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Tanks For The Memories

So back during the annual sale-that-shall-not-be-named, I picked up Rise of Nations: Extended Edition for a song.  I had the original back in its heyday about a decade ago, and enjoyed the hell out of it then.  Being a mediocre-at-best RTS player notwithstanding, there are plenty of game modes to choose from, either along historical conquer-the-world scenarios, or going head-to-head with friends or others online through its revamped, easier multiplayer interface.



Yep, Twitch Integration, too.

The major appeal of the game for me was its research tree that sits somewhere between Age of Empires and Empire Earth as far as its complexity; You can’t quite get to the point of attacking early epoch cavemen with nuclear-powered mechs, but the focus on the formulaic tradeoff between growth and military units is pretty well detailed. OCD gamers are right at home with the 8-age path, each with 4 upgrade tracks divided into military, civics, commerce and science, each of which has its own prerequisites and requirements.  The ‘Learn to Play’ function will get you started on how the major mechanics work, but you have to play a few times to get a feel for what your build order should be for an efficient balance between building and unit investment vs research.

There are plenty of cues and alarms by default to let you know when you’ve hit a resource cap or are under under attack somewhere, but make good use of the ‘idle citizen’ button on the bottom of the battle interface.  Unlike in AoE II, citizen workers in RoN will largely look for work themselves at nearby woodcutter camps, mines or other buildings after a few seconds. There are times, however, such as building defense towers or keeps far enough away from cities where they will just sit and wait for your direction, and since you have a maximum population based on the number of cities you control, your troop levels can get capped quickly.  Therefore, you always have to maintain a balance of economy vs military units, else you risk resource inefficiency or simply not being able to mass enough troops.

It’s an ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ RTS overall, with a reasonable number of units, resources and buildings, good scale-up of difficulty and a gross largess of upgrading things.



Under The Hood

Originally developed by Big Huge Games (if you recall 38 Studios’ asset sale last year), the new version was redone by SkyBox Labs, who also recently rejiggered Age of Mythology and Age of Empires II into once-again usable bits for your Windows 8 death machine.

The game still sports the same marriage between Age of Empires’ tech-progressive ground battles and Risk-esque overworld campaign maps, but now with improved resolutions up to and including full HD, full-screen anti-aliasing and support for modern graphics card acceleration through DirectX 10+.  The old wealth of game and system options are there, though now you can get V-Sync to actually work (a recent patch introduced in late June corrected some users’ crashing issues).


Reflective water is worth any price

The Extended Edition comes with its former expansion Thrones and Patriots baked in, which added some extra nations, campaigns, choosing paths of despotism vs democracy, and building Wonders, among other details.  You’ll be happy to see now-standard issue cloud-based saves, achievements, trading cards and Steamworks support, though the latter has yet to be implemented as of this writing.  Hopefully there’ll be enough community interest to add some additional campaigns, possibly some new tech or future tech trees? (Rise of Planets, calling it now).

Pretty Much The Same

Though the details have been enhanced so you don’t need any aftermarket customization to make the game look and feel nice, gameplay and poly count still remain in those early years of the Bush 43 administration, probably still listening to Eiffel 65.  However, we’re talking about an RTS title, so flash isn’t nearly as critical as balance and tactics are concerned.  As someone who was regularly stomped by the likes of Starcraft II on any but the easier modes, the ‘moderate’ difficulty was enough for me to contend with a decent level of pushback, though more often I’d run out of time on a map due to significant resistance after building up forces, rather than being overrun by early low-level units.

Bright colors and exhaustive labeling on the overworld maps of campaigns look great in HD, though you’re not going to see animated headshots, voice acting, or as much polish as a Starcraft II; the game still looks and feels very much as it did back in 2003, and there aren’t any overt GUI enhancements such as you see in newer titles like AoE III or Age of Wonders.


Maybe a little “We Are The Champions” would have been nice

Upgrade (not) Complete

If you’re a fan of the genre or the original game, you may still pause at the default $20 price tag even for the silver linings of the Extended Edition, but having all the modern Steam-y benefits around this solid classic are still worth it.  Not like Steam or Humble sales don’t happen fairly regularly.  But the REAL potential may be in community-created campaigns or total conversions via Steamworks, which as of this writing has yet to be implemented.  Moreover, there were a lot of improvements in Rise of Legends (a spinoff of the series), which may also see a future rerelease, but aren’t included or otherwise shoehorned in RoN (though that may not be realistic as RoL was a standalone title itself).

I’ve never been enough of a sim fan to truly enjoy the far more complex territory and political structures you typically find in a Panzer General or Galactic Civilizations, but I played a LOT of Risk in my youth, and the simpler campaign world map (complete with cards and deployed armies) is simple, but engaging enough to choose from at least a few different objectives and paths each turn.  If you enjoy a more ‘middle-management’ RTS, then Rise of Nations, Extended Edition is your ticket.