Summary: Rise of Nations is set to make a big splash soon, and we got to try out the second beta. Interested in the gameplay mechanics, how Big Huge Games has managed to fit 8 time periods and 18 civilizations together? Read on!
Rise of Nations, for those who’ve been under a rock the past year, is the brainchild of Brian Reynolds – the man behind Civilization 2 and Alpha Centauri. Although Sid Meier’s name was used to promote both games, it was Brian who designed both games.
Age of Empires pushed boundaries with its multitude of civs to choose, but Rise of Nations does better – much, much better – with 18 historical civilizations from all across the world. Count them: Aztecs, Bantu, British, Chinese, Egyptians, French, Germans, Greeks, Inca, Japanese, Koreans, Maya, Mongols, Nubians, Romans, Russians, Spanish, and the Turks. That’s as many as Age of Kings and its expansion pack had.
So what, it’s got 18 civs…
Of course, the really interesting challenges lie not in designing civilizations, but in bringing them from the stone age into the information age – in about 60 minutes. How a game maintains even a semblance of sanity with the player racing through eight ages is beyond us. It quickly becomes obvious however, that great care was taken to combat any tech-overload problems that players may experience.
Cities, once built, can only be captured but not destroyed. To capture a building, the player must bring the city’s hitpoints down to 0 and then send an infantry unit in. Following this, a timer will count down before capture is complete. Capture immediately hands the player all civic buildings in the city radius that belonged to his enemy, but military structures remain independent.
SIDEBAR: The brisk dawn I watch
Cooling crimson tides ‘round me
Dying of the light
OK what who huh?
All cities have a city radius and extend the national borders. The city radius delineates the limits within which certain structures, such as oil refineries and granaries may be built. The national borders indicate how far fortresses, mining camps and other cities may be built. In general, it’s economically sound to build cities as far apart as possible but this makes defending them difficult. A large distance between cities increases income from trade caravans, and allows the player larger national borders in which he can harvest resources. However, reinforcements from barracks and stables may be a long time in coming, since players do tend to build military structures near cities out of habit.
The player can also build only as many cities as he has researched tech levels of Civics. Civics, along with Military, Commerce and Science comprises the four major techs researched at libraries. Civilization ages are researched as well, but in order to advance the player must have researched at least two tech levels from the age he is trying to advance to.
Resources are inexhaustible and only a certain number of workers can be employed at any given logging or mining camp. Their production is increased through building upgrade structures, and researching upgrades at those structures. A Lumber Mill or Smelter automatically improves wood and mining by 50%, but it’s the technologies that give the real bonuses.
Certain resources tend to be the limits in certain ages. ‘Books’ and food are very limiting early on, then the focus switches to wood and steel, and finally oil. Throughout the whole game it is always too easy to run out of wealth, the rarest resource. The marketplace is a great way to exchange commodities for wealth or vice-versa, though rare are the times when a player has the wealth to buy extra oil when he needs it.
SIDEBAR: Postal 2 is just like BMX XXX – a cheap cry for free publicity.
Tying it all together
So what does Rise of Nations actually play like? Imagine Age of Kings with twice as many ages, little in the way of economic micromanagement and a frantic pace. The typical 60 minute Rise of Nations match is an adrenaline overdose, as you try to manage resources and decide if your forces can hold the line long enough at the borders for you to advance an age. There is very, very little Civilization and a great deal of mid-game Age of Empires here.
The advancements in resource management are phenomenal. While setting up the economy is important, after that it just becomes a matter of maintaining the flow of resources. With every age advancement you simply build a caravan and a university, or research a technology to maximize production, and then you get back to the battles.
The combat itself is quite frantic, and picking out a single unit of a specific type from a fight is difficult – thus it becomes extremely important to group units by their class. Balance follows a paper-rock-scissors route. At its simplest, light infantry beat heavy infantry who beat cavalry; at its most complex, one has to figure out what the best use for machine guns, flamethrowers and aircraft is. Siege weapons are ridiculously expensive (increasing in cost as you build more) and vulnerable, but are the only way to bring down a city or static defenses quickly.
Depending on the difficulty level, a match in Rise of Nations can be a leisurely romp to see who can win by Wonders of the World, or a hair-loss inducing juggling act between military, economic and technological advancements. RoN won’t dethrone StarCraft or WC3 as the tactical combat RTS of choice, but the Ensemble Studios boys have to be wondering what’s coming up behind them so fast.
SIDEBAR: Rise of Nations is interesting so far isn’t it? Have any comments on the subject? Sound Off! and bring your voice out into the world.
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