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Rise and Fall – Between Good and Average

June 14th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

You can read my review of Midway’s Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War here. Actually, this is Stainless Steel Studios’ game – the final game from the people that brought you the highly overrated Empire Earth and the greatly undervalued Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. As you can see, their titles never got very creative.

At Gamespot, Jason Ocampo ruled it “fair” – a 6.6 score that would have given me an out if I was allowed to use decimals. Over at 1up, Tom Chick ruled the game barely average with a 5/10, though the conclusion sounds like he almost gave it a three. There is actually quite a bit of difference in those two reviews, but both are let down by Rise and Fall. I wasn’t, but then my expectations were really low.

I went back and forth a long time on what score to give R&F. I know that the score isn’t the important thing, but I was held to a pretty strict word limit (and still went over…) and there was a lot I wanted to say about R&F. I had to decide whether this was a good game (a seven) or a solid game (a six). Then I had to choose my text to fit the conclusion.

Why the indecision on my part? Because, in many ways, those guys are right. Rise and Fall fails at a lot of what it sets out to do. The action part of the game is cool for a while, but ultimately unfulfilling. There is no sense that this is anything new or novel; it’s the same historic RTS that people have been making ever since Ensemble made Age of Empires. The campaigns are terrible.
But for me, the good outweighed the bad. No other RTS this side of Cossacks promises you huge armies and epic sized battles – and delivers. Sure, battles degenerate into swirling masses of crap, but that’s true about Rise of Legends, too; the big difference is that BHG’s swirling crap is usually very large and easy to notice. The siege warfare component is excellent – you can man the ramparts with archers and force your opponent to build weak ladder carriers to take them out. Civilian advisors are hired by spending “glory” a precious resource that can only be rapidly increased by going into battle. Choosing when to posess your hero can turn the tide of a major battle, or not if your opponent holds of on posessing his/hers until your Cleo in a miniskirt is seriously drained.

And, unlike some observers, I think Rise and Fall is actually a very attractive game. The trees wobble when struck by an axe, the flora and fauna frolic, the battles are appropriately gory. The buildings are a little dull, but really that’s about it as far as graphics complaints go.

None of this, however, makes me blind to the problems that neither Ocampo nor Chick spent much time on. (Ah, the tyranny of the word count.)

Take hero selection. Each nation gets two heroes, but for some of them there is only one real choice. Alexander is always a better bet than Achilles, Julius Caesar always trumps Germanicus; both favored heroes are faster, stronger and better with a bow. The Persians have the crappiest heroes (which isn’t surprising since they’re not even Persians) but Sargon’s Bow of Many Killings is almost always a wiser choice. They could have easily made this decision more interesting by making one hero cost more than another, making you choose between an early hero attack or a later one, or giving you the option to switch from a lame hero to a cool one once you had amassed a certain amount of glory.

Take naval combat. This game has great naval combat. Galleys ram each other, troops have to disembark and not just leap off en masse, you need drummers and sailors to perform sophisticated maneuvers…all very cool stuff. So why are there so few naval maps? Or so few maps that balance the new and wonderful ramming battles with the familiar archer/spearmen/horse-dude circle?

So, as you can see, I’m still a bit on the fence between good and average. (I’m on the fence about Rise of Legends, too, but it’s in a better neighborhood.) And this is why I wish I had more words. There are never enough words, even on the infinite page of the internet.

How did I finally decide? Well, I took my screenshots, wrote my two or three drafts…and did not uninstall. In fact, once the review was sent off, I played it again. And again. Is it the pull of material that I find inherently interesting? Considering my rapid uninstall of Legion: Arena, I don’t think so. Yes, I wish the AI was more aggressive. Yes, I sometimes wished the early economy wasn’t so weighted towards waiting.

But mostly I wished for a little more stamina so I could finish off those elephants.


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