When it comes to military real time strategy games, Microsoft has had a long series of in-depth and successful titles. Building on the success of the Age of Empires series, Rise of Nations takes up the Microsoft chalice and rides on into a new battle.
The game, like Age of Empires is based around the idea that as time progresses so does the technology available to you and while you will initially start before the classic age, you will eventually end up in the information age and beyond.
For the single player there are plenty of game modes to choose from: Quick Battle, Scenarios, and Conquer the World. Quick Battle as the title suggests allows to get into the action straight away - set up the gaming rules, the level of difficulty and what you start with. Likewise, the scenarios see you pitted with certain goals that you have to meet within a specific time like defening your base or reaching a certain level within a set period.
The main element of the game can be found in the Conquer the World section. A campaign based option, your task is to do as the title suggests - ie conquer the world. Based loosely on the game Risk, you are charged with taking over the world country by country.
Between battles you have to manage your army's movements, handle diplomacy with other neighbouring countries and generally plot your next move. Although it's not all as complicated as it sounds, and no way near as in-depth as titles such as Europa Universalis II it does offer a break from the battlefield
As nations grow so does their strength and warding off invading nations involves a 15 minute timed defending round whereby troops are constantly thrown at you.
In game and there is plenty to keep you busy and with six difficulty settings you can easily get involved whatever you playing ability.
Like all RTS's basic strategy is based around the supply of food and timber. Later on, the game requires you to collect gold (via markets) and knowledge (via scholars) - the more you have the quicker you can build and progress. The quicker you can build and progress the more chance you have of winning the game and so on.
When it comes to fighting, again you are presented with plenty of military options and The age you are in determines which troops, horses, vehicles and other such military weaponry you are able to build and use. Earlier ages see Dragoons and foot archers while later on your have access to missile silos, tanks, battle cruisers and elite special forces.
There is so much depth in with Rise of Nations that telling you every facet would be a lengthy and eventually dull process. There is the market place element and caravanning your produce around your cities. There is the supply chain strategy needed for battle so your troops aren't left out on a limb. There are generals, spies, forts and temples all of which bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the game.
While the game is so immense it what it offers it never really ever becomes over whelming. The RTS formula is still ever present and the usual tactics can still be used to win the day. The majority of the missions we played in the Conquer the World campaign involved either a quick surprise attack to defeat the enemy or a long drawn out slog.
That said there is still plenty here to keep newcomers and hardened fans coming back for more again and again.