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Rise of Nations
Posted: 5/6/03 by Sean | Comments (17)

Rise of Nations is a Brian Reynolds game. It’s trying, like Empire Earth before it, to expand the RTS genre out into Civilization territory.

The main problem with Empire Earth, of course, was that it sucked. In fact, and forgive me for going off on a tangent, there’s a lesson in there for all game designers: if you’re going to include robots, make them bad-ass like in Metal Fatigue, not pansies like in Empire Earth. Brian Reynolds has learned from this, because there aren’t any robots in Rise of Nations.

Actually I quite liked Empire Earth. But the Big Three—Warcraft III, Age of Mythology, and C&C Generals—have all been released since then, raising the barrier for new, non-franchised RTS games. Even though Rise of Nations is attempting something much broader than any of them, spanning the whole of human history in eight ages and eighteen nations while adding some genuinely Civilization-style features, they’re still its main competition.

The two biggest differences between Rise of Nations and the rest are borders and resource gathering. They’re described here instead of in the gameplay section because they’re essential to understanding the game.

Let’s start with borders. No longer is what you own defined by what you can see or what you can hit. Instead, everyone has explicit borders and territory. You can’t necessarily see everything in your territory, and you can’t build in other people’s territory. Units and buildings that end up in someone else’s territory suffer attrition damage. This slowly erodes the hit points of said unit or building until the borders change, it moves, or it dies. If you’re at peace with the person whose territory you’re ‘invading,’ the damage is that bit worse.

So how do the borders move? Good question. You can extend your borders with cities or fortresses (but you can’t build too close to either another city or another fortress), Civics advances, temple upgrades, and wonders. Even when you’re not actually at war with someone you’ll be constantly looking for ways to expand your borders, especially on water maps (borders don’t apply at sea) where you’ll be just pushing to get that tiny foothold on another island so you can harass them safely.

Resources are also changed significantly, and again, it’s to make life easier. Much has been made of the lack of micromanagement, but when you get down to it, there are three main differences:

  1. No resource sites run out.
  2. You can only have a set number of farms in a city, a set number of people at work in a mine or a lumber camp, and a set number of oil platforms.
  3. Your resources increase constantly; adding another villager to a mine just boosts your gather rate for metal. Your rate cannot exceed the commerce cap for that resource, and the game lets you know if you’re being resource-inefficient.

All of this means that resources are limited in the short term, but increased in the long term. Also, you can only get to work on resources other than food and timber once you’ve got the research, which costs—you guessed it—more resources.

I’ve missed out the two ‘special’ resources here, and they are wealth and knowledge.

You get wealth mainly through trade, in the form of caravans. But caravans can only travel from one city to another, and only one caravan can run each trade route. So if you want more money, build more cities to create more trade routes. Only you can’t do that without researching Civics, and you can’t build past your ‘Caravan limit’ without researching Commerce. So it’s not just a case of spamming caravans anymore.

Knowledge is gained from universities, which like most buildings are on to a city, and scholars. Each university can have up to seven scholars, and you need a lot of knowledge for research, unless you really do want to just sit there and wait for the end to come.

And finally, there are rare resources. These are like relics from Age of Mythology, giving a boost to your gather rate on a selection of resources and also conferring other bonuses on you. You can only benefit from the ones in your territory, and to do that you have to build a merchant and send them to the resource. Relics are in this game as well actually, as events on the maps that you have to get a unit to walk through for a one-off resource present.

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