Gaming, Reviews

Review: Rise of Nations Extended Edition

When it comes to gaming, a lot of my joy comes from nostalgia and rediscovering gems from my youth. Rise of Nations ticks all the boxes there so discovering Microsoft (in a rare display of doing something good in the gaming sphere) was planning to re-issue the revered strategy game in a remastered format I was jumping at the bit to experience the game again!

Thebes falls to the mighty Bantu impi.

For the uninitiated, Rise of Nations is a real-time strategy game that pits the player as the omnipotent deity that is guiding a fledgling civilization through history, from the Ancient Age to the Information Age with the tasks of building cities, setting up industry, conducting research and building armies to wage war against neighbouring states. Released originally in 2003, the game combined gameplay elements from Civilization, Age of Empires and Risk to form a truly compelling strategy experience. Indeed, the Civilization cues are by no co-incidence given that Rise of Nations’ lead designer was Brian Reynolds, who designed the legendary Civilization II in 1994.

What made Rise of Nations special was it’s ingenious use of turn-based 4X strategy tropes in the real-time plane. There is still a tech tree to climb and epochs to advance to, but this is heavily simplified as to not detract too much from the faster-paced gameplay and add an appropriately-linear progression. The standard RTS “base” was decentralised around city centres the player could build around the map and construct resource-gathering buildings around; these cities also formed the main part of the conquest victory condition. World Wonders, of which only one can be constructed per city, bring unique and powerful benefits to their owners, and Civ-style Wonder races remain as common and infuriating as they are in Civ! Cities also brought the notion of national borders into real-time strategy, opening up an additional facet to tactics, claiming resources and winning the game.

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A Love Letter to Civilization

I thought it might be fun to talk about some of the things that have influenced and had a big impact on me as I grew up. Figured a bit of background might be good for you guys?

Anyway, a big part of my childhood was computer games; today, I like little else better than sitting down and re-discovering the games I grew up with and experiencing them again. I’m a nostalgic at heart, but I do enjoy a few more modern games also.

Computer games for me… well, it’s hard to explain. I experienced a lot of thoughtful, imaginative and compelling games as a kid and they kinda stuck. At any rate, I’ve seen too many treasured franchises fall off the cliff and thus experiencing the good old days is still fun.

I digress; today, I want to talk about Civilization. But not just any game in the Civilization series, but the one it all started with, for me: Civilization II.

Civ II

First of all, the entire premise of Civ is something that really appeals to me. A turn-based strategy that encompasses all of human history? A game that allows you to literally play with history, putting Roman tanks up against, say, Chinese spearmen? Count me in!

I’ve played Civ 4 and Civ 5; they’re both excellent games. Civ 4 I feel I never played enough, due to not really having a system powerful enough for it, and it’s something I truly regret. Civ 5 is an absolutely stunning game in its own right, but it has made interesting changes to the Civ style.

Civ 3 kinda got missed along the way, but I do have it on Steam, cheap, and intend to play it!

Civ 2 appeals to me even in the face of its more recent brethren for a few reasons:

  • Civ plays like a giant board game; Civ 2 really does both look and act the part. You know you’re playing a game, but you know everything is representing something far more complicated. It works
  • Design-wise, Civ II today still looks pretty decent for an isometric representative strategy. You don’t play the game for its looks; you play it for its simulation underneath.
    • The attention to detail in Civ II is quite spellbinding. The soundtrack, even though just a bunch of midi compositions, is enthralling and totally suits the game no matter what era you play it in. I can lose myself reading the real historical backgrounds in the Civlopedia itself, let alone in game.
    • No other Civ game has quite entertained me as much as the Civ II high council/throne room segments have.
  • I used to play Civ II on a P-200 with 32Mb RAM and a 14” CRT; now I can play it on an i5 with 16Gb RAM and a 23” HD display. It has always been very accessible; you can just click the game and be re-immersed in your own little pseudo-history. It runs in a window with conventional Windows controls, so it’s easy to play it on the side while you do work, or chat etc.
    • Downside here is that Civ II, being so old, is getting harder and harder to run on modern systems. The community is really committed to keeping Civ II alive; moreso probably than the original Civ game.

So that is that. Civ has really impacted me and, I daresay, ignited a fascination with history that continues to this day. To close, I’ve only two words for Sid Meier, the designer of this wonderful game: thank you.