A true blend of everything that is needed in a strategy game..............
Base building, always an important part of RTS games, is taken far beyond the norm found in games like Warcraft III and Age of Mythology. Instead of just having one main base with all of your structures and one or two expansion bases, Rise of Nations has you creating cities all over the map. Your first two cities are likely to be resource collecting centers, cities thereafter are used for expanding borders, creating military buildings, and forming a perimeter around your capital. At each city you build structures such as universities, markets, granaries, and temples. Only one of these buildings can be built at each city, so expanding is necessary.
Expansion brings us to resource collecting which is handled in the most intuitive way of any RTS game. Resources never run out and provide a constant flow of income. For example, having six citizens working at a wood camp in the beginning of the game will provide an income of +60 wood every thirty seconds. As you expand your empire, build lumber mills, and research specific technologies, your trickle can climb to +400 and it is possible to gain +999, the highest cap, but it takes a long time and a lot of research to reach that level.
Speaking of research, RoN handles this better than any other RTS as well. Most research is centered in one building: the library. Here you will research military, civics, commerce, and science techs, with each level of every tech bringing in it's own benefits. More specific research is relegated to other buildings like in other RTS games, but instead of playing guess and click to find what you can research, simply hit the 'tab' key to scroll through all available research.
Combat is pretty standard for an RTS game: build units, group them, and send them to the enemy. There are some differences here than in other games too, though. First, you will eventually have to traverse through enemy territory which is protected by attrition. What this means is that without the proper unit (supply wagon) your army will take damage over time when inside the enemy border. Each civilization also gets certain specific units that are stronger, faster, and overall better than the generic equivalent, use these units to your advantage along with other national bonuses.
There is so much more to this game that I will leave to you to find out. Generals to lead your army, spys, commandos to sabotage units and structures, rare resources that offer bonuses to your civ in addition to extra resources, Conquer the World Risk-style campaign, and multi-player.
If you're a fan of RTS games, you absolutely must get Rise of Nations, no questions asked.
There are so many things that are done right by Rise of Nations that it puts other popular franchises to shame.