Rise of Nations
Rise of Nations (RoN) is Microsoft's Real Time Strategy historical war game and comparison to its Age of Empires franchise is inevitable. In addition to wrapping up all the historical eras in one product, RoN improves on those games in significant ways. It's also a streamlined response to rival Empire Earth.
Stretching from the beginnings of civilization to the Information Age, history here is divided into seven eras. And though there are fewer unit types overall, each nation has multiple uniques. The system for advancing eras is at once more sensible and elaborate. Acquisition of resources is less frustrating. Resources never deplete. Gold is now called Wealth. And a new Knowledge resource is a factor in advancing through both research and eras.
The game scale is different. The exclusion of walls is the most obvious evidence of this. You can build towers and redoubts for defense, but your territory cannot be connected up with masonry. It's nations now, see, and what you have instead are national borders -- which auto-adjust depending on what you've built. Other details folks might miss can be chalked up to this scale change, some not.
The visuals are tops, to be expected considering the publisher. Some of the unit behaviors at times may have you sitting back to watch -- in particular the flight operations of the air bases are visually logical and aerial dogfights verge on the spectacular.
Where this game really innovates is with the campaign game. This gives the most interesting and unique experiences yet in a RTS game, and one of the best long-form solitaire features in any genre. It's significant because it may redirect wayward game designers back to devoting some more effort to dynamic campaigns.
Here you have a Risk-type world map with major geographic zones. Your goal is to take these territories from the other civilizations through various means, including diplomacy. The game progresses through the ages, devoting one or more game turns to a series of dynamically generated battles set in the current era. The battle generator accounts for the terrain, allies, reinforcements and other factors. Some generated scenarios are elaborate 120-minute conquest missions while others may be short skirmishes or defenses to be finished in 15 minutes.
Between battles you can do some diplomacy, shift your armies around, etc. And before engaging in some you are prompted to play "cards" you've earned in your past victories. The cards can bestow special powers or resource boosts.
As for multiplayer, RoN plugs into the GameSpy opponent matching service with a well-designed client. Notable among hosting options is a set-up preference that can suppress "rush" strategies as well as options for pauses, and "cannon time" a chance for the player to put the game in super slow motion for a time. RoN on GameSpy is sure to be a high traffic area.
Creating scenarios unfortunately shakes out as one of the product's few shortcomings, for now. The scenario editor does not make some significant attributes available (nation name!). There is a trigger language -- a real scripting language, not a point-and-click macro interface -- whereby scripts can be written in a separate editor that's comparable to a professional IDE (Integrated Development Environment.) But more documentation is needed for this to be approachable by the average gamer. Developer promises more will be made available soon.
Rise of Nations is a worthy product with far more assets than shortcomings and a campaign game that will keep you playing.
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