Ancient Wars: Sparta Final Hands-on

World Forge's real-time strategy game is nearing completion, and we take a look at how it's shaping up ahead of its April release.

Initially set for a fourth-quarter 2006 release, Ancient Wars: Sparta was pushed back to April 2007 to give Russian developer World Forge more time to polish the code. When we first saw the game back in September 2006, it showed some promise. Recently, we dove straight into the game when given the chance to revisit it.

Each mission is nicely set up with a backstory as an introduction.

The game is set in ancient Greece and the surrounding area and features three factions: Spartans, Persians, and Egyptians. Each faction has its own unique story campaign, which builds in size and complexity as you go. Some missions require you to complete them with the units you're given at the beginning of the game, but most missions require you to act in the more traditional resource-building fashion, giving you a base from which to develop and build your forces.

Right off the bat, the game feels a lot like the classic RTS game Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, but with a significant graphical overhaul. It's the kind of game that encourages you to build up your stash of supplies and take on the various challenges around the map piecemeal, gradually increasing your army's strength and taking over vital resources as you go. In general, the missions task you with either locating key heroes or destroying opposing armies and bases, while the story for each faction unfolds in cutscenes along the way.

The Spartan campaign is based on the imminent Persian invasion of Greece and the disagreements that the various Greek factions have about whether to resist or not. The Spartan king, Leonidas, is keen to move quickly to Thermopylae, a defensible position at which it would be possible to hold the Persian army off for some time. But not everybody is of the same opinion, which means you'll need to guide Leonidas and his army against a variety of enemies before you're done.

The Persian campaign lets you see things from the opposite side, playing as Xerxes, starting out just as he's taken the throne. The main thrust of this campaign lies in organising the war against Sparta, with the help of the former Spartan king, Demeratus, although there's also unrest to deal with at home.

The Egyptian story is further removed from the first two, with the country having been enslaved for many decades by the Persians. This story follows Inaros, a dutiful Egyptian warrior pushed too far by the oppressive new governor, who steals away his true love.

Some of the lighting effects, especially on the water, are lovely--even if the action isn't quite so slick.

All three campaigns have reasonable depth to them, with about 30 hours of gameplay estimated for the three campaigns combined. It's also possible to play competitive multiplayer online or via a LAN connection, with various maps and all three races playable.

In terms of the action itself, the game boils down to the art of balancing resource management with heading off enemy activity. As with most games of this kind, the computer artificial intelligence will build offensive units and send them your way until you're in a position not just to fend them off, but to send an attacking party their way.

However, the battle-ready units are just half of your concern because you'll need to assign workers to gather gold, wood, and food from various sources. There are also typical upgrade buildings, which allow you to research and improve your existing choice of weaponry and armour, as well as defensive structures and storage facilities.

It's also possible to send your workers out to gather weapons and armour from the field of battle, which can then be used to kit out your own troops. This leads nicely on to one of the more refreshing aspects of the game--your army designer. This is a tool within the melee or ranged unit production buildings that allows you to decide what your troops will carry or wear.

To begin with, your options are limited, but as you research further into the tech tree, you'll open up stronger items. Of course, the better the item, the more gold or wood it costs to produce per unit, unless you've scavenged enough from fallen soldiers, in which case it'll be cheaper. Over time, you'll be able to build a number of different unit configurations for use in varying situations, which is something we think will come into its own in the multiplayer arena.

For example, you'll be able to decide whether you want to focus on large numbers of cheap, less powerful troops, a handful of elite soldiers, or a blend of the two. As your building options become more complex, you'll also factor ships and siege weaponry into your tactical options. Each faction has some unique troop options available, but overall, they balance out in a kind of rock-paper-scissors way.

The army builder allows you to choose the combination of weapons and armour that your units will be equipped with.

World Forge has tried to implement a physics simulation into the game to make it more satisfying. This manifests itself in various ways, from boulder traps that roll down hillsides to speeding chariots that send warriors on foot flying through the air.

There are still a couple of issues in the build we played that could take the gloss off the game for some users. Firstly, the sea battles, which have enormous potential, feel a little underdeveloped at this point. Despite the fact that it's possible to grapple other ships and potentially take them over, most sea battles end up being ponderous affairs that don't seem to match the pace of the rest of the game.

There are also some pathfinding and target-selection problems, which we're hoping will be tightened up for the final release. For example, sometimes your troops will take odd routes to objective points and encounter considerable problems if gates are involved. In the heat of battle, while your soldiers do a decent job of engaging the enemy, if you manually select targets, they'll often waste time running past opposing units before backtracking to actually start attacking. It's a minor point, but one that can make a difference when two sides are evenly matched.

The visuals are looking really nice at this point. Light sourcing leads to lovely reflections and shadows, especially in the water. Also, the detail level of the character models is good, and the environment can be viewed from any angle. It would have been nice to be able to zoom further out, because it feels like there's a lot of unnecessary scrolling right now, but that's a relatively minor point. The music and voice acting fit the part while the storylines progress at a good rate.

In all, it's clear that the game is nearly ready for release, and fans of classic RTS gameplay should find something to get stuck into here. Keep an eye out for our review in the next month or so.

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Discussion

63 comments
jACkaTacK1107
jACkaTacK1107

this game looks like one of those games that could end up being great when no one saw it coming

Sharp_13
Sharp_13

i have a problem with the game . i installed it and when i launched it, i got an over frequency error from my monitor . i don't know what to do please help :(

klinsi
klinsi

@kimonas36 Yes, I very agree with u cuz during the world war 2, the Greeks had been caused a lot of headache and misfortune for Italy in Greece campaign and even before Germany intervened, the Greek even success to liberate the Albanian from Italian reign and even drive out the Italian invander from their colony in Albanian, The Greek cause a lot of pain and headache plus casualities too during the Crete Invansion by Germany and during under Germany reign too Yeah, its a lot same like Finnish too (vs USSR) I hope this game will be FUN to play NOT FRUSTRATED to play I afraid that there will be a lot of mission that depict a few Spartan to stand & fight against hordes of enemies, bah... And I hope there are useful cheat code for this game

gugi_nayar
gugi_nayar

I'll have my hands on this one soon

captain110
captain110

Seems Really Great, and also seems historicaly true. If that is so i gonna buy this game and encourage anyone i know to buy it and to spread it over the world. Just then maybe the lies of 300 will be revealed!

nomadbob5
nomadbob5

sounds good, SPARTANS ALL THE WAY, anyways and to anyone who is like, "OH ITS HISTORICALLY INCORRECT, THEREFORE THIS IS DOOMED TO FAIL." i say stfu and gtfo you don't have to play it if you don't want to.

Anthony9000
Anthony9000

the demo is great so i'm buying this game...it has lots of nice touches to it unlike CNC3 or Supcom

slayer666
slayer666

well till now it looks really promising I mean if the spartans are any where as in the movie hell this game will be kick ass

padaporra
padaporra

This game looks beatiful, and is shiping in a good time no doubt, but do it use magic and other things like god powers? this would be bad. I heard that is going to have a superweapon, you buy 300 spartans then you win, hehe. but if you wanna "play" 300, buy rome: total war, its just amazing. When you play with the greek the ultimate solider is the sparta hopile, they are as deadly as they are in the movie, im up to buy the expansion, alexander, it add the persian and more of greek of course.

enhunter
enhunter

GooD game to play... Gonna buy it..

BikerPunk
BikerPunk

"this is insane" "insane?!......THIS, IS, SPARTA!!!"

kimonas36
kimonas36

Iam Greek.Iam from Greece and live in Greece.

kimonas36
kimonas36

sorry but in the ancient Greece were and Athinians.There werent only Spartans.Sparta was a machine of war but athens was the city of techonology and others arts.And the others cities of Creece were strong.Read a litlle greek history.Not see the movies.Not onlySpartans have couriage.All Greece had and have couriage.Remember that.

d_kell411
d_kell411

Some of the screenshots look like the units and their environments are more painted than made of pixels. The game has potential, that much is obvious. With 300 out and insanely popular right now, I think it's actually better than they postponed the release. Now they'll sell more copies because everyone wants to play the film. Also, the collecting weapons and armours from the battlefield after the battle is a nice touch. The customize your own unit is also nice. In my opinion, more RTS games should have unit creation nowadays...playing with the same guys, even as numerous as they are in Rome Total War, does get old. This game is pretty much like 300 the film, don't treat it as a historically accurate piece, and it's more hollywood than fact. Phalanxes would've been nice, but that would slow down battles and make the game more tactical than it's meant to be. It's essentially an RTS hack'n'slash.

ANGELOFSOLLACE
ANGELOFSOLLACE

Totally going to make money because of 300. I already plan on buying this game. Ive been waiting for another Age of Empires type game to come out, and with the add of a little 300 type flavor, I'm all in!

Rikstah
Rikstah

Who thinks this game is gonna get more sales because of Frank Miller's 300?

Samagorny
Samagorny

Anyone notice how similer it is to rise and fall civerlizations at war??? No well u should do cos its almost exsacly the same!!!! Oh P.S anyone talking about playing like 300, u can do that in rise and fall, its actually got a map called it!!!

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

This looks pretty good, and the graphics look pretty too.

zintarr
zintarr

This game will blow. Also the sales for this game will blow since they missed getting it out at the release of 300. Timing is everything.

Po77InAtOr
Po77InAtOr

After playing the Total War series where there's actual strategy involved in the battles I don't think I can ever go back to the "traditional" RTS game which simply involve making more/better units than your opposition and throwing them into the swirling masses where no one has any idea what's going on. *Sigh* And the Spartan army would have so much potential with decent Phalanx formations, yet it looks on the trailer like this game isn't even going to make decent use of formations.

zsc4
zsc4

I real don;t know what to make of this game, I guess I will have to wait a while to decide whether this game is worth getting.

KuroriKenshin
KuroriKenshin

woot! I can re-create 300 all I want! This has me excited

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

It looks too much like AOE2, in my opinion. And right now I want to play C&C3. :)

ntnimara
ntnimara

What is your PROFFESION!!!

beckoflight
beckoflight

I hope that the game will be a succes because till now it sounds good ... they better polish up the game before they lunched .... a name like this is for a game with potential given by the movie 300 :D , I will w8 for this game but i will not w8 for a "total let down" I hope !

sonicare
sonicare

This late release may have worked in their favor - with the 300 movie and all.

protossdragoon
protossdragoon

the graphics -cartoony, hope the fighting animations are realistic and excitiing to watch...

ninjazx7rrr
ninjazx7rrr

Can't wait, looks amazing, now after seeing 300, we can play it lol

pro-newb
pro-newb

is it just me...or does the layout look very..warcraft 3 like....only 2 resources, the minimap...and my god, they even copied the hero thing...

jesse_jax
jesse_jax

Obi-Wan Ready your mouse and play hearty. For tonight we fight in ANCIENT WARS! ''I WANT SOME PASTA!!!!'' *BOOT* lol

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

over saturation is a huge problem, devs don't see the harm of bad games, or even derivative games, darn.

uberjannie
uberjannie

tired of old gaming ideas.. Now why would i want to play a age of empires 2 look alike. I guess its all the same. No new ideas. Just a bit polished. I wouldnt want to give my money on something like that. I think game developers are thinking that old ideas cant go wrong, but that is excatly whats going to happen. People are starting to get tired of the usual fps game. The usual rts game etc.

kdamian
kdamian

I will agree with goddessakasha "lol.... less video games, more books, please". If games companies could spare some time in reading they would see that there are more to include in a game like this. I mean Sparta against Persia 1 on 1??? There were many things taking place in Greece at that period and there could be more factions and content in a game like this. I will give it a shot though...

Samwise-Gamjee
Samwise-Gamjee

"Right off the bat, the game feels a lot like the classic RTS game Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, but with a significant graphical overhaul." Did he say Age of Empires II, this game is so mine :D

Obi-Wan
Obi-Wan

Ready your mouse and play hearty. For tonight we fight in ANCIENT WARS!

biggamerhk
biggamerhk

this looks awesome i love these types of rts games

Arab-man666
Arab-man666

I wanna take hold of that egyption army. Now those are some good arabs.... but if your egyption, do you fight the spartans or the persians?

ryokinshin6x3
ryokinshin6x3

perfect timing for this game.....this wasnt based on the movie and even the psp one isnt bad for a hack and slash smithy1756 its time to upgrade

Ansem_Rev
Ansem_Rev

...EAT HEARTY FOR TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!