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Rise of Nations Preview

GAME INFO
publisher: Microsoft
developer: 38 Studios
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII 500, 128MB RAM, 16MB video card, 800MB HDD
ESRB rating: T
homepage:
www.microsoft.com/games/PC/riseofnations.asp

release date: May 20, 03
» All About Rise of Nations on ActionTrip


Microsoft Game Studios and Big Huge Games were thoughtful enough to give us a peek at their latest beta build of Rise of Nations, a rather enjoyable combination of RTS and turn-based gameplay principles. Similar to Rick Goodman's Empire Earth, the game spans throughout the ages of human existence, covering everything form the late Stone Age to the era of highly-advanced civic and military technologies. Rise of Nations is actually being created by the well-known game designer Brian Reynolds (the mind behind Alpha Centauri and Civilization II) and his team at Big Huge Games. With Brian's talent and experience by their side, Big Huge Games made an effort to retouch the strategy genre with a few novel gameplay extras, successfully steering away from monotonous RTS rudiments like "collect a bundle of gold and annihilate the enemy."

The game starts in the Ancient period, which gives you a good opportunity to learn how various technologies can be advanced - although it you prefer, you may start building your civilization from the Gunpowder Age, Industrial Age, or any other for that matter. The game will let you play with 18 distinctive civilizations; Aztecs, Bantu, British, Chinese, Egyptians, French, Germans, Greeks, Inca, Japanese, Koreans, Maya, Mongols, Nubians, Romans, Russians, Spanish, and the Turks. In each of the campaigns, your basic purpose is to win over as many territories as possible. That's why most of you are likely to find the game rather motivating, because it doesn't insist on the action-driven RTS clich's. Instead, Rise of Nations highlights the significance of unit advancement and territory expansion, through a very effective and straightforward gameplay premise.

The whole system is plain and simple to learn. There are two modes present in the game. To begin with, there's the turn-based World Map mode, somewhat similar to the map system in we've seen in the Shogun series. When you enter a particular area, you may begin play a scenario in real-time, which is where you can get a closer look at your units in action and complete a number of predetermined victory conditions. The World Map, on the other hand, is where the player is able to assemble his forces and plan his moves on a grand scale. Each of the civilizations has three moves per turn, which they may utilize in any way they see fit. Usually, the most advisable strategy for any player is to seek out a region that is rich in natural resources and military supplies. Some territories do not have to be conquered by entering the real-time mode. Using several alternative methods is sometimes wiser. For instance, you can amass all of your armies in one territory, and if they are strong enough, you will immediately gain control over the area without any fights or supply loses (Just like you did in Shogun - Ed). In most situations though, a conflict is inevitable and that's when you enter the RTS mode. From here on the game assumes classic RTS form and gives you an opportunity to defeat your opponent on the field of battle. During the battle sequences, the AI worked rather well and your units seem to respond appropriately to your commands. They also assume proper formations when you give the move/attack order, which really helps to reduce your losses.

During each scenario, your goal is to expand your territory and conquer all unique resources in the area. Quite simply, the player must keep an eye on the borders around his city. Every city has a variety of structures and buildings within its boundaries; by constructing more buildings you will be able to expand your territory. If the enemy starts increasing his population and building-up his city, then his territory will increase, which will, in turn, start reducing the size of your own region. The basic goal here is to build as many cities as you can - it's really not that hard. You just attack a city, and as soon as its energy comes to a minimum, you will automatically gain control of all enemy buildings in the area. The bad news is that once a city is under your command, it won't be very difficult for your adversary to reclaim it. Even though this concept sounds a bit complicated, believe me, it presents a fun challenge, and it gives a nice flare to the overall gameplay experience. Plus, the game gives you the freedom to explore alternative means of conquering, which can sometimes be non-military - espionage, economic manipulations, population growth, etc.

Rise of Nations has a very well-organized economy system that fits brilliantly into the gameplay. By accumulating the main resources, such as food, wood, metal, and wealth, the player receives a specified amount of points. For example, food points are gained via farming and fishing, whereas wealth points are increased through various trade routes that can be established between your cities. A one of the best ways to boost your economy is to form an alliance with a neighboring civilization, thereby gaining a strong commerce system. As you explore the area with your scout, you may encounter other useful resources like tobacco, wool, diamonds, cotton, and so on. These are considered to be unique resources and are usually very rare. But, if you locate any of them, rest assured that your wealth and stock will start climbing in a big way.

The game also puts forth an interesting tech advancement system - the player has to advance four chief domains of technology: Science technology, Commercial technology, and Civic technology (which have always been essential to human evolution). Advancing each one of these will allow you to upgrade units and buildings, ensuring the general progress of your civilization. As far as we have gathered, there are eight ages which your civilization can go through; these are as follows: Ancient, Classical, Medieval, Gunpowder, Enlightenment, Industrial, Modern, and Information. Throughout these ages you will have access to different types of land, air, and water units, all of which are unique according to civilization.

Some of you may be disappointed with the game's slightly outdated visuals, but I can tell you right now, this won't be a problem because there are a lot of different gameplay elements that will keep you attention for quite some time. Anyways, the term "outdated visuals" may sometimes sound too harsh - I only use it here because the game doesn't have a full 3D engine, and I know that always disheartens a number of our readers. Well, regardless, I'm happy to inform you that confident the old school isometric view doesn't appear to be a drawback in anyway. In fact it's just the opposite. The camera gives you a decent survey of the entire map (you can zoom in and out whenever you wish), the environment is vivid and rich in detail, water surfaces look good, and the units and animals are beautifully animated.

So why should Rise of Nation be worth your attention? To be honest, we started to get a bit tired of various RTS titles that begun to flood the gaming scene in the past few months. Still, we felt that a combination of turn-based and real-time gameplay, might prove like a decent change in the strategy genre, which is why we are certain this game will find its way to the hearts of gamers. Sadly, this beta appeared to have had a number of bugs that caused the game to crash every once in a while. Also, for some annoying reason the game refused to load games that were saved in mid-play; I could only continue from the World Map, which truly sucked. Regardless, Rise of Nations didn't have any other apparent glitch or anomaly that might've obstructed the gameplay. Still, I should stress once again that this is only a beta version, and we are convinced the developers will handle such crucial issues in time.

Rise of Nations is going to be on shelves this Spring. After our experience with the beta, we can only say that we're truly looking forward to it.

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