There's nothing quite like a good global
dominiation sim to burn up your well earned free time. Lots of stategic
alliances, petty quarrels, aggressive management of vital resources and
even maybe a little education thrown in for good measure. Brian Reynolds
brought us perhaps two of the greatest titles of the genre, namely Civilisiation
2 and Alpha Centauri and was a key figure in the design of Rise of Nations
the new real time simulator from Big Huge Games.
The game offers a good number of
civilisations to take control of, from old colonial powers of the British
and Spaniards to the war mongering Nubians and Mongols. Each nation has
its very own set of military units to go alongside the game's generic armies.
This diversity of unique units is a very nice touch which certainly adds
variety to playing with different powers.
Unless you play in scenario mode,
you build your nation up from pretty much ground up, with just a few farms,
some timber cutters and a library. You use your key resources like food,
wood and iron to both populate and build new structures as long as you
have sufficient knowledge in your library. As intellect is gained, so are
ages and world wonders through time which are nicely represented with thier
own distinct graphics and sounds.
While time seems at first to speed
along, it can be slowed down significantly in the options and there is
always your trusty pause to allow for a quick review of the map-wide situation.
Careful control of game's time is vital in laying down the foundations
of your empire with relative peace. Well.. thats until your neighbours
cry havoc and unleash their dogs of war.
Combat is controlled by point and
click and make for some pretty exciting exchanges. Units are pretty smart
and use their capabiliites to the full, though each have both their advantages
and drawbacks against other types of units in the field. This scissor-paper-stone
element encourages experimentation with all available types of military
and it wont be long before you find some of the special units are actually
quite vulnerable once you learn how to counter them.
While Rise of Nations is fun for
individual campaigns against others on the same battlefield, the world
domination mode is actually quite weak. Gone are the interactive animations
of your opponents, or their messenger boys who you can verbally jostle
with. Actually, negotiation is virtually non-exisitant and much can be
achieved simply by buying your opponent off, especially at lower levels.
Not that there is no diplomatic interaction, all of the options are there
like military alliances and peace treaties etc, its just that the CPU opponents
really seem to lack personality.
Visually RoN looks great especially
at 1600x1200. Animations are smooth and the audio is superb. While graphics
aren't 3D a good deal of work has been done to make sure each unit and
building is clearly recognisable even with zoom at its lowest setting.
While Rise of Nation's promised
both a good level of RTS and turn based action, in truth only the top level
of the game requires for any turn-based prompt from the gamer. The world
map, closely resembles the board game risk. It has to be said that some
outcomes to battles and conquering neighbours almost seem random. Of the
five global campaigns I played, most of the European powers didnt seem
to last very long as I stared in disbelief as the Baantu and the Mayans
waded through the Americas and Europe with ease.
A good comprimise might've been
an option of turn-based or real time combat rather than many battles in
different areas of the battlefield happening concurrently. One game that
mastered this was Fallout Tactics, where such an option brought the best
of both worlds. Rise of Nations does ask a lot of the gamer to continously
stop and start the action manually.
With all that said however, the
heavy emphisis on RTS makes for a great game for those who loved Age of
Empires. The idea was obviously to make the as game action-intensive as
possible so as to make for some serious speed gaming. There certainly is
a lot here to have fun with short term, but this does get repetitive fairly
quick and if you're more of a fan of detailed turn based control and management
of the more traditional global conquest titles, Rise of Nations might fall
short of expectations.