Rise of Nations is an excellent strategy game that combines the best elements of real-time strategy with the conventions of the turn-based blockbusters.
Designer Brian Reynolds founded Big Huge Games after working with Sid Meier on strategy classics Civilization II and Alpha Centauri. This experience served him well, and as a result, the game successfully merges some of the key concepts of Civilization with the general game play of Age of Empires.
There are a number of game modes. A single player can play on a random map (with customised conditions), or "Conquer the World" (a risk like map in which each square on the board is a map which you have to win to win the square). Multiplayer games allow up to eight to play online.
You can choose from 18 nations, from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to the British and Germans. Civilisations have unique buildings, troops and bonuses. Greeks have cheaper libraries and universities, Russian national borders increase with each Age, and the Egyptians can build more farms. As usual, I like the Egyptians best, but the other bonuses make it more tempting to try each nation. This can only be good for the replay value.
The game interface is reminiscent of Age of Empires, and you control citizens and place buildings in the same way. The city is shown as a large building, from which you can generate citizens to complete tasks for you. Extra buildings such as farms, granaries and mines are place around the City, but within its sphere of influence. Your territory expands when you advance through the ages, or when you build certain buildings (such as the temple) or construct a new city.
Citizens will farm, mine, cut lumber and construct buildings for you. Unlike in other real-time strategy games, resource-rich areas don´t get depleted. Instead, in order to gather the game´s basic resources, you need only relevant building (e.g. mine) for the resource and assign citizens to these sites, and they´ll begin gathering on their own. There are 32 rare resources (such as precious minerals, crops, or furs) around the map. If you station a merchant at these sites, they´ll give you bonuses to your resources and other benefits. Knowledge is also a resource, and it is vital for most technologies. Knowledge is developed in the universities that you build for your cities. Each building can have only a certain number of villagers in it, and the interface clearly shows how many resources you get per villager working there, though you can research improvements to make your villagers even more efficient.
Military personnel are generated in customised buildings. You can also build forts, look out posts and docks. The battles are pretty confusing, as in age of empires. However, the troops generally do as they are told, and they look good. Rise of Nations doesn´t have any troop transports- thank god. As long as you have a docks structure in place and the right technology level, all your land-based units will automatically become transports when they cross water. I have to admit that I didn´t really like the mode of battle in Age of Empires. My guys always seemed to be running about in a random manner, and I would always forget about one wee group. This game is just like that, but the troops do seem to be more sensible, and they don´t get stuck as much. Some troops can only be built by some civilisations, adding to the fun.
Rise of Nations has many features uncommon to real-time strategy games, expanding the game play significantly. For instance, you can build wonders of the world like those in Civ. These powerful monuments can provide bonuses to your troops as they march into battle in real time, or increase your wealth or the production of a resource. The game also offers multiple victory conditions to suit a variety of different play styles - much like Civ. You can win by conquest, by controlling 70 percent or more of the entire map, by building or capturing a critical mass of wonders, or by capturing and holding an enemy's capitol.
Rise of Nations is better than the strategy games that have come before it. It´s more fun to play, and has more depth. The multiplayer component is fairly good, and the tutorials help new you get started quickly. I liked the look of the game, especially the architecture. Each Civilisation has its own distinct style. The sound effects were cool, and the music score changed to reflect what´s happening in your cities or on the battlefield.
I am a serious Civ III addict, and while this game will not replace the great classic, it does have the bonus of real time play. It is also possible to have a game which lasts a few hours, not days (as is always the way with Civ). However, Rise of Nations is much more fun than any of the age of empires games, there are more varied victory conditions and wonders which make the game more rewarding, and give it a higher replay value.