When I was younger, I’d spend a lot of time hanging out at a particular friend’s house. Said friend introduced me to LAN play – and the game he introduced me to it with was Age of Mythology. It was the first time I’d ever played a game like it – and I was hooked on it something fierce. That all changed, however, when I went over one day and he said, “No, we’re not playing that. We’re playing something better.”
That something better… was Rise of Nations.
I couldn’t believe it. It was like Age of Mythology, but way more fun. There were more Wonders, there were more nations, there were more resources, there was more everything! I had to get it for myself soon after. I spent many nights playing solo games against the computer, taking over the world one city at a time and having a ball doing it.
Years pass. Newer versions of Windows aren’t quite as friendly to Rise of Nations. I’d be lucky if the game didn’t crash right as I was reaching for victory. I never got to experience online play, either, not that I was much of an online gamer anyway. I was beginning to fear that my time with Rise of Nations had finally come to an end, and I stopped playing it.
But then, I find something! A glimmer of hope! Rise of Nations… was on Steam! It was the easiest Steam purchase I had ever made in my entire life. Soon I was back in the swing of things, fighting enemy nations, building massive armies, and making the commerce cap cry out in pain with how quickly I reached it. Never before had I been so excited with an online purchase.
So, what exactly is Rise of Nations, you ask?
Yep! It’s an RTS game from the early 2000’s. The idea is that you take control of a nation, just starting out in the stone age, and through the ages, turn it into an economic and military powerhouse in your goal to take over the world. It’s a pretty basic setup, similar to the classic game Civilization. But of course, this is all in real time, instead of turn-based.
Unlike Age of Mythology which had villagers gather resources by, well, going out, finding them, and bringing them back to a shack or something, Rise of Nations employs a simple economy-based resource system. Every farm, every woodcutter’s camp, every building that acts as a spot for your citizens to gather from instead adds to your nation’s income rate. The higher your income rate, the faster you accumulate resources – however, there’s also an economic cap on your gather rate depending on how far you’ve advanced, so you can’t just build a few dozen farms and start rollin’ in the food right away.
As you advance through the ages, you also start gathering additional resources. You start off with Food, Wood, and Wealth, which are simple enough to build up. The very next age introduces Metal you mine from mountains, and Knowledge you build up from Universities. Finally, the Industrial Age introduces Oil, which can be found in only a certain number of spots all over the map – getting to the Industrial Age and staking your claims on Oil as fast as possible could be critical to success.
An important factor in your nation’s growth, however, is their special power. Each nation has a unique ability (and even unique military unit) to give them an edge in one way or another. The Spanish, for example, have the Power of Discovery, which lets ’em start out with a fully-revealed map and an extra Scout. The Americans have the Power of Innovation, which makes their Knowledge gathering easier. There’s a number of benefits for each power, be it economical, explorative, or militial, (What, those last two aren’t words? They should be…) so picking a nation that suits your playstyle is important.
Every nation starts out with a Small City, a Library, some Farms, a Woodcutter’s Camp, and a Scout. It is from these humble beginnings that your nation must rise (hey, I geddit). The Library is where you’ll need to go to study each of the age’s advancement technologies, which come in four flavours – Military, Civic, Economic, and Scientific. Each one provides generic benefits – advancing in Military increases your population cap, for example – along with specific ones, like certain buildings or upgrades. You need at least two technologies from a certain Age to advance to the next one, though advancing another Age takes longer and is more expensive. You can also only advance as many technologies as you have Libraries, so building another one in each new City is a necessity.
Just as well, whenever you advance another Age, it’s announced to every other player in the game. Advancing quickly can let you get a lot of upgrades before other players – but it can also leave you strapped for resources and military might, making you vulnerable to another player who may be behind in technology, but has enough reserves to throw at you.
There’s a number of buildings of different types. There’s buildings that increase the gather rate of your resources, there’s military buildings where you create soldiers and weapons, and of course, the Wonders.
Wonders are massive buildings that take a lot of resources, a lot of manpower, and a lot of time to build – and only one of each can ever be built in a game. But with these restrictions come massive benefits to building them – the Terra Cotta Army, for example, constantly generates a new minor military unit every so often, letting you build up a sizeable army without needing to really think about it. The Statue of Liberty neutralizes attrition damage suffered by your troops in enemy territory, meaning you don’t have to worry about including Supply Wagons quite as badly.
Multiple nations can start the same Wonder at the same time, but only one of them can finish it – and if it’s destroyed, that’s it, it’s gone for good for the rest of the game. Building a Wonder means you have to spend a lot of effort to protect and maintain it as well, which can cost just as much – or even more – than building it in the first place.
There’s also a diplomatic option in the game, of course. Trades, communications, treaties, and even full-blown alliances are all possible. Signing into a full alliance means you have open trade routes with your ally – increasing Wealth for you both – and your combined efforts count towards ending the game.
But of course, you can also declare war on your opponents. There’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors thing with the units, where some do better against others, and, of course, the aforementioned attrition damage. Troops in enemy territory are continuously sapped of their health unless there’s a Supply Wagon nearby. This means you do have to somewhat plan your incursions into enemy territory, and warfare does slightly favour the defender – especially since there’s a time limit ascribed to capturing Cities and Capitols.
When a player has their Capitol captured, they’re given a small amount of time to recapture it. It is only once they fail that they are knocked out of the game (and having your Capitol fully captured means all other Cities immediately switch allegiance – you’re dead, for all intents and purposes).
Capturing Cities and Capitols means pulling out the big guns, and what bigger guns are there than bombing raids and eventually missiles? Sufficient research into missile projects will eventually reward you with nukes – anybody who starts even researching nuclear missiles sets off a game-wide warning that they’re soon going to be capable of it.
Nuclear missiles are a big deal in the game, and rightly so – as in real life, they are incredibly powerful and their use comes with a massive number of penalties. They are costly, first and foremost, and launching one puts you in an embargo – you can’t trade with other nations for a while. It also starts the Armageddon Countdown – each nuke launched decreases it by one. Once it hits zero, everyone loses. There’s no winner in total destruction from nuclear war.
There are, however, a number of other ways to win. You can simply be the last nation standing, you can control a certain percentage of the map, you can accrue a certain number of Wonder Points higher than the next-highest player, or you can even set up a game where the goal is to reach a certain Age or economic level. The game is fairly customizable and even directly supports mods to add things like new rules or even extra nations.
The graphics are fairly pleasing for an older game. Buildings and units are well-detailed and animated, and different nations have different looks to them – Japanese buildings and units will look different from American ones, for example, even if the differences are very slight. It’s pretty cool.
The soundtrack is also pretty stellar. Music responds to the status of the game – peaceful when there’s not much war going on, triumphant when you are winning, sombre when you’re losing. They’re all pretty catchy little tunes that I’ve even found myself listening to outside of the game, so that certainly says something.
All in all, I love Rise of Nations. This was one of the happiest Steam purchases I’ve ever made, as it’s allowed me to relive some fond memories of childhood. I’m sure it has its flaws and I’m sure I’m not “doing it right” but I don’t care.
I’m having fun.