American Conquest impressions

We give you our hands-on impressions of the latest preview build of GSC Gameworld's authentic historical real-time strategy game. New screens inside.

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American Conquest from GSC Gameworld is an epic real-time strategy game in which players can take command of one of 12 different warring factions in the period of American history between 1492 and 1813. We've recently taken delivery of the latest preview build of the game, and, after spending time in both the campaign missions and one or two skirmish battles, we wanted to share some of our initial thoughts with you.

The 12 different nations and tribes in the game are the Spanish, English, French, Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, Sioux, Delaware, Huron, Iroquois League, Pueblos, and Americans. While all of the factions have things in common with each other, GSC Gameworld has obviously given a lot of thought to ensuring that each and every one of them plays differently. The Huron, for example, build all of their structures exclusively from wood, and rather than doing their own mining for resources such as coal, stone, iron, and gold, as most other factions do, they obtain them through the building and running of a trading post. The Sioux are also an interesting tribe in that, because they are nomadic, their structures can be repositioned on the map at any time--meaning that you don't have to commit to defending your base in quite the same way as those with fortresses and town centers.

Generally speaking, the European nations in the game are more advanced, with buildings of stone and the ability to make and wield firearms such as muskets and even cannons. While this clearly makes them more powerful than the native tribes armed with bows, blowpipes, tomahawks, and the like, the flip side is that each unit costs a lot more and takes more time to train. Of course, the fact that European nations have more uses for resources such as iron and stone than the natives also means that they'll need to concern themselves with obtaining them by building, manning, and defending mines. Running out of iron, for example, could mean that a European army is unable to train any more units, while tribes such as the Huron need only wood to train military units, which is generally in plentiful supply and requires only peasants to gather it.

The maps in American Conquest are absolutely huge, measuring up to 30x20 screens when playing at a resolution of 1024x768--we've even been told that with such a map it could take a unit well over an hour to get from one corner of the map to the other, although we've been too busy waging war since receiving the game to put this to the test. Visually, the maps are very easy on the eyes and have details such as running streams, varied foliage, and animals, including bison, bear, and deer, that can be hunted as a source of food. One issue we have with the maps right now is that, although the terrain evidently has a role to play in tactics since high ground affords units a better view of the surrounding area and increased range for weapons, it's not always easy to determine whether ground is flat or not. The textures used on the maps are very detailed, but it seems that the way they're applied to the terrain often makes the contours of the land difficult to read.

GSC Gameworld had previously stated that American Conquest could support up to 16,000 units on a map at any one time, but at our recent meeting we were told that in fact the figure is exactly double that. Of course, managing an army of that size could be a real handful, but GSC Gameworld has made it surprisingly easy through the use of officers and chiefs. Not all of the factions in the game fight in organized units the way the Europeans do, but those that do can divide their units into groups of 15 or more simply by selecting an officer and assigning the desired number of units to his command. In all, there are more than 100 different unit types in American Conquest, all of which have their uses and which, based on our experience, will be required to form part of a diverse army if players are to be successful. While powerful units such as musketeers are definitely required, an army consisting only of them, or of any one unit, will be doomed to failure from the start since every unit has at least one weakness that can be exploited--in this instance, the weakness is that after each shot the musketeer must spend a painfully long time reloading his gun.

American Conquest isn't just about fighting epic battles or committing acts of genocide--tribes can often coexist peacefully and will even fight alongside each other for a small fee. Even when battles are necessary in the game, victory will normally be achieved by forcing the other side to retreat or by capturing and fortifying its buildings rather than by painstakingly hunting down every last enemy on the map. The campaign missions we've played to date have been pretty varied, and each one can actually play quite differently depending on how you choose to explore the huge maps--there might be a hostile tribe or a desert in one direction, while a potential ally could be residing in a mineral-rich grassland in the other. The sheer size of the maps really does make American Conquest seem very different from a lot of RTS games, and it really does feel as though there's a whole new continent just waiting to be explored as you progress through the game.

American Conquest is currently scheduled for release early next year. For more information, check out our previous coverage of the game.

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