From the depths of Big Huge Games comes what could be the most promising RTS PC game of 2003, Rise of Nations. With Brian Reynolds steering the ship, designer of Civilization II and Alpha Centauri, RoN is looking to take the classic formula of RTS gaming beyond our usual expectations and give gamers the ultimate combination of real time combat and long term civilization establishment all in the one experience.
RTS inside a turn based game
Strictly speaking, RoN is not entirely a real-time strategy game, infact quite a significant part of the game works off a turn based system, which is where the brilliance of experience in the Civilization series becomes apparent. However the turn based system does not come into effect during actual in game play, rather it is the engine behind the "Conquer the World" mode of play. "Conquer the World" can be explained best as a virtual game board, or more specifically, a virtual game of Risk (which did have an official PC game by the way). After picking your starting country, it is then your job to make allies, peace treaties and sworn enemies in the ultimate effort of becoming the worlds supreme powerhouse. However rome wasn't built in a day, so your campaign of dominance will take many battles and much blood shed.
Each move you make on the map or each battle you fight is considered a turn, with your competing countries playing in a similar fashion. The beauty of this is that, even if your fighting a battle in the middle or Europe, your land in South America can go under threat of enemy attack meaning you will be practically fighting two battles at once. Of course I don't mean this literally, as since all battles are performed in the RTS engine that is somewhat impossible, but in the game's timeline it will be basically represented simultaneously. However war is not inevitable, if a country declares war and decide to attack one of your cities they will usually accept a bribe, which is paid with the units of "tribute". Most actions in the turn based section requires a certain amount of tribute, which is gained through skipping turns, winning land and accepting peace agreements from other countries. If your prepared to pay enough, you can propose a treaty to be signed meaning you and the other country in question are at peace, or you can even just buy the land. Some countries, usually the larger ones, will offer to be allies, which is a good idea until you grow to an overpowering size that they can't defeat. The wonders of diplomacy are out in full colours here.
Taking the world
Taking land off your enemies is one thing, but actually defeating them is another. To totally eliminate a country from the presence of earth you will need to successfully defeat their capital city, like Berlin or Paris, which is usually a much harder task. If you defeat the capital city you will own all the land of that country no matter how far spread it is. However you can't just decide to attack a countries capital, usually you will have to push their borders back by successfully defeating other cities of theirs as usually the capital is right in the middle of the country. Countries like Japan aren't so lucky however, as due to their location and size, they usually get eliminated quite early in the game.
A whole new level of advancements
The detail in Rise of Nations doesn't stop there however, the in game RTS action is where RoN makes its mark, using familiar aspects found in such games as Age of Empires and Age of Mythology. One of these aspects is the in-game advancements, which offer much more depth than that found in many previous RTS games.
On top of advancing ages, which have seven levels ranging from basic tribal like combat to modern day combat, you can advance seven levels in military research, civic research, commerce research and scientific research, each level offering new improvements for a range of in game units and buildings. In a skirmish style multi or single player game, advancing through every age can be done in the one game however in "Conquer the World" mode, ages are advanced every few turns rather than every battle. This means you will fight with basic capabilities to begin with, but as you continue your quest time will go on and so will the possibilities of your country. In all modes of play you generally start at level 1 for each of the four research areas mentioned above, which means even if you made it to level 7 in the previous battle for military research you will start at level 1 again next time - Age is the only advancement which carries on over battles.
Unlike many previous RTS games, RoN does not feature linear resources throughout all ages. From the beginning you can collect little more than food, wood and money, but as you progress new elements like metal, oil etc are discovered giving access to new units and technology within your cities. Another aspect of resource gathering which is different to your average RTS is that, atleast in the version we played, the physical resources in RoN do not run out of quantity. Instead, you are limited to how many civilians can gather from a certain resource. For example, each city is limited to five farms, and with the limit on the amount of cities you can have being determined by research levels you can see how food gathering is limited while being practically unlimited in quantity.
A game for all
Rise of Nations shows some strong signs of being a very successful title when it decides to go retail in the near future. All the successful elements found in previous Microsoft gems like Age of Mythology seem to be in full force, with even further detail thanks to the nicely balanced turn-based mode of play and the detailed array of ingame advancements. For the gamer who can not get enough RTS gaming, Rise of Nations should certainly be on your wish list.