previews\ Feb 19, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Rise of Nations - PC - Preview 2

The world of simulation/civilization games is quite crowded. Gameplay tends to be similar, and the overall looks of the games tend to be crafted from the same mold.

The barrier facing any new game is a simple one: offer something that other games in the genre don’t and then hope that is enough to entice gamers. Big Huge Games and Microsoft Game Studios are hoping to supply something different with Rise of Nations, a turn-based strategy game that doesn’t require players to spend months developing their civilizations and weathering the storms of happenstance to survive and rule the world.

This is a game that allows players to take a small city-state and dominate the world quickly. How quickly? What are you doing on your lunch hour?

GameZone was given a sneak peek at the second beta version of the game, so it was time to roll up the sleeves, research, build and rule.

When the game is completed, it will feature 18 nations (Aztecs, British, Chinese, Egyptians, French, Germans, Greeks, Inca, Japanese, Koreans, Maya, Mongols, Nubians, Romans, Russians, Spanish and Turks); Internet matchmaking for up to eight players in a competitive head-to-head real-time version of Risk; a Conquer the World scenario; and a scenario editor.

The formula for Rise of Nations is standard ­ take a young society, in the primitive throes of development, create works, buildings and research new technologies to take them from around 1 BC into the space age. This is 6,000 years of history, crammed into a short real-time frame.

The game leaves a lot of room for players to decide how they will govern their civilizations. You can do it diplomatically, expand your nation’s boundaries with technological marvels, or you can build a strong military and conquer your neighbors.

The game is broken down into nine ages — such as the Medieval Age, Gunpowder Age or Industrial Age — with each offering significant upgrades to existing technologies.  Military research is not only for a strong fighting force, but it also increases your population base while increasing the speed of transport ships.

Graphically the game does look very nice, with some excellent special effects and environmental elements. The water effects are particularly wonderful to look at, and zooming in as close as the camera allows shows a crisp, well-animated and colorful world. The sound was a bit clipped at times, but this is a beta, and not everything is expected to be perfect.

The game also uses the standard drag-and-drop technology. You do the research to advance your society. New buildings are available, so you just click on the structure, drag it onto the land that can hold it, and release the mouse button to plant the  structure. You must select a worker unit to build the structure, and you must have enough population and research to support the building as well.

Grouping units and issuing commands are also based on a point-and-click format. Highlight a worker, then click on what you want them to do and they head in that direction.

Of course, nothing is absolutely simple. There are obstacles to overcome, enemies to fight and civilization matters to deal with. The streamlined nature of the game steers away from intensely micro-managing every aspect of the society.

Any one who has played this style of game will immediately recognize the style of player interface and cruise straight into the game. For the novice civ gamer, the game does feature a tutorial that is simple to follow and will have players in the game quickly. This is a simple game to play, and because of the quickened game pace, it is a very enjoyable experience.

Rise of Nations is slick, quick-paced and attractive game that plays well. Slated for release in April, this game has found the element that will set is apart, and will likely garner a lot of attention ­ as it should.

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