Rise of Nations was a 2003 real-time strategy game by Big Huge Games for the PC. When Rise of Nations was new, I played the demo. It never jumped out at me. I pretty much had played a new real-time strategy game every year, and was starting to get tired of the formula. Rise of Nations felt like an updated version of Age of Empires II. Instead of just covering the medieval ages, it now covered all ages of civilization from Ancient times all the way to the current Information Age. While I had fun with the demo, it just wasn’t enough for me to want to buy the game. Several years passed and I was introduced in playing the full game. The problem was the game could not be found in stores anymore, and Microsoft had not released it online. Finally, it was released as a digital download last year.
Because it spanned human history, Rise of Nations felt very much like a Civilization game transformed to be real-time instead of turn-based. Like Civilization, the player researched technology, which unlocked new units and buildings. Additionally, there were peaceful victories available. The player didn’t always have to destroy all enemies to win. They could outplay them diplomatically or economically to win. War was many times useful, but the player didn’t have to totally annihilate everyone else. They could take a city and then broker a peace treaty. I always like a game that allows for peace, though war was still the selling point of Rise of Nations like most games.
The graphics of the game were somewhat outdated for the time. They were in a 2.5D style. This is where some of the graphics are 3D but others are just 2D. The static elements like buildings were 2D, while units that could move around were 3D. I remember the game had pretty high system requirements when it originally came out. My computer could only play it on low graphic settings. Generally, if a game looks mostly 2D as Rise of Nations did, it should have pretty low requirements. My newer computer had no problem at all, however. The sound effects and music I found to be just okay to me. They worked, but I never found them to be high quality.
Unlike most real-time strategy games, the game did not have a story-based campaign. Instead, the player picked a nation and played to conquer the world. This was pretty unique but also somewhat weak. The world was split into territories. Each territory could be conquered by moving an army piece to it and playing a mission to capture it. So there were two sides to the game in this mode: the world map with territories and army tokens, and the battle map where battles between armies played out.
I initially had a lot of fun with this mode, but ultimately it became repetitive. There were only around 5 unique objectives, one of which was assigned to each territory. After conquering around 20 territories, I had already experienced all the gameplay possibilities. I grew bored of the campaign mode. I did push through to finish conquering the world, but I never played the campaign again.
The skirmish mode was luckily very good. I always love a good skirmish in these types of games. Too much of the same old thing gets boring. In the skirmish mode I could change many different things about the game, especially the map type, to keep things interesting. The maps were cool because they were randomly generated. Every time I played it would be a little different. Still, even the skirmish mode couldn’t interest me enough to ignore my dislike of real-time games these days. I have gotten old enough that I just prefer more time to make decisions now.
The digital download version of the game came with the Thrones & Patriots expansion. The primary thing it added was the Senate building. This building allowed the player to choose a form of government at certain points of the game. The form of government also gave the player a free Leader unit. It was the same as the General unit (bonuses to nearby military units), but had special bonuses depending on the form of government chosen. The expansion also added new nations to play as and new campaign modes.
I was somewhat sad to uninstall this game because I think it was very high quality. It just wasn’t my type of game though. Had I played it back when it was new, my opinion would have been different. I think it could easily compete with other popular real-time strategy games of that time like Warcraft III, Age of Mythology, and Dawn of War. I just like different games now. I liked the experiences I had with Rise of Nations enough compared to the low price I paid for it. I plan to buy other games I’ve missed over the years now that they are pretty cheap. With the ability to purchase games for download, it is now possible to try out many old games without breaking the bank. This is one of the many things I like about these modern times.