It seems as though it were only yesterday that we first crushed that first civilisation with superior military might, but Rise of Nations is now approaching its 10th birthday. It is easy to look at this title and wonder where all the time went. They certainly do grow up so fast! It is the brilliant game design and careful management of macro and micro elements that make RoN a Forgotten Gem.
Developed by the well-named Big Huge Games, this Real-Time Strategy masterclass allows gamers to play through the posttraumatic stress inducing horrors of war from the comfort of their bedrooms. The game boasts depth, realistic elements and is very well balanced, so it’s a perfect venture for the online RPG connoisseur.
There are 8 ages of world history to level up through, from the simple days of spear throwing to the full blown nuclear war of modern times. For each stage, recourses must be acquired such as wood, oil and knowledge–just like real life! Each stage brings new weapons and opportunities, so the faster you level up the better chance your nation has of surviving–just like real life!
The warfare element to the gameplay is obviously a crucial part. War takes planning and tactical intelligence; you can’t just create a big army and expect to walk into your enemies base like you own the place. Wars are long and hard–just like real life–you can even go down the attrition warfare route if your enemy is too powerful to shoot to bits.
This game makes you think (deeply) about broad questions regarding the development of the planet and the way in which countries interact. Ok, I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of the developers, but you can think about these things, if you want. A good example of this is: if you are able to level up your nation, gaining better technology than your opponent, it is easy to crush them with your superior instruments of death. If you level up to the ability to produce planes, and your opponent doesn’t even know planes exists yet, it’s pretty easy to guess who going to win that battle.
This idea reminds me of many battles and wars throughout history like the Battle of Isandlwana (y’know the one from that film Zulu) in which the British have guns and canons and the locals have spears. The British still lost, but you get the point. Or the Vietnam war (I know, we lost a lot of good men) in which the US with a far greater military just tore up the locals, who didn’t hadn’t even heard of Agent Orange until it was dropped on their heads. The US still lost, but you get the point.
Basically knowledge is power, in war and in peace, so stay in school kids!
The only full release Big Huge Games have had the pleasure of working on since the Rise of Nations series is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning a generic fantasy (that sort of ‘fantasy’ that always has wizards and goblins and that sort of thing) RPG for PC and consoles that can’t avoid the fact that it has been watered down for the mainstream markets. They also did Catan for Xbox Live Arcade, a decent game which also failed to cause much of a splash.
RoN was big hit with the critics, gaining much praise and winning many awards. It did well enough to be granted an expansion pack in the form of Thrones and Patriots, adding new nations, wonders, campaigns and a government feature. A full sequel hit the shelves 3 years later; Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, a twist on the original which took place in an alternate fantasy world (Not the sort of ‘fantasy’ with wizards but an actual fantasy in which magic and technology are both pretty popular. This sort of fantasy take some imagination and not just the ability to watch the first hour of Lord of the Rings on DVD). Despite popularity among the critics RoN:RoL (abbreviations are fun) failed in the sale department, and is perhaps the reason there is no sign of a new RoN on even the most distant of horizons.