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Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War

In the desolate ocean of summer releases, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War appears on the horizon as a little tropical island. While it certainly is tempting to visit its beautiful shores, you’re likely to find yourself stranded in a maze of mediocre gameplay. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War impresses with its presentation, but doesn’t deliver on the thrilling gameplay it promises. Action elements blended with traditional real-time strategy do make for an innovative game; however, the excessive difficulty and rather shallow nature of its strategic elements prevent Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War from being anything more than average.

Across two single player campaigns and a handful of multiplayer modes, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War places you in command of the ancient forces of Greece, Rome, Persia, and Egypt. Naturally, each civilization possesses unique characteristics, units, and heroes. For example, Egypt relies on ranged attacks and spearmen to confront enemies, whereas Greece can train Spartan warriors that easily dominate with their strength. Utilizing civilizations’ strengths and exploiting their weaknesses is a significant part of play, as is managing resources. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War keeps resource collection to a minimum with wood, gold, and glory. Wood and gold can be mined, but glory accumulates through expansion of your city and achieving victory in battle

Unique to Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War is “Hero Command,” which grants direct control of a hero unit for third-person combat. Upon earning enough glory, you can take control of a hero and actively battle individual enemy units. Corresponding with each civilization, heroes have specific attributes and abilities that factor into “Hero Command.” Cleopatra, for example, relies on her archery skills, while Nebuchadnezzar can easily clear a wave of units through brute melee force. “Hero Command” adds an innovative element to a rather conservative genre; however, its innovative incorporation in Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War is not without issue. Combat is extremely difficult. While the controls work fine and the action is well-integrated, the enormous number of units that populate the battlefield can overwhelm your hero; heretofore, “Hero Command” is only partially successful in its experimentation with a genre in dire need of something fresh.

Through the course of the single player campaigns, you’ll have the opportunity to develop hero units. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War features minor role-playing elements enabling development of hero units. Raising a hero’s level enhances their attack and defense capabilities; unfortunately, development is limited to simple level building without options for new abilities or customized attributes. More depth would have been preferable as a complement to “Hero Command,” such as options to unlock new powers, customized attributes, or even to learn new attacks. With its limited depth, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War plays much like any other traditional real-time strategy game.

Freedom of choice is granted through a masked technology tree called the advisor system. Using glory points, you can hire advisors that upgrade units and provide access to new technologies. The upgrades are fairly predictable, but at least the game allows you to determine which technologies you want to spend glory on. Advisors are only available based on your commanding hero’s level; as a result, advancing through technology can be a slow process.

Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War may trumpet its inclusion of extraneous gameplay elements, but the core of its gameplay is real-time strategy. When considering its strategic elements alone, the game simply mirrors other titles with its basic gameplay. Options are afforded to draft formations, set up ambushes, and contrive unique tactics, but these are all available in other strategy games. This doesn’t make Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War unenjoyable; rather, it just feels generic.

What really hurts the game is its difficulty. Like “Hero Command,” gameplay is difficult to the point of frustration. Augmenting the difficulty are defensive missions that require you to stand ground while the computer throws hundreds of units at you; even worse, the first missions of both single player campaign start this way. For an introduction to the game, making players defend against waves of aggressive enemy units isn’t exactly good level design. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War tries to appeal to casual PC gamers with its action elements, but its excessive difficulty seems to be tailored toward a hardcore audience. Between its shallow, multifarious design and issues with difficulty, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War suffers from an identity crisis, preventing it from being neither a stellar strategy game not an outstanding blended title.

Despite the mediocrity of its gameplay, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War looks and sounds fantastic. The graphical quality is among the best in the genre, rivaling Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires III . Since the game is based on ancient history, the artistic design is predictable, but pleasing; units and buildings are rendered convincingly. Details abound on the screen from particle effects to flora and fauna in the diverse environments. Unit animations leave much to be desired, however; especially during cutscenes, units appear to jaunt across the screen instead of walking or running normally. The audio design makes up the difference with superb sound effects and solid voice acting. Zooming to ground level or triggering “Hero Command” enables you to hear a myriad of sound effects that truly immerse you in combat.

*The Final Word*
A fresh approach to a staid genre, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War attempts to innovate upon real-time strategy with role-playing and action elements. While these additions are certainly innovative, they lack depth and only serve to water down the already basic strategy gameplay. Difficult missions make it hard to simply jump into the game, especially for casual gamers. Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War isn’t a bad game; rather, it is a noble effort that simply falls short of its goals.

Overall: 6.9
Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War isn’t a bad game; rather, it is a noble effort that simply falls short of its goals.

— Tracy Erickson

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