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Rise of Nations: Thrones & Patriots

Developer: Big Huge Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Real-Time Strategy / Turn-Based Strategy
Players: 1-8
Similar To: Age of Empires, Empire Earth
Rating: Teen
Published: 05 :06 : 04
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent

Minimum Req.: P3 500, 128MB RAM, 16MB video card
Reviewed On: P4 2.5 GHz, 512 Meg RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro

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Big Huge Games's Rise of Nations, released in 2003, was an amalgamation of Empire Earth, Civilization, Age of Empires, and the countless strategy titles before that those primary sources used as their foundation. A mixture of turn-based and real-time, players would control their empire from a Risk-style world map, and conquer territories, with fights being real-time and reminiscent of Age of Empires, for their various resources. The resources might be a particular raw material that enhanced one of their technologies or the ability to raise another army - armies were represented by single pieces on the world map and the player starts out with a limited number of them. With each new territory came additional tribute, which, in turn, would be used to strengthen the territories (this would give the player larger and more advanced cities and technologies to fight off an invading army) or buy bonus cards. Bonus cards were one of the newer - not completely new, but fairly new for the genre - ideas that Rise of Nations presented; before a conflict, players could play cards that would allow them their opponent's nation-specific ability - every group has special traits - or cheaper technology upgrades. These actions, along with diplomacy, occur as the world advances through the different ages.

The more original ideas came during the combat portions. The player would have to research several technologies (science, military, economics, etc.) during fights so they could enhance their resource-gathering capabilities and fighting forces. The technology would cap off at what the world age had advanced to - i.e., if the world was in Enlightenment, the player couldn't progress past that in combat. Players had to gather iron, food, and timber, along with knowledge from universities, in order to progress through the stages within each age. Wealth is created by caravans going in-between cities - promoting quick expansion - and by researching revenue through churches. Another interesting element was attrition damage; each player's territory is represented by color, and if my enemy's color is blue and I pass over the blue line on the map, my units, if not near a supply wagon, would












 

suffer attrition damage from being on enemy land. This helped to slow the pace down, somewhat, and forces the player to build up sizable military forces before invading. While the game moves fairly quickly, the preparation takes longer than most other titles.

I enjoyed Rise of Nations. Not enough to continuously go back to it, like I do with Medieval: Total War, primarily due to the constant deadlocks, but it is a competent title with some interesting elements. Now, Thrones & Patriots takes the formula, and while not fixing all the previous flaws, brings some much-needed diversity, as well as introducing some truly enjoyable campaigns.

Consisting of four healthy scenarios, players will take command for Alexander the Great, Napoleon, the New World, and the Cold War. Accompanying the new campaigns are six new nations: the Iroquois, Lakota, Americans, Dutch, Persians, and Indians. Their nation-specific traits are also pretty interesting - for example: the Lakota use citizens to automatically gather food instead of having to create farms, and the Dutch have armed merchants and heavy economic bonuses. There are also 20 new units, like Persian War Elephants, and these represent the only real enhancement to graphics and sound - fortunately, Rise of Nations wasn't hard on the eyes to begin with, and both areas have held up well. One of the more interesting additions is the ability to choose what government the people will live under. From despotism to republic, as the player advances through the ages, they will gain the ability to adopt later forms of government, like socialism and capitalism. Each government also has their own bonuses, like cheaper military research or philosophers - trying to tally all the bonuses in RoN would cause someone's head to explode - and Patriot units; these new government-specific units are generals that do anything from heal units to increasing the attack range of accompanying units. I found the new generals to be much more useful in long battles, but many of the fights are fairly quick, so their benefits tended to be minimal.

The new campaigns are really impressive; each is so different that it really makes the expansion worthwhile. There are also many unorthodox choices. As Napoleon, there are no real turns; the player takes orders from someone else until they gain enough power to make themselves Emperor. During the Cold War, the U.S. or Soviet Union has to spend tribute points buying nuclear missiles and upping their territorial strength, because if either priority is surpassed by the other nation, the less of the two will lose favor in world opinion and risk being abandoned by their allies.

Of course, each campaign has a bit more to them than just waltzing over territories. During the game, opportunities present themselves to the player, further enhancing the experience - like Cuba asking for tribute to overthrow the 'capitalist pigs' and sending back tribute once established, pre-empting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam by sending troops first, and even using time to spy on an enemy nation before attacking - all examples from playing as the Soviet Union in the Cold War campaign. Many mission briefings also come with additional info that contains the historic background for the actions - they aren't necessary, but a nice touch nonetheless. Although it is a little odd to play as Napoleon and win a battle, then be told before the next fight that you actually lost and ended up at your current position because you were fleeing. Ah well.

This variety extends far beyond overall objectives and opportunities, though. Many of the missions in the expansion will be non-traditional. These missions aren't the typical style of gathering, researching, and attacking, but might consist of doing anything from killing a specified amount of enemy troops to capturing oil fields and using the resources they gather to train troops at a fort. Some of this causes some problems. I had a territory with a 7 strength, but when I was invaded, I was only given a small force to fight the enemy with - not to mention all the bonus cards I wasted thinking an 8 territory would take forever to conquer. Fans of the formula might find these a little too often for their taste, and I certainly found them to unbalance the game some.

I did notice that the computer is much more active this time around. Instead of focusing on reacting, computer opponents would actively seek out alliances and peace during conflict, as well as on the world map. It was fun to conquer the capital of a nation (causing that nation's other territories to be conquered as well) and have a dozen or so peace proposals awaiting my approval, all lavishing me with land and tribute; but I found allying myself with an enemy in combat and making peace with the rest to conquer an annoying foe on the other side of the map even more fulfilling. Be warned: the tricky bastard will also turn whenever they find a better opportunity. Even with the improved computer, I still found myself in some deadlocks that resulted from both sides gaining way too many resources way too quickly; at times, it was like the computer had an unlimited amount of resources to draw from. Maybe their citizens where better harvesters than mine, but there was one problem I had that wasn't so forgiving: the computer is horrible about transporting troops over water. I won several rounds by simply placing light ships or submarines on choke points and sinking hundreds of troops, being sent to either rescue a besieged city or simply trying to maneuver to a better vantage point; a few here and there I understand, but I was sinking 20+ ships at a time. Rarely did the computer try to stop me doing so, and when it did, it would quickly shy away after having their navy battered a few times. Although, to the computer's credit, the way troops automatically turn into ships the second they touch water is too sensitive many times, for both sides, causing troops to enter transports, thus becoming much more vulnerable, when they weren't really in the water. Not a perfect expansion - but definitely a good one.

Overall: 8.5/10
I enjoyed Rise of Nations: Thrones & Patriots much more than I did the original. The new campaigns are, for the most part, great, and the new nations will spice up multiplayer and the standard Conquer the World campaign. With graphics and sound that are both crisp and detailed, it still proves a treat to behold. The excessive variety in missions might be off-putting to those wanting the traditional experience, and they do offset the game's balance some, but, ultimately, their presence kept the game from becoming as monotonous as the original - at least, it felt that way to me after a half-hour or so. For $30, it's well worth the asking price.

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