Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War
We Were all thinking it, but no-one wanted to say it. At least not to the guy who designed Age Of Empires and Empire Earth. Luckily he came right out and said it for us. In terms of the realtime strategy genre, I think Stainless is a little bit guilty, as well as the rest of the industry, of not pushing the envelope enough or not pushing for new, innovative ideas to keep things fresh. It's hardly a newsflash. The traditional RTS lost its vigour years ago, and has been surviving on goodwill and incremental advances ever since - but it's not the sort of thing you're supposed to admit when you're one of the top RTS designers in the business. We're talking of course to Rick Goodman, boss of Stainless Steel Studios, and the reason he can talk so candidly is that he thinks his new game may be about to break the curse.
When we envisioned Rise & Fall, we wanted to push ourselves to do something that was new and unique, yet would still make for a challenging and fun RTS game. What we came up with was a third-person mode that enables you to become a famous historical hero and play the battle from a perspective you haven't seen in a historical RTS."
Goodman brought along a few beta levels of Rise & Fall for us to play, and we have to say the new feature is a winner. The game is still an RTS at heart, identical at a glance to any number of similar efforts (other than being prettier of course). You've got large land battles with formation fighting and grand castle assaults, realistic naval combat with boarding and ramming, peasants to mine gold and chop trees, bases to build and defend. But you can also switch to a very action-oriented mode akin to a third-person hack n' slash. What we really wanted to do was reinvigorate the RTS gamer, says Goodman. We didn't want to alienate any of the existing fans, but we did want to give them interludes where they could jump on to the battlefield and take part in the game like an action-shooter."
Apart from causing much merry mayhem, the hero mode is also a hugely potent tool. Whether you're playing as Julius Caesar or Ramses The Great (or one of the six other heroes), you can cut a swathe through virtually any enemy formation, felling scores of foes, taking down siege weapons and calling upon some pretty momentous special powers.
Needless to say, there's a price for all this. Not only do you leave the fate of your troops in the hands of the Al (which is competent but clearly not as smart as you), but you can quickly exhaust your hero's stamina, rendering him or her inoperative for a period.
Heroes also need to be levelled up before they become true super-weapons, a process that's tied fundamentally to your progress within the game. Goodman explains: The hero has five or six levels you can achieve, and each level of your hero unlocks new upgrades and abilities. So, rather than being age-based, your progress in the game is hero-based. Now, rather than having traditional technology nodes, we have advisors that become available for you to hire, in a way not dissimilar to a tech tree.
As we understand it, advisors are a way of putting a face to the various abilities you gain in the course of the game. So, when your hero goes up a level, you get a choice of new advisors, each of which comes with a special ability. Advisors stay with you from scenario to scenario, so you build up a whole bank of them through the campaign, including architects, historians, scribes and rat catchers - less vermin means happier citizens, don't you know.
Power And Glory
To level up your hero and progress in the game, you need to accumulate glory, a new resource gained by building cities, conquering territories and so forth. As you accumulate more glory, you can decide how you want to spend it' and as Goodman explains, there's more than a little strategy to this.
The first thing you have to decide is whether you want to devote your attention and resources to RTS mode or to your super-weapon - your heroic character. If you're more of a traditional RTS fan, you'll be able to spend your glory on unlocking better advisors and upgrades. If you enjoy the more visceral action, you can spend your excess glory on propelling your hero to higher levels, choosing not to unlock some of the RTS elements that come with it. That gives you more time in hero command mode and more special abilities for your hero.
You Are Special
Special abilities are one of the more interesting aspects of hero command. At their simplest, they might offer temporary invulnerability or a healing bonus, but there are a few more creative examples as well. One of Cleopatra's abilities is called Betrayal Of Loyalty, which causes troops on the enemy side to cross lines and join the Egyptian cause. Catapult Barrage, one of Alexander's abilities, enables you to bring down a volley of catapult fire on a location (provided you have siege weapons somewhere on the map). It can be a devastating tactic, assuming that you get out of the way first.
Playing The Hero
As for single-player, the levels are a mixture of traditional RTS scenarios and hero-based action. There are two campaigns, Egyptians vs Romans and Greeks vs Persians, jointly comprising 22 missions. However, at least six of these will be special hero quests', short challenges that take place entirely in third-person. We were able to play one of these - a Greek mission that sees Alexander escorting a fireraiser (a primitive war machine used to burn down gates and buildings) into the heart of a Persian stronghold.
Many of the other missions incorporate moments where you're compelled to switch to hero command in order to progress. One of the Egyptian missions we played opens with a traditional RTS battle, which, once resolved, leaves you stuck on the wrong side of a river. Ordinary units can't swim, so it's up to Cleopatra to wade across and requisition a boat from a Roman encampment. After this, the mission reverts to standard RTS action.
One of the biggest challenges we faced was how to integrate some hero command gameplay at the right time and place, says Goodman. Clearly, we didn't want to turn it into an action game, but we wanted to make the RTS gameplay more exciting at key moments, so we've designed moments where your hero becomes the pivotal tool or tactic in the game."
Having now played several Rise & Fall scenarios, we can confidently say that hero command mode is great fun. Whether or not this kind of hybrid gameplay appeals to RTS fans is another story, especially with Age of Empires III looming large. For now though, we're just delighted that Stainless Steel is trying something different.
When It Comes To Naval Warfare, Rise & Fall Rules The Waves
Unlike most RTS games, Rise & Fall takes its sea combat seriously. As such, the ships are all accurately scaled, meaning troops can board ships in a realistic fashion from docks and landings. Better yet, each ship operates as a mobile barracks, enabling you to train new units while at sea. Ship-to-ship combat is even more impressive. You can use grapplers to seize enemy ships, and then board them with swords aloft - if you manage to wipe out the crew you take the ship as a prize.
Ramming is another handy tactic, a potentially devastating strike that Rick Goodman calls: The super-weapon of the seas." On the largest ship, the huge trireme, you can even build a catapult, though sadly you can't use it to fire troops onto enemy battlements. This small disappointment aside, we expect some grand clashes on the high seas.
Download Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War
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- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
History lessons, if you're anything like me, you may have spent your time not paying much attention, but should your history teacher have covered the realms of Ancient Mediterranean history, then things may have been a little more interesting. Conquering empires, marrying your younger brother, falling in love with eunuchs and bathing in asses' milk - it was all in a day's work for the likes of Alexander The Great and Cleopatra.
It's these great civilisations of Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia around which Rise & Fall is based, but if you've seen a few movies of the title before with its action-packed vistas of thousands of men battling and dying on the field, you may be a bit surprised to learn that for the most part, it plays pretty much like a standard RTS. Your burgeoning civilisation still requires developing with structures, harvesting of local resources, recruiting advisors for extra bonuses and preparing your army for times of war.
Saving these slower sections from slipping into dull obscurity is the glorious graphics engine. In the Egyptian campaign, pyramids tower into the desert sky, sphinxes tower over scurrying Egyptian workers and statues and obelisks adorn walkways past ornate temples. Zoom in and things look just as impressive, with burdened workers going about their daily chores, animals pootling around living areas and armed units standing proudly in rows.
Where the engine is really shown off to best effect, though, is in the battle scenes. Flaming arrows arc through the sky, highly detailed units charge across the terrain, and siege units raise ladders alongside walls that are being bombarded with ballista from catapults. Often overlooked in the world of the RTS, the naval battles are a particular highlight. Ships are huge and can be filled with all kinds of different troops, giving you a platform from which to launch your atacks, while also offering chances to get and wild, as you ram and grapple with her sea-faring vessels.
The most impressive of your units is ur Hero. Taken from history's list of ho's who, you'll get a chance to play as lexander The Great Cleopatra. Julius lesar and Achilles to name but a few. As iwerful units they're handy in their own jht, but if you double-click on them you'll ke direct control of them via a third-Bson view, where you can utilise ranged id close-combat attacks as well as your jjerior hit points to swing the tide of battle I your favour. This is likely to be either a w it or hate it kind of feature, but with alance being provided by a limited stamina, found these moments to provide a hugely njoyable change of pace as you wade to the fray yourself, cutting swathes trough enemy lines. However, if the bought of third-person combat makes your food run cold, you'd be well advised to note hat some levels are played entirely from point.
Rise & Fall manages to bring some nelcome action to a normally slower-paced jenre, but it sometimes feels like this is at lie expense of tactics. While it's not likely to provide a massive challenge to the tactical supremacy of Rome: Total War, the game's a huge amount of fun to play and with the addition of the third-person Hero mode, provides enough action and change of pace to keep you hooked. A bit of a turn-up for the history books, then.
If Rome: Total War is an epic in the vein of Spartacus or Cleopatra, Stainless Steel Studios' upcoming Rise & Fall: Civilizations At War is a Michael Bay-directed, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced sword n' sandals actionfest, complete with larger-than-life celebrities of the ancient world who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty in battle - historical accuracy be damned.
This stellar cast includes Ramses and Alexander (the Greats), Julius Caesar, Achilles and the aforementioned Queen of the Nile. Plus, in an innovative move by the developer, you'll be able to control each of these titans directly, wading into combat in a third-person styles.
In terms of its core gameplay, this RTS will bear little resemblance to Rome: Total War. You recruit men and war machines one at a time rather than by the unit, you construct the mighty cities yourself, brick by brick (or building by building, at least), and last but certainly not least, you participate in the detailed real-time naval battles that Rome so sorely missed. Boarding actions, ship-on-ship ramming and the option to outfit boats with all manner of different war machines are all covered.
The game is certain to look utterly beautiful to boot -as you can see from these exclusive shots. We can't wait to mount an elephant and get stuck in.