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Designer Brian Reynolds had already made a name for himself with his work with Sid Meier on turn-based strategy classics such as Civilization II and Alpha Centauri. But Reynolds went off and founded a new studio called Big Huge Games and began work on the historically themed Rise of Nations, a game that has finally arrived on store shelves. This superb strategy game combines the best elements of real-time strategy with the conventions of the turn-based blockbusters that Reynolds had worked on previously. By combining some of the concepts of Civilization with the general gameplay of Age of Empires, Reynolds and Big Huge Games have created a truly outstanding game.
Rise of Nations might resemble Microsoft's Age of Empires games at a glance--like other, similar games, it has a host of different civilizations (18, to be exact), each with unique bonuses and four to five unique units. But beyond that, the game has a lot of depth, more so than other real-time strategy games, thanks to novel concepts such as national borders, city assimilation, and more. While these new features might seem foreign to real-time strategy players, fans of Brian Reynolds' turn-based strategy games should know them well.
Unlike in other turn-based games, in Rise of Nations, cities are a focal part of your strategy. Each of your cities has a radius around it that constitutes your national border. You can build other buildings only within your borders, and you can build only a limited number of different improvements for each city (such as a maximum of five farms each). Since expanding your empire depends entirely on your cities, the game makes you think harder about how and where you should expand. This focus on cities also means that each one will become a distinct community, with its own farms, temples, universities, and so on--actual cities will populate your empire, unlike in other real-time strategy games, where most of your structures are at your main base, while your additional town halls exist in isolation near some resources.
This intriguing concept of national borders works as you might have expected it to in an epic turn-based game, such as Civilization. In practice, national borders add depth to the game without being overwhelming. For instance, since your national borders grow with the number of cities you control, you may wish to aggressively expand your empire by building lots of cities, but you'll be limited by the extent of your research in civics. In addition, any troops you send across the borders of an enemy nation sustain attrition damage (to simulate the difficulty in supplying them over vast distances). It's an intuitive feature, and it also prevents your enemies from rushing you early on in the game. However, both you and your opponents can recruit supply wagons that protect armies from attrition damage.
In the meantime, you'll be able to recruit a wide array of different soldiers from different nations across different time periods. Like other real-time strategy games, Rise of Nations uses a rock-paper-scissors unit balance system--for instance, cavalry are devastating against some archer units, while pikemen can make short work of cavalry. Rise of Nations' combat is fast-paced, though it also features interesting tactical considerations, such as flanking and rear attacks, as well as special abilities that your general units can use to provide extra defense for your troops, cause your troops to move on a forced march, or even hide your army briefly to set up an ambush. Cities are also crucial to warfare in Rise of Nations, since successfully attacking a city doesn't destroy it, but instead captures it for your own use. As such, battles over cities are crucial and potentially very rewarding, and they also make the stakes a lot higher in multiplayer battles, which, despite the game's epic historical scale, can often be completed in less than an hour.
Thanks to its turn-based roots, Rise of Nations has other interesting features that aren't common to real-time strategy games, but these features allow the already varied game to offer you even more options. For instance, you can build wonders of the world (just like you could in Civilization), and these powerful monuments can provide bonuses to your troops as they stride into battle in real time. In addition, Rise of Nations doesn't have any troop transports, so you don't have to micromanage your troops as they march individually onto a boat. 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. And as you'd expect from a game designed by Civilization II's cocreator, Rise of Nations offers multiple victory conditions to suit a variety of different play styles. 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.