From the depths of Big Huge Games comes the next big RTS from Microsoft, 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 regime development. We had the chance to get to know RoN first hand with a few beta copies previously, but the full version is finally out, and boy were we impressed!
Gameplay - 9.5/10:
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. 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.
RoN is one of the first RTS games to see a versatile resource system. Rather than having the same three or four resources throughout the entire game, RoN's resources change depending on the age you are playing in. For example, when you move into the age of machinery and projectile warfare, oil becomes a necessary resource to collect. However, unfortunately this aspect tends to lack more and more as you progress through the ages. For example, when oil does become a resource to collect, you will find that it is very hard to collect in any meaningful quantity as it is so sparse. This means making tanks and other machinery is very limited, so building an army on heavy armour will be exceedingly difficult.
Another issue connected to this drawback is the fact the modern ages don't seem to be as polished as I had hoped. Despite the missile launcher, which is a very cool feature by the way, most of the units in the modern ages are simply improved from their predecessors. It would have been good to see more detail in making the modern ages feature unique units, but I guess the game isn't all about modern warfare, either.
One feature I've been waiting to see in a decent RTS for ages is the ability to select a large amount of units at once. I hate it when you have a huge army of fighters, but you have to move them in groups of 15, it gets very tedious very quick. This is where RoN shines, as you can select HUGE amounts of units at the same time, allowing you to give commands to entire army's in the matter of seconds. The selection limit is so big, I never came across a situation during gameplay where I couldn't select every unit I wanted to. Bliss!
In some RTS games, I often find myself issuing commands over and over again only to find I've confused the game's AI. Not in RoN. Although I can't pinpoint one specific area in the game where the AI was excellent, I can say I never once pulled my hair out due to stupidity of my units. This is certainly a good thing, RoN simply has an all-round solid AI subsystem which is very hard to flaw.
Visuals - 8.0/10:
As far as RTS games go, RoN is reasonably appealing visually. Age Of Mythology is a one of a kind type of RTS game, where most of the rendering is done in true 3D, unlike RoN. In RoN, the old style of 2d rendering found in the Age of Empires series is the method of choice, but due to the very detailed textures it is hard to pick. At a high resolution, RoN looks very nice indeed, and although I always like to see pretty 3D graphics, for once in today's materialistic market game developers have focused on gameplay rather than special effects, no kidding! Although compared to most other games today it is nothing special, compared to other RTS titles RoN's graphics are above average.
Controls - 9.5/10:
RoN goes beyond the scope of your average RTS as far as controls go. Naturally, selecting and ordering commands to your little guys is done by the same old traditional methods, but RoN goes beyond the basics and integrates powerful commands in easy functions.
For example, most RTS games feature formations. However, who has the time to order a formation in the heat of battle? and on top of this, who has the time to change those formations, on the fly? I'll tell you who, someone playing RoN, that's who! Let me explain. Rather than formation change being accessible only from menu's, RoN actually utilised the mouse buttons to issue formation commands. If you hold the order button down without releasing it, clicking the left mouse button will cycle through the formations. On top of this, using your mouse wheel in the same situation (that is, scrolling with your mouse wheel) will change the structure of the selected formation, which basically means the option to make the formation longer or wider. Never before has controlling in an RTS game been so dynamic.
Lets take a look at the MS RTS catalogue, shall we. First we have the Age of Empires series, consisting of two world wide acclaimed RTS titles, then we have Age of Mythology, a recent RTS released by MS that saw huge success, and now we have Rise Of Nations, a title that features all the strong elements of great RTS titles from the past, and new unique features yet to be seen. Combined, this makes for one hell of a good game, easily placing Rise Of Nations as the best RTS of 2003 so far, and certainly one of the best of all time. Simply put, you would be nuts to miss it, no PC gamer could call their game collection complete without RoN.