Running an empire is about more than just throwing your weight around in countries on the other side of the world. You’ve also got to keep things ticking over at home, investing the spoils of war in improving the lives of your own people.
That’s was the gist of Julius Caesar’s weekly to-do list, and it’s also the gist of Rise of Civilizations, a massive strategy MMO from developer Lilith Games.
You start off by choosing from eight different civilizations: Rome, Spain, Britain, France, Germany, China, Japan and Korea. Once you’ve done this, you’re given a little walled city to cultivate.
Everything pivots around your City Hall. As you upgrade this building you get access to other building types, though the relationship is circular since you can only upgrade your City Hall once you’ve got your other buildings up to a certain level.
These other buildings include the usual selection: farm, barracks, archery range, lumber mill, academy, and so on.
Upgrades take time, whether that be a few seconds or a few hours. This would make for some slow, not particularly mobile-friendly gameplay if not for the speed-up system.
As you complete quests and daily tasks you earn these speed-up cards in fairly copious numbers, and you can use them pretty freely to expedite building, training, and research times, allowing you to get a lot done in a single short playing session.
Rise Civilisations up
Naturally, there’s more to running a city than that, but those are the basics. It’s time to take a broader view.
Lilith Games somewhat boldly boasts that Rise of Civilizations has an “infinite zoom” feature. While this is patently impossible, there’s no denying that the scale of the game is impressive.
You have to pinch your fingers together a surprising number of times before you’re zoomed all the way out, and even then you can swipe to scroll to different areas of the map. There are nine in all, covering thousands of square kilometers of in-game territory, most of it covered in a blanket of fog.
This territory is divided up into regions and separated by mountains, with passes allowing you to travel between them. We can’t begin to guess how long it would take you to uncover the whole map.
You roll back the fog of war by sending out scouts and dispatching troops. As you reveal the map you’ll discover, croplands, logging camps, barbarian forts, groups of wandering barbarians, cities, temples, and much more, all of it presenting you with choices: raid or avoid, harvest or fight?
As with real statecraft, your army is vitally important in projecting your power and influence. You grow this army by recruiting and training troops and archers, and by building siege weapons in your workshop. And you control it with commanders.
These commanders introduce a neat RPG element to the game. Based on real historical figures such as Sir Lancelot, Julius Caesar, and Joan of Arc, they can be leveled up via their own personal skill trees, and you add more to your stable as you grow your army, allowing you to deploy troops in different areas under the control of different commanders.
You can also extend your reach by joining an alliance. This transforms pretty much every area of the game, giving you an endless reserve of wars to assist in, income to earn through shared assets, and assistance with upgrading and researching stuff in your city.
Rise of Civilizations is an open, real-time, free-flowing universe packed with content, and this can make it a bit daunting.
Thankfully there’s a very active supply of missions and daily tasks to work your way through. These serve the dual purpose of nudging you along in the right direction (by stipulating that you grow your army, send out a scout, or whatever) and keeping you well supplied with resources.
And you can take a break from the daily grind by taking part in expedition missions — though this will be a waste of time if you haven’t levelled up your army enough.
To say that Rise of Civilizations is packed with content would be an understatement. For every detail we’ve managed to squeeze into this review there are a thousand more subtleties and nuances to discover.
Problems merely a trifle
Packing so much in has cost the game some of the clarity and charm of its simpler and more accessible genre stablemates. It’s easy to tap on the wrong building in your city, and the items on the map are necessarily tiny and relatively featureless. But this is unavoidable in a game on this scale, and it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience.
If you’re looking for multiplayer real-time strategy on an epic scale, look no further.