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Rise of Nations pages!


Rise of Nations (2003) is developed by Big Huge Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios. There's a single expansion: Thrones & Patriots which adds six new Nations to play with, a few extra Wonders to build, some new Campaigns to conquer, and introduces Government types to the game. Government's offer your forces special economic or military bonuses, depending on the nature of the politics you opt for. New players will want to go for the Rise of Nations Gold Edition that bundles the original game and expansion together.

Its main claim to fame is that it successfully crosses epic turn based strategy with that of a fast paced RTS. There are eighteen nations you can play, each with a distinct flavour. Simply put, its Civilization using the Age of Empires real time game engine.

For those unfamiliar with it, Civilization (1991) is a venerable turn based game that plays out on a world map, starting in ancient times where all players are little more than a wandering band of settlers with some big ideas, and finally ending over a thousand years later where the winner has either conquered the world or been the first civilization to land a colony ship on the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Civ games can last anything up to twenty straight gaming hours - these long and protracted games work their way right through history and span the entire globe. They take a big picture view of the world, and look a lot like super sized board games with hundreds of playing pieces. (Actually, there's a board game version of Civilization available in games shops now - and sure enough, the box weighs a ton) Civ's develop technologies, found great cities and trade routes, and explore and annex territory. Along the way your they big note themselves by building some unique Wonders, such as the Pyramids, Magellan's Expedition or the Manhattan Project, scoring some lucrative bonuses and advantages for your civ as you go. While there is a strong diplomatic and cultural component, the object is still to resolve the game into a single winner through force. This is 4X Empire strategy, not speculative sim management. Most games are played out on a randomly generated alternative earth, with AI or human player nations scattered throughout. You can endlessly tweak starting conditions, geography, and game rules to play out an infinite number of alternative human histories. There's no preset story in a Civ game: the way the game's opening settings play out is the equivalent of an entire RTS campaign. The game has a omniscient perspective, seen from low orbit.

Age of Empires is a real time strategy series that uses non-fantasy, historically based characters and settings bundled into an action packed game that might last a few hours at most. You produce factory buildings, churn out individual units, order them about and conduct things at a fast paced tactical level. Its very much like the classic RTS computer game, except with a vaguely educational theme to it. There's a number of historical RTS games in the market at the moment, and many of them use "Ages". An Age is a researchable tech that magically bumps you up into the next historical epoch with a change of graphics and sound, unlocking the next collection of units, buildings and more technologies. For example, you might progress from the Medieval Age to the Renaissance. Its a silly abstraction of course, but one that works wonderfully in a game context. A similar game is Empire Earth, which boasts thirteen Ages from prehistoric to a futuristic fantasy populated with energy weapons and walking mech warriors, but it simply extrapolates the Age of Empire game in to an All-Of-History model without too many alterations. The mechanics that drive the ancient and Medieval Ages are exactly the same as those running the high tech ones.

The Rise of Nations empire, by contrast, evolves over the course of the game and uses some key features from Civ, the most notable being the way it uses Cities. You begin very simply with limited options; your Nation is little more than an agrarian town. But by the end of the game you're at the helm of a mighty modern industrial empire wielding high tech units fed by a huge industrial economy, a thriving market, R&D and covert ops. The heart of Rise of Nations strategy revolves around building effectively. I can't think of too many other RTS games where building is given such critical importance, other than the sim management genres like The Settlers or SimCity. Placing your buildings to get best use of resources or annexing strategic points on the map is essential for success.

Your territory in Rise of Nations is created by building Cities. Its clearly marked out by a National Border, a graphical line that creeps and slides over the map according to how well your Nation develops and spreads. Founding and developing more Cities extends it, and its radius is widened further by building Fortresses, passing through the Ages and researching many Civic upgrades. You'll find boundaries between Nations ebbing and flowing as both sides furiously try to out build each other - until it get to the point where one side resorts to attacking the other. Placing cities is a critical element for success: without them, you simply can't expand your economy and power.

Claiming territory is one of the winning conditions in the game: hold more than 75% of the map for three minutes and you score a Territory Win. Cities are points of focus that make everything else possible - while at the same time being vulnerable to conquest. You can destroy buildings and Forts of course, but capture a City and all the buildings associated with it become yours. Even so, there's a few minutes grace while a captured City is "culturally assimilated." Like a territory win, you must hold a captured City for several minutes before it truly becomes yours, giving your opponent plenty of time to sally forth and rescue it. Contested Cities' colours can flicker like neon signs as rivals fight over them, and there's a lot of strategy involved just trying to be the one who has the last word on the matter. If you manage to capture your opponent's Capital (the first City they start with) then they lose the game.

Rise of Nations sports a wealth of multiple victory conditions and game settings - almost too many of them! There's a huge battery of options, settings, shortcuts and victory conditions you can set, as well as a large array of multiplayer and team settings. With the endless game options open to you can opt for all kinds of winning conditions and settings, be they instant gratification warfare or non-violent economic ones, but nearly all RoN netgames opt for a nice big battle through the ages. Even just by sticking to default random settings, this game generates a lot of variety and depth: no two of our RoN netgames have ever been alike. The random map generator is excellent, and the AI's are wonderfully sound.


Towers and Fortresses are substantial obstacles for most ground forces - at least in the first half of the game. You really do have to rely on artillery and sieging to knock them down, and early rushing is difficult, relegated to little more than sporadic raiding during the first Ages of the game. Your citizenry can actually defend cities with a high degree of success in the early game, and there's a long line of improvements for them down through the Ages. Units or buildings that find themselves in enemy territory suffer from Attrition, a slow loss of health points that can only be stopped by including Supply Wagons in your forces. Leaving your forces in enemy territory will eventually see them defeated through this "natural attrition". The effect per unit is small, but collectively across an army it stacks up handsomely. However, once advanced artillery and air units start to make their presence felt, old fashioned castles and towers start to rapidly lose effectiveness, and the locals are swiftly overwhelmed.

Nearly all units in the game are counters to something else. There are hardly any all weather units useful in all situations. Bring the wrong unit to the battle and its quickly vanquished. Make sure you mix your units. Unit control is wonderfully sophisticated, and unit AI and the many, many options and controls over their decision making process is a lot more subtle and more sensible than many contemporary games. While Rise of Nations is no hardcore wargame that gets into the intricacies of tactics, you still get some unique RTS commands. Include a General with your forces, and suddenly you can Flank, Decoy, move your forces with a Forced March, spring Ambushes on unsuspecting foes, or fortify your units with the Entrench command. Spies give you covert surveillance, and can Bribe enemy units to your cause. Your lowly Scouts eventually evolve through Ages to become elite Special Force units, able to perform all kinds of covert nastiness; demolishing Wonders or assassinating choice units with one shot...

Rise of Nations also uses a cute Risk style single player campaign that strings together a series of semi-randomly created RTS maps. You're presented with a world map subdivided into territories that you must wrest control from the AI players. This "metagame" is turned based and even uses a system of virtual playing cards and bonuses and liven things up. You can only attack one territory per round, and each RTS skirmish only takes place in the current Age you happen to be in at the time.
This game extends the RTS research model considerably. Its not as extensive as the hundreds of tech's you find in Civilization or Masters of Orion, but certainly deeper and more interesting than the usual RTS tech tree. You progress through eight Ages of course, from Ancient times to the Information Age. But you also get the turn based strategy game's streams of research (Military, Civic, Commerce, and Science) that have their own Ages and extend your civilization's capacity as they go. Military improvements increase your population cap; Civic upgrades increase the number of cities you can build, Science makes other discoveries cheaper, and so on. Early on, Food production is all important for producing enough surpluses to develop and progress through the Ages; by the Modern Age you need Universities producing Knowledge to keep up with your rivals, huge amounts of Wealth to fund your campaigning and huge quantities of Oil and Iron to build and maintain your mechanized military. All the regular RTS buildings are in evidence: Timber Mills, Barracks, Mines, Ports and Factories; but you also get Granaries, Libraries, Universities and Temples from the turn based world. All these buildings have their own upgrades as well, along with bonuses from Wonders and special units like Generals to spice things up further. Somehow, the increasing number of resources to till, tech's to research, and types of unit to control with each Age doesn't bog you down; the rapid trip through history remains balanced and speedy. Your units are not only fun to watch but easy to manipulate and control strategically. There's no transports - sea transport is all handled automatically by the AI. If there's a weakness in the game, its that its so fast paced with a huge number of tech's and upgrades that it can almost become a click-fest sometimes.

Rise of Nations might have Ages but it is at heart a hybrid, taking the mind bending complexity from turn based empire games like Civilization and fusing it with the speed and fury of RTS with surprising success. You pretty much get a highly strategic, action packed Civilization game that plays from go to woe in about an hour. This is no mean feat. The developers and publisher have obviously been aiming for a market that's mature enough to handle a good bit of complex strategy, but only has so much time in a lunch break. Presentation wise, it's a splendiferous visual and aural treat: it uses a 3D engine in a decidedly 2D format, so within its isometric view characters and vehicles have sophisticated animations and lush detail and you can zoom right up into. But only if you find the time in-game, that is. This game barrels along briskly and you'll probably spend the entire game zoomed right out. If you were getting frustrated by the current trend towards tedious micro management of less units (a la WarCraft), or hamstrung by a lack of spare time to spend on an in-depth strategy game, and/or just wishing RTS could be as epic as Civilization, then Rise of Nations is tailor made for you. Its a beaut.

Rise of Nations OVERVIEW
Version & Install


Patch #4 addresses game balance issues only, and it can ONLY be applied by having an online connection pressing the game's internal updating feature. Patch #3 dealt with mostly network, cheat and some hardware fixes. The game tends to explode on some systems, and doesn't support any Voodoo graphic cards at all. Concerned gamers should check out the official Support Page.

Rise of Nations is also totally dependant on MSXML being present. This is Microsoft's own version of the XML web markup language; it quietly installs itself on your system without so much as a peep when you first install the game. Having inadvertently uninstalled this unannounced package, I completely killed RoN; and had to go through many trials and tribulations before working out what had actually happened, and then trying to get Windows 2000 to grudgingly accept MSXML again. Its the same old, same old from M$ again, ratcheting in those little "extras" that suddenly force you to use their product, and their product alone.

A sequel of sorts is in development: Rise of Legends. This is a completely fantasy based take on the game without any historical references, and with only three civs.


Yes! It clocks in at a weighty 194Mb, found at Microsoft Games.


Microsoft Game Studios FAQ

Big Huge Games FAQ

Using Rise of Nations behind a Router


Up to 10 players on IPX Internet, Gamespy, or direct TCP/IP over a LAN or the Internet.

Huge number of networking, team, game and settings options, plus in-built mod switching.


Single player campaigns use a "Risk" style map to string together a series of different real time scenarios, including a system of bonus and trading cards.

Actual RTS maps can be pre-built or randomly generated. The randomly generated maps are nearly always excellent!


There's the usual Age of Empires classes: infantry, cavalry, shipping, catapults, plus later Age units: vehicles, artillery, aircraft and advanced weaponry, like nuclear silos and aircraft carriers. All units are cute little 3D models, complete with fine texturing and a lavish smorgasbord of animation.

There are 18 Nations to play with, sharing 9 sets of unit and building graphics.

All Nations get their own special units and civilization bonuses, and each has their own flavour and character.

Each unit and building gets progressively more expensive the more you build them. Some units, like Villagers remain relatively cheap; most have linear price increases, while some military units and building almost go hyperbolic in cost.

Special units like Generals and Spies offer fresh tactical and strategic possibilities: a General included in a force adds the Ambush, Decoy, Flank, Forced March and Entrench commands to it; while Spies can be used for covert surveillance or Bribing a unit to join your side.


Resources: Food, Wood, Iron, Oil, Wealth, and Knowledge.

There are also 32 Unique Resources that are scattered randomly throughout the map. These resources are worked exclusively by Merchants, adding to your resource income and granting a few bonuses.

Caravan units simulate trade between friendly cities to generate Wealth.

Map resources are bottomless and never run out.

You have a strict "commercial cap" that restricts the amount of resources you can produce or generate at any moment. This represents the "efficiency" of your economy to produce things. Progress through Commercial and normal Ages to increase this cap and unleash your economy!

Extracted resources require Villagers to run. Some, like Farms and Oil Rigs, only need one villager; others, like Mines and Logging Camps require a gang of workers, the number of which depending on the size of the resource.


There's a rich and deep tech tree and teching and upgrading is a continuous affair for all players.

Use the TAB key to cycle through all buildings with outstanding research. The TAB key is your friend. Buy it drinks. Chat it up. Whatever you do, don't ignore it.

There are eight Ages researched at the Library, and split between five colour coded streams: Historical, Military, Civic, Commercial, and Scientific.

The historical Ages are:

Ancient - the starting Age. You're simply an agrarian town that can't even build military units.
Classical - your first real step to the big time: you can mine Iron and generate Knowledge now. So do so right away! And start producing a nice pool of units while its cheaper to do so.
Medieval - Knights in Armour, Castles and the first really serious sieges begin.
Enlightenment - or Gunpowder Age. Muskets and cannons start to sweep away the old world.
Industrial - suddenly everything changes with the Industrial Revolution. Your Nation becomes permanently starved for Oil and Iron; things start getting complicated. Meanwhile, your military transforms into a mighty monster. Aircraft appear.
Modern - Advanced industrialization. Aircraft carriers. Serious hardware. The first nukes appear...
Information - the ultimate expression of your Nation: special tech's, Stealth Bombers, ICBMs... the scientific race is over, but the endgame is a streamlined military contest.

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Last modified Tue, 3 May 2011 by Lindsay Fleay