Real-time strategy games used to seem like they were all the same. You basically harvested resources, built a base, built an army, and crushed your opponents before they could do the same. But in recent years, some games have tried to strike out in new directions. One of these is 2003's Rise of Nations, a strategy game that's based loosely on world history. It combines the sensibilities of an epic turn-based game like Civilization with the faster pace of a traditional real-time strategy game. In the game, you play as a world nation that's attempting to develop along military, scientific, economic, or civic lines of research in hopes of eventually conquering the world through financial dominance, territorial expansion, or force of arms. Rise of Nations' many different playable cultures and strategies collectively offer players a great deal of depth in multiplayer games, as well as in the open-ended single-player campaigns. Now Microsoft and Big Huge Games are working on an expansion pack, entitled Thrones & Patriots, which will attempt to add even more new features to the already deep game.
Thrones & Patriots will include, among other things, six new playable nations, including the Iroquois, the Lakota, the Persians, the Dutch, the Americans, and the Indians. Like in the original game, each nation will have different themes, special abilities, and unique units. According to executive producer Tim Train, the new nations won't just serve as generic content additions. They'll actually have abilities that modify the core game and may even require seasoned veterans to take a second look at their favorite strategies.
For instance, one of the most important buildings for each nation in Rise of Nations is the capital city. Once it's captured, you'll usually be faced with a time limit within which you must recapture it or build a new one--or else you lose. However, the Persians have two capital cities (the second city built automatically becomes a capital), which makes them especially resistant to defeat by the loss of a capital. The Persian forces are also bolstered by elephant troops that possess a powerful close-range attack--namely their tusks--which can plow through rows of pikemen. These already formidable beasts can be upgraded later in the game to mahouts, which carry gunmen that can fire from a distance. The Persians also possess powerful nonmilitary bonuses, like a starting bonus of 50 percent food, a discount of 30 percent on all civic research done to increase their abilities to expand, free taxation upgrades, and the ability to commission the maximum number of trade caravans available. Like all nations, the Persians also possess unique military units. The Persians may also commission immortals, a powerful type of infantry unit, and arquebus immortals, an upgraded version of the immortal that carries a firearm.
The neighboring nation of India may also bring war elephants and mahouts into battle, though at a much lower cost (all elephant units are 15 percent cheaper than usual and can be upgraded for free). Indian cities also have a larger economic radius and gain bonus income from caravans. In addition, the Indian nation does not experience "ramping" building costs when developing. That is, with the exception of some military buildings and wonders of the world, all Indian buildings cost the same throughout the game, regardless of how many you already have (while other nations must pay a steeper fee to add more buildings of the same type).
The seafaring Dutch, on the other hand, belong to a commerce-heavy nation whose unique units include swift clippers and fluyts. The Dutch also receive two free bonus ships after building a dock, and all ship upgrades are 10 percent cheaper than normal. The Dutch also begin the game with a free commerce research development, and all other commerce research can be conducted at a 25 percent discount. These industrious folk also begin the game with a market and two free merchants, and their trade routes can be protected by armed caravans, armed merchants, and armed supply wagons. These last "armed" additions actually let Dutch trade routes fend off attacks from aggressive players who attack their economy with only a few raiders.
Conquering the World All Over Again
Thrones & Patriots will also include a fledgling nation known as America. The Americans begin the game with an instantly built wonder (aside from the space program or supercollider), along with cheaper military upgrades and cheaper aircraft (and two free bombers) once they reach the later ages of the game. The Americans also get a bonus toward acquiring new government types and receive a free scholar with every university structure they build. The nation's unique units are the marines, which include colonial-era continental marines, as well as more modern riflemen, infantry, and assault troops, who will all automatically dig in and entrench themselves if left alone for several seconds, thus providing the Americans with defensive bonuses and letting them establish a military front line.
The expansion pack's other two nations will be two Native American tribes--the Lakota and the Iroquois. The Iroquois gain early access to government, and their woodcutters also gather bonus resources. In addition, with every barracks built, the Iroquois receive a free scout who may move through forests (which are impassable to every other nation in the game). The Iroquois are hidden to other players when in their own territory so that they can stage surprise defenses when their homeland is invaded. The Iroquois unique units include pathfinder scouts and upgraded Mohawk spearmen.
The Lakota, on the other hand, receive food bonuses for having different units rather than by building farms and granaries. The nomadic tribe may also raze buildings quickly to recover their full value. Furthermore, the Lakota receive free upgrades to their cavalry units, and their national borders are hidden to enemies. This makes expansion with the Lakota a much different prospect and allows the cunning tribe to construct buildings in neutral territories outside of their own borders. The Lakota tribe's unique units are mounted ranged units, which include horse archers and musket horse riders, who are swift attackers that make excellent raiders.
Thrones & Patriots will also include numerous other additions to both the single- and multiplayer game, including three new wonders of the world. These include the forbidden city, which acts as an additional capital; the hanging gardens, which provide bonus knowledge production; and the red fort, a huge military fortification that bestows an armor bonus to nearby friendly units and increases friendly units' recovery rate from damage by a whopping 500 percent. Furthermore, the expansion introduces a new system that lets each nation choose between two different types of government each time it progresses to a new age of advancement. You can choose either a military-focused government, like the despotic state, or an economically-focused government, like the republic. You're not limited to one specific type throughout the ages, so you may decide to alternate between military and economic choices as you progress. As a result, you'll carry over the bonuses and abilities from each one. As soon as you do choose a government type, you'll also gain a patriot unit, which is a new and exceptionally powerful unit that's endowed with various special abilities. These may include defensive or offensive bonuses for your allies, accelerated recovery from damage, and more. Each time you choose a new government type, your patriot will gain a new set of abilities, so if you choose to focus more on economic government, your patriot may be better off staying on the home front to provide domestic benefits. However, if you choose to focus more on military government, your patriot will be best used on the front lines to give your troops added bonuses.
Thrones & Patriots will also offer four new single-player campaigns that comprise four significant periods in world history, including the rise of Alexander the Great, the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, the conquest of the New World, and the Cold War. These campaign missions will attempt to offer a more focused, story-driven experience that's characterized by more specialized objectives, like small-scale espionage missions in which you must guide a group of spies behind enemy lines. For instance, the Cold War campaign will be a bilateral series of missions in which you'll play through the standoff between the US and the USSR. You may be able to resolve the conflict peacefully, but if push comes to shove, you can go to DEFCON 1 (Defense Condition 1) and start tossing nukes all over the place. However, they'll also offer open-ended gameplay. For example, the New World campaign will let you play as one of 12 different nations with differing objectives. For instance, the Dutch will be interested in setting up shop in North America, while the Americans will be fighting for no taxation without representation. The Iroquois will simply want to drive all the interlopers out of their homeland.
Thrones & Patriots is already very far along in development. Big Huge Games is currently testing the expansion for play balance by using a team of highly experienced players. Hopefully they should help iron out any inconsistencies, as well as make suggestions as far as adding new tweaks or fixes to existing nations that may have been a bit too weak or a bit too strong. The expansion is scheduled for release later this year.