Gameplay

It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.
When you go to set up your first game of Rise of Nations you are presented with a whole slew of options and settings where you can define the basic options, teams, gametype, map type and size, game speed and game rules. Beyond that you can set what you start with, the resources, technology settings, the starting map state, pop cap, and many others which I will go into more detail with later. From just looking at the pregame settings it's obvious that RoN can accommodate almost any playing style.

After you finish configuring your settings and fire up a game, you will start with some civilians, and depending on your settings, a small town. For this article

I will assume we're starting with a small town (because that's how I've been playing) and it also doesn't affect the gameplay as you get farther into the game. So, you have a small city, a library, a woodcutters camp, some farms, and some civilians, some of whom are cutting wood or farming, and some of whom are standing around waiting for your orders. From here you can let your megalomaniacal fantasies run wild.

Your first four buildings are imperative four your success. Your city is where you can create civilians. Civilians build all your buildings, and can collect all of the primary resources on the map: food, timber, and metal. The library is where you do most of the research. There are five main types of research which will be discussed in the technologies section of this article. Farms and woodcutter camps are both self-explanatory and will be described in the resources section.

This article is broken up into four sections, economy, technologies, diplomacy, and warfare. It is meant to give an overview of the aspects of a basic game of Rise of Nations.

Economy

"It's the economy, stupid."

The economy is the backbone of any Nation. It supports any endeavors they take on whether they be military, educational, religious, or anything else. Nations with strong economies in general are successful in whatever endeavor they take on, and nations with weak economies are usually less successful; a failing economy often foreshadows the decline of a nation. These things are true in Rise of Nations as well.

There is one option in the game setup screen that can dramatically effect how a game is played; it is the turbo resources option. Those familiar with AoK:TC may recognize this option as RM Turbo; it speeds up resource gathering to let you focus on other aspects of the game.

Resource Gathering

As mentioned before, your civilians do the bulk of resource gathering for your nation. Food is your primary resource; it is required to make civilians which in turn collect many of your other resources. Like in many other games, food can be either farmed or fished with fishermen which you can build at the dock. Timber is probably the second most important resource; it is used primarily to build buildings.
Metal is another of your primary resources. It is used to create military units such as the Javilineer and Phalanx, and the military technologies. Wealth, which is accumulated mainly by caravans between your cities, is used among other things for military unit upgrades, and researching civic technologies at the library. Knowledge is a key resource in Rise of Nations; it is used to research all of your techs at the library. It is accumulated by scholars studying at a university. The last non-unique resource is oil which can be gathered in one of two ways. You can either place an oil well on an oil deposit, or an oil platform placed in the water where there is oil. Oil is not used until later in the game, and is used for tanks and other mechanized units.

Wealth; a special case

Wealth is the one primary resource that I feel needs some special attention. It is unlike any other resource in Rise of Nations, or almost any other game for that matter. It is acquired by having trade routes between your cities. To gather wealth you must have at least two cities and have a caravan establish a trade route between them. This makes for some interesting gameplay because the only way to increase your wealth revenue is to expand; something that defensive players like me do not often do

Unique Resources

Unique resources in Rise of Nations are not required for producing anything, and thus do not hold you back if you don't have them, but they give you bonuses if you gather them. RoN has a range of unique resources including sulfur, aluminum, silk, whales, uranium and many others. Unique resources can affect almost any aspect of the game. They can make specific units build faster or have more powerful attack. They may also speed up resource gathering, or decrease research costs. For more information on unique resources click here.

Technology

"Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal."

The key to a Nation's success is the technological advances it makes. Similarly, in Rise of Nations in order to prosper you must research different technologies.

Technologies are broken up into several groups: first, the techs that are researched at the library. These fall into five categories: age advances, military, civic, commerce and science research. Any given tech at the library has its own direct effects such as expanding national borders, making new units available, or raising your population limit. There are also improvements you can research that are not at the library. For example, all of the individual unit upgrades are researched at the production building and specific bonuses that increase gather rates can be found at their appropriate buildings


Diplomacy

Quit nuking me!

A nation cannot survive without diplomacy; or it at least cannot be liked without diplomacy. This is conveyed in Rise of Nations with three basic actions and concepts: alliances, peace, and war. Like in many other strategy games you are able to make alliances with other players. However, in Rise of Nations you can promote an alliance by either sending tribute, or demanding resources. Unlike other games, before you attack someone you must first declare war on them. This costs resources, and can discourage early rushes, but does not prevent them entirely. The last major diplomatic feature of Rise of Nations is peace. After you are finished fighting with someone you can make peace with them. Tributes and demands also come into play here. For example if you are attacking someone they could propose peace, and you could demand resources in order to agree to this peace. This intricate diplomatic system adds an interesting twist to any game and is sure to give any RTS player something new.

War

"Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!"
One of the major aspects of Rise of Nations is war. You may notice however that it is not the single most important aspect of the game by the fact that it is only a small section at the end of the article. This does not mean that war is underplayed, or not as good as it is in other games. Some of the neatest features of Rise of Nations are in war.

In the Ancient Age you are able to build four basic military units at the barracks: slingers, hoplites, bowmen, and scouts. One feature in RoN that is different from most other games is that foot infantry come out in strings of three, making it much easier to build up large armies quickly.

Conclusion

Rise of Nations represents the next era of strategy games. A variety of game types and options can accommodate almost any playing style whether it be the defensive player who wants to boom, or those who want a faster paced, less predictable game. Big Huge Games' goal of being able to play through all the ages in an hour was accomplished without sacrificing any complexity or fun. However, it is also possible to play longer, slower paced games. RoN incorporates many new features such as unique resources and advanced diplomacy options, but does not force you to micromanage any aspect of the game if you do not wish to.

The final word

Rise of Nations packs lots of new features that will entrance seasoned strategy gamers, as well as those newer to the sport while still maintaining that strategy charm that previous games have shown. Rise of Nations is sure to bring hours of fun massing armies, sacking cities, or enjoying the art of diplomacy.