Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War Exclusive Hands-On - Gameplay Overview and Heroes

This epic strategy game will let you pit the most powerful nations of the ancient world against each other. Join us for an exclusive look.

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While real-time strategy games used to focus on collecting resources, building bases, and churning out armies, they've grown considerably broader in recent years. Now, real-time strategy games are attempting to innovate with new strategies and new gameplay. Consider Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War from publisher Midway and developer Stainless Steel Studios, a new game that will let you play as one of the most powerful nations of the ancient world, namely Greece, Persia, Egypt, or Rome. We recently had a chance to sit down with the game and get our hands on the Greek armies of Alexander the Great against the mighty forces of the Persian king Sargon.

You'll pit some of the greatest nations of the ancient world against each other in Rise & Fall.
You'll pit some of the greatest nations of the ancient world against each other in Rise & Fall.

Before we began our hands-on time, we had the opportunity to take a look at both armies up close. Rise & Fall is clearly going for an epic look and feel by modeling huge battlefields and warships to scale with armies of hundreds of soldiers. We watched a titanic battle between Greek and Persian forces that started on the outskirts of a Persian city and spilled onto the docks. Rise & Fall will feature huge warships that will emerge from their shipyards equipped with a full crew of soldiers, though you'll also have the option to vary your crew members for land invasions and ship-to-ship combat. We watched as Greek archers rained arrows on a passing Persian vessel before Greek sailor units cast boarding cables at the enemy ship, drawing it in closely so that onboard swordsmen could leap across and attack.

While this will be a viable tactic in smaller battles, and can lead to an opportunity to commandeer an enemy ship for your own navy, there will be times when things get messy. That's when you'll recruit an expensive, highly trained slave drummer for your ships to whip your rows and rows of rowers into a frenzy, bringing your ship to ramming speed so that you can smash right through the hull of your enemy's ship. But be warned--just as you can attack enemy crews at sea, every single hand on your decks can be attacked by enemy soldiers as well, so if your expensive drummer takes one too many arrows, your brilliant plan to ram your foe's capital ship will be history.

Rise & Fall's land battles will be comparably epic in scope, involving hundreds of colorful and detailed units onscreen at once (Stainless Steel Studios' Rick Goodman suggests that you may see as many as a thousand of the game's large and colorful units onscreen at a time). You'll be able to command varied armies of swordsmen, archers, cavalry, elephants, and siege weapons in battle, and these units will depend on each other's strengths. Just like how neither the Crusades nor the Achaean siege of Troy were won by some guy sending nothing but archers, the skirmishes of Rise & Fall will call for a diverse army to prevail against your foes. These armies will fall into rank and can be given orders to march and attack, but there aren't currently any plans to include complicated formation or morale concerns. Much of your planning in Rise & Fall will be done before battles even begin--you'll need to choose your armies wisely before you even take to the field. As soon as a charge is sounded, you'll instead be focusing on pummeling your enemy's army. And you'll have one particular soldier on your side that will prove very helpful for this purpose.

Each of the game's four nations will be represented by hero characters that appear on the field as individual units. The Greeks will be represented by none other than Alexander the Great, conqueror of legendary ambition who will be represented in the field as an incredibly tough and damaging soldier. But wait, there's more. Heroes will also have various superhuman powers that work off a recharging timer, such as Alexander's ability to instantaneously heal any nearby units to full strength. And they'll draw an additional power from the game's all-new resource of glory. You'll gain glory through victory in battle, and once you've accrued enough of it, you'll be able to take direct control of your hero from a third-person, behind-the-back view, or even a first-person view if you're using a ranged weapon. In hero mode, you'll directly control your hero unit using your keyboard's W, A, S, and D keys, along with your mouse, similar to a first-person shooter.

For instance, Alexander himself can use both sword and bow to put the boot to his foes. We waded into a pitched battle among our horsehair-helmeted allies and the dastardly (and bearded) Persians, cutting a swath of destruction through our enemies. Because we were playing a test version of the game with cheats enabled, we were able to remain in hero mode for an extended period of time (in the final game, you'll have precious little time to control your hero before your reserves of glory run out, so you'll need to choose the right time to activate this powerful ability). As Alexander, we were able to jump into first-person mode with a bow to zoom in on Persian archers on the parapets around the walled city we were assaulting and pick them off like a sniper. After taking care of the guards, we then began our ascent into the city on a siege ladder--which took quite some time, as the ladder, the city, and everything else in the world was rendered to scale, so the huge city wall was appropriately high. After clambering onto the roof, we dispatched a few remaining guards and descended into the city as a wolf among sheep, making our way to the city core and slaughtering defenseless enemy peasants and any remaining Persian soldiers foolish enough to stand in our way. At the end of our demonstration, we were met by Sargon himself, who put up a much tougher fight before succumbing to our cheat-enhanced assault.

How would Alexander the Great have fared against King Sargon in single combat? Rise & Fall will let you find out.
How would Alexander the Great have fared against King Sargon in single combat? Rise & Fall will let you find out.

By capturing the Persian city, we were able to take control of the territory--an important concept in Rise & Fall. Unlike in other real-time strategy games, where "territory" is valuable only if it has resources sitting on it (and then you go out and plunder the resources, and the land becomes of no use), capturing and holding enemy cities and outposts will be key to victory. Cities will of course be seats of commerce that will provide extra technology and cash for the ambitious ruler, but wilderness outposts can be fortified with soldiers and, when captured, will add to your military production rate. Goodman explained that a civilization that controls only one outpost will be able to build a barracks that will produce one soldier at a time, while a nation that controls five outposts will output five soldiers at a time. Successfully capturing outposts can lead to huge momentum as your armies grow in size exponentially, but you'll need to keep your outposts defended in order to keep your momentum (otherwise your rivals will steal away your territory and begin swelling their own armies).

Rise & Fall has a number of intriguing new features that should help distinguish the game from the increasingly competitive pack. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on the game as we approach its release date later this year.

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