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Rise Of Nations

Every once in a while, a game comes along that completely revolutionizes a genre of gaming. These games are few and far between, and often the most successful games of the day, and a foundation on which further games of the genre are built upon. Rise of Nations is this type of game. Just as Half-life revolutionized first-person shooters and Tomb Raider transformed action games, Rise of Nations marks the most elaborate leap in real-time strategy games since Star Craft. The great thing about it is though; Rise of Nations doesn’t do very much different than other strategy games. It simply takes the best ideas from a wide variety of games, like Civilization 2, Empire Earth, and Age of Empires, and combines it into one unique package that is sure to please any one. I was lucky enough to get my hand on a beta copy of RoN just a few weeks before it came out. I had read a little about it in an article in a magazine, but I wasn’t expecting anything that I received.

RoN has a variety of modes of play. I would have to say that the “Conquer the World” mode was definitely my favorite, which is also a mode unique to RoN. Through this mode, you chose a nation in which you must, as you might have already guessed, conquer the world. There are a variety of ways to do this however, something that RoN does well. You can use the wealth of your civilization, which is earned through the rare minerals that are on your controlled lands, to purchase territory. Some territories cost more than others, and civilizations that are at war with other nations will often sell their land for cheap if they are in a hard spot. I particularly enjoyed buying up war-torn nations lands for very cheap, and then storming the capital with the might of my armies.

I really liked that the CtW mode was so dynamic. At one point my Russian army controlled nearly all of Asia, all of Eastern Europe, and some of Africa, when those dastardly French and their Egyptian allies nearly destroyed me. I struck back after regrouping however, and eliminated the threat like Stalin did during the Purge. It plays out a bit like Chess or Risk, in that you move your army like a game piece into a territory. You then battle on a map of that territory, or sometimes the nation will offer you a tribute rather than fight you. I’ve spent over 15 hours in my first try, and I still have yet to CtW. However, I still play the game feverishly.

The games alternate main mode is a Quick Battle mode. Before the start you are given a list of options to play around with, including setting up who will control which civilization. You also select which age you want to start in, which is a very important option. Ages control which technologies you have available to your civilization at the start of the game, and there are a wide variety of them. The earliest age of the game begins in primitive days with few technologies available to your people, and as you progress through them your technology increases in strength. As you progress through the ages, you’re also allowed access to different wonders; huge projects which you can undertake to get a bonus for your civilization, and in some cases ultimately win the game. My favorite wonder was the “Space Race,” in which you built a giant launch pad that made it so your aircraft cost half of what they normally do. All the wonders can be built at the start of the game, but only one wonder can appear per map. So if the British built the Colossus, I couldn’t build it thereafter.

Of course, the benefits come at a cost. There are five resources you must collect in the game. The standard four resources, wealth, food, minerals and timber are all present and gathered the same way as in other RTS games. However, in RoN, you also must collect knowledge, by building universities and placing scholars in them. The final resource you must gather is Oil, but that only comes into play when Oil is discovered in later ages. In other RTS games I have played, you’re able to build unlimited farms, lumber camps, and mines, but RoN successfully balances this out. You can only build five farms in one city, one lumber camp per forest, and one mine per mountain. This encourages players to spread out, rather than build one huge metropolis in the center of their territory, which also creates some unique war strategies. Wealth is also gained by trading with the cities that you control or are allied with, so building many of them is the best way to earn more.

The strategy comes largely from where you place your units and how you decide to go about attacking your enemy. This is also varied on the map you are playing. Some maps call for amphibious invasions while having your troops fight through guard towers to get to your enemy, Normandy style. Other times call for a full out land invasion with a wide variety of troops. Troops start off very primitive, with units like archers and hoplites, but eventually change into units like guys carrying flamethrowers and tanks. Sometimes, you just have to find ways to control a large amount of area, which can be done by building certain buildings such as temples that increase the amount of area under your control.

The land areas featured in the game are very fun. There are your standard random maps, but it’s the real world maps that are a lot of fun, especially in CtW. Say you’re invading a very mountainous area. When you are going in, the maps you fight on will be hilly and rocky. Now, you’re in a valley. The map will be flatter. This also adds to the dynamic feel of this mode. The maps are also full of life, with rare elements to be found all over them, such as salt and sheep. If you use a special unit created at the Market, you can collect these resources and increase your wealth even more.

The games replay value is equally outstanding. Not only do you get a great multiplayer mode in which you can take on players from around the world, you also get a map editor that is easy to use and fully equipped to create spectacular scenarios and levels. On top of that, there are also Skill Tests, in which you must complete a given task in a certain amount of time. And even more so, each of the games 18 different civilizations have different advantages, so playing through as any different civilization yields different results.

Graphically, RoN is simply one of the best looking RTS games I’ve ever played. The graphics engine is basically the same one found in Age of Empires 2, except the animations have been redone and completely reworked to the point that you can zoom in on a unit and see their arms move as they fight or build. Also, as you probably just figured out, you can zoom in now, and get a closer look on the action below. The trees and other resources look phenomenal, and the level of detail is impressive as well. Individual units can clearly be seen inside of buildings, and more impressive, you can see them move as well. This may not sound like a lot in these days of Doom 3 and such games, but for an RTS it is an amazing innovation. Nuclear bomb explosions also are an incredible thing to watch, casting an eerie white light on impact and leaving a trail of artistically done corpses behind. Buildings look equally good as well, though nothing too substantial. The audio is fairly well done, with some very good music, but nothing that stands out too noticeably.

If you asked me two weeks ago what my favorite RTS game was, I’d have said Age of Empires 2. You ask me now, and it’s Rise of Nations. Quite simply put, this is the pinnacle of RTS excellence. I would be shocked and dismayed if any other RTS game released in the next two years, excluding a sequel to this one, was better than this. Seriously people, this is not only one of the best RTS games ever made, but quite possibly one of the best games ever made, period. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, at least check out the demo and give the game a shot.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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