is only Beta 1 is also cause for excitement as it will only get better with as
it gets closer to the final product. After spending hours and hours with this
preview copy, Rise of Nations is now one of my most anticipated games of
next year. Without a doubt, this one will be huge.