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Rise of Nations

Developer: Big Huge Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-8
ETA: Spring 2003
Similar To: Age of Empires, Empire Earth
Published: 11 :08 : 02
Previewed By: Ryan Newman


Screenshots

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Official Statement

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 national borders.

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.


General Information
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 for success.

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.

Hands-On
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.

With 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 its own.

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?

So, you're 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.

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Related Links: RiseOfNations.com
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