Rise of Nations: Extended Edition Review: Extended Play

I am not much of a RTS player, despite enjoying them. The whole hardcore "APM/Pro/Micro'ing" style of play and the MOBA offshoots really do not appeal to me. There are a couple of RTS games that I really enjoy, though. At the top of the list is Company of Heroes, but a close second is Rise of Nations. Rise of Nations came out a long time ago, though, so finding a copy used to be tricky. I say "used to be" because a while back the game was re-released on Steam as Rise of Nations: Extended Edition.

Rise of Nations: Extended Edition takes the core game plus the Thrones and Patriots expansion and adds some more "modern" touches to it. For instance, there's built-in Twitch streaming. It also runs at modern resolutions, although the graphics are still 10 years old at this point. There's not much change to the gameplay, which is good, seeing as gameplay-wise Rise of Nations was ahead of its time.

Oh, man, the soundtrack! The first time I loaded Rise of Nations up after having not played it in over a decade, and the music gave me chills. I've apparently dedicated some small chunk of my brain to remembering the music in this game, and it's still really good.

Age of Civilization

If you've never played Rise of Nations before, it's functionally very similar to Age of Empires, but crossed with Civilization.

Like Age of Empires, Rise of Nations is a real-time strategy game that focuses on resource gathering and army-to-army combat. You start out building peon-type citizen units, who build structures and harvest resources. When you've accumulated enough of these resources, you can purchase tech upgrades and form armies. These armies then clash for control of territory and resources.

Like Civilization, your territory is divided into a number of cities, and each city has certain attributes and limitations. A city may only have 5 farms, for example, but you can build a granary that boosts food production. Caravans create trade routes between friendly cities, boosting your gold income. There's also a concept of territory, with each nation having borders that expand as certain buildings and techs are introduced. There are government styles to choose from, and each has its unique benefits.

This pedigree isn't all that surprising, considering this game is from Big Huge Games, and founder Brian Reynolds was a veteran of Microprose and a founding member of Firaxis, where he helped design some of the most beloved entries in the Civilization series. He was also creative director for one of the Age of Empires 3 expansion packs.

Rise of Nations takes these real-time and turn-based strategy elements and blends them together in interesting ways. Units in enemy territory can take attrition damage, which keeps an enemy army from easily hiding in your territory or wandering past your border cities to strike directly at your capital. You can only get so much value out of a single city, but building more requires you to increase your civic research level. The game is packed with interesting choices and trade-offs, and seems well balanced towards longer games rather than favoring a highly-optimized rush strategy.

Unlike many RTS games, the focus in Rise of Nations is on all of human history, from people throwing rocks at one another all the way up to modern stealth bombers and cruise missiles. Despite this wide focus, the game flows well from era to era, and each phase of the game feels meaty.

Rise of Nations is also unbelievably polished. There are shortcut ways to do almost everything, like hotkeys that select often-used buildings like the library. You can set up an infinite build queue at any unit producing building, which can replenish an army that is engaged in active combat in the field. Everything in the UI is streamlined towards long play sessions.

There's also a ton of replay value. Although there are myriad options for setting up games, there are also a set of 5 world conquering scenarios that take hours to play through and can be replayed endlessly. These scenarios add a tactical combat meta-game that has impacts on all the isolated skirmishes the mode generates.

The Extended Edition also adds achievements to the mix. Mostly these are pretty enjoyable rewards for completing scenarios and winning battles. However, there are a few that only the most dedicated players can hope to accomplish - things like building 1 million land units, for example.