Rise of Nations Review

Rise of Nations (RoN) is a real-time strategy game in the mold of the Age of Empires games.  Rather than focusing on one particular era of history though, RoN lets you lead your civilization from the dawn of its history through the modern era. Such a broad scope has been attempted before in the game Empire Earth, but RoN has actually found a way to pull it off and the result is a great real-time strategy game that should not be missed by anyone with an interest in the genre.

Screenshots
The siege is on.

There are a lot of elements in the game that will be familiar to you if you've played the Age of Empires games.  You create a workforce of peasants from your home city and send them off to collect wood, food, gold, and stone from the local countryside.  If you're an RTS player then you've done this a thousand times before, right?  But you'll soon see one of RoN's many tweaks to standard RTS gameplay - resources do not disappear as they are consumed.  You no longer need to constantly reseed farms or track down peasants wandering the map in search of trees.  Instead, the size of the resource field, be it a grove of trees or a mountain for mining, determines the number of peasants that can work it and your technology level determines how efficiently they work.  This puts a bit of the strategy back into real-time strategy, as the speed at which you can click on peasants and send them to resource sites all over the map is no longer as important as it was with games in the past.

Another feature in RoN that is new to RTS games is the addition of national borders.  Each faction's territory is defined by borders which are influenced by a number of factors.  Cities and defensive structures help extend the borders, but so do cultural structures such as temples and a civilization's tech level.  The borders affect the game in that you can only build structures within your borders, so the technique of placing a barracks in a not too observant enemy's backyard will no longer work.  This also eliminates rushing as an effective tactic - by the time a rush attack reaches the enemy's city it will be weakened to the point where it can be easily dispatched by peasants garrisoning a city.  The effects of attrition can be countered by building supply units, so to win at RoN you'll need to build a well-balanced invasion force with a secure supply line.

The game also has an interesting research model.  There are four basic areas in which you can concentrate your general research: military, civic, commerce, and science.  As you reach higher levels in each of the areas, different technologies become available for research at your structures.  This method gives you an extra degree of freedom in choosing your strategy and tailoring your civilization to match your style of play by letting you emphasize a particular research path.  Concentrate on civic advancement and you'll be able to expand faster with more cities and far-reaching borders.  Emphasize commerce and you will be able to build a bigger economy faster.

There are many other nice touches to the game, such as bonus-generating wonders, the ability of units to cross rivers automatically without the need for transports, and generals that provide movement and attack bonuses to their troops.  You'll constantly notice the big and little new things as you play, and they are just about entirely for the better.  RoN has all the marks of a well thought out and designed game and it really shows.