Game Review 004: Rise of Nations

PROLEGOMENAN

With many ground-breaking games we see expansions and clones from other companies that attempt to duplicate what was original and unique about that first iteration of success. This applies to any genre, especially first person shooters, but also just as much to real time strategy games. While Age of Empires was an original in its own right, it came from a successful series that eventually spawned an evolutionary product, Rise of Nations. I love when expansions help to create a better game, but it’s truly exciting to see new games successfully build upon their predecessors. Rise of Nations has done just that.

GAMEPLAY

Rise of Nations reinvigorates the entire genre, including its own predecessors, because it brings together the RTS and turn-based strategy genres into one gameplay experience. While Age of Empires was exclusively RTS, Rise of Nations adds just a bit of TBS, which creates a healthy complexity to the game. TBS strategy comes into play when you choose where you are positioned on the world map in comparison to your enemies, much like more action-oriented combat games are setup. This gives you breathing room when plotting initial strategies, instead of only knowing where you are located on the map when the game first starts.

The largest difference in Rise of Nations compared to previous games in the genre, is the way you manage your civilization’s infrastructure under a new constrained type of system. Previously, Age of Empires let you happily build any building where you sought fit, within reason. You couldn’t build a barracks on the water, but you could place it right in the middle of your enemy’s territory, if you could manage to get through their defenses. Rise of Nations changes this with management limits on just about everything you produce, especially when it comes to building placement rules.

Town centers are still the heart of any area of production, but you can only build so many of each type of building around each town center. Also, in order to expand and build more towns and produce better items within these buildings, you have to research “Tiers” of advancement. In contrast to Age of Empires, there are not just one but five separate technological categories. For example, if you wish to advance your military to beef up defenses against an oncoming onslaught, you have to research the next military tier. Of course this takes time and resources, so you have to ensure which upgrades you want are best for that moment of development.

Someone might look at these limits as too restrictive, but I find it rather fun and an overall enjoyable experience that really adds to the gameplay. Sometimes having too many choices can be a bad thing. In Age of Empires I’d often find I had built way too many farms, had way too many citizens cutting down trees, or too many military units that were doing nothing but polishing their swords. With Rise of Nations, I knew I couldn’t go over a certain limit for each category, and when I was overproducing something it was easier to identify what could be cut back, without cutting back too much.

GRAPHICS, SOUND, INTERFACE

Graphics are much better than much older games like Age of Empires. The trouble with assessing graphics in an RTS is the viewing perspective. Unless there are serious issues that should have been resolved before release, graphics aren’t as high of a priority in this genre versus first person shooters, or any full 3D game for that matter. Rise of Nations doesn’t impress me, nor disappoint me. Its graphics simply fit within the advances you typically see in RTS games produced today. The same goes for sound. Everything is as you should expect it, no surprises or disappointments, although the voice commands are a rather hilarious improvement over Age of Empires. Type 100 for the voice commands and you will see what I mean :).

The interface is one of the best features in terms of visual quality for the game. You’ll have no trouble identifying important elements on the world map, as well as navigating through the menu system placed along the edges of the screen. It is much like Age of Empires and other RTS games, but with its modern graphics enhancements, it has an easier to understand interface that helps you along the way when learning where you can and cannot expand your empire. Many players will argue that the interface is what makes an RTS game successful over similar games. You only need to look at Age of Empires III's horrendous first build of their UI to understand how it can completely disrupt gameplay if not designed well.

WRAPPING UP

With the new innovated restrictions in building management in place, Rise of Nations is a much more interesting gameplay experience than past games like Age of Empires. You now have more time to focus on expansion strategies and how to best dominate your opponent, instead of worrying about having too many woodcutters on a particular stretch of forest, or too many farms around a town center. You’ll need this extra time when playing the AI on hard, as I’ve found the AI to be exceptional in its strategy when compared to many other RTS games where their AIs, while perhaps difficult at first, are much more predictable towards the end-game.

The AI, graphics, and other gameplay elements have all been tweaked and streamlined in order to ensure a proper gameplay balance. Playing any of the civilizations is a rewarding experience. In Age of Empires balance was a bit more of an issue in some cases, as civilizations like the “Huns” were found with little advances in the later part of the game, which led to many multiplayer games being played without them. There are advantages and disadvantages for each civilization in Rise of Nations, but as long as you know how to play them the balance issues aren’t as severe.

PROS:

- Adds a lot of strategic gameplay through the new restrictions
- City border limits add diplomatic strategy not possible with Age of Empires
- The sound, graphics, and user interface combine into a comfortable gameplay experience that doesn’t distract.

CONS:

- Lacks a story campaign that so many other RTS games emphasize
- As interesting as the gameplay is, I am beginning to tire of RTS games that don’t provide completely new and fresh content, not just rule differences.

FINAL OVERALL RATING

9/10

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