previewed on PC
Light at the end of the tunnel
I must say that I have been relatively underwhelmed with RTS games over the past couple of years. The last good RTS game I have played has been Command and Conquer Red Alert 2. While Stronghold 2 was decent it didn?t have the x-factor that would have made it a great game. More recently, Age of Empires 3 felt like a waste of fifty dollars while Command and Conquer: Generals was a huge disappointment compared to its predecessors. But there is a light shining at the end of the tunnel and it comes in the form of Ancient Wars: Sparta. This new game, in development over at Russian developer World Forge, might just be innovative enough to set some new standards in the RTS genre.
Sharpen you spears
Ancient Wars: Sparta is taking advantage of a recent trend for games to date far back into ancient and medieval times. In this case, the game plays even before the invention of gunpowder on the European continent. Back then, Greece was divided into large city states. Among the largest of these, was Sparta. As you no doubt have guessed from the title, you take control of the Spartan faction. As the leader of this faction, you will be taken through no less than 30 different single player missions. What can you expect from these missions? Read on and you'll find out.
Much like any modern RTS game, your job will be to build up a city and an economy. All the while defending it and, hopefully, defeating your opponent in the process. Most of your battles will take place on land but in Ancient Wars: Sparta, fighting also takes place on another 'battlefield'.
You see, the ancient Greek were advanced seafarers and as a result, a game about ancient Sparta, cannot be without naval combat. While other games have included this feature, few have actually added 'wind' as a major deciding factor during sea battles. The force and direction of the wind can make or break your attack, as well as influencing your ability to pull out before it is too late and flee. If your choice is not to flee, the game will let you ram other ships, fire ballistae or engage in hand to hand fighting between ships. If the wind isn't strong enough to catch up with the enemy, ships are equipped with oars and rowers can give you some extra speed.
World Forge is trying to find a good balance between fun and realism. One of the ways to achieve this, is by basing the campaign missions on real historic events. Many of the missions you will play are taken directly from the history books. Playing the game may actually be educational! Another interesting feature that adds to the games' realism, is the ability to retreive weapons that were dropped by soldiers (friend and foe) who have died on the battlefield.
Next to the sea battles, wind also plays an important role on land and in particular in combination with fire. A small fire in your city can quickly turn into a nightmare when the wind causes nearby buildings to also catch fire. If you're not careful, your entire city may burn down. One way to deal with this, is to refrain from placing your buildings too close to one another. But while this will keep fire from spreading, it also has a downside: you will have less space for expanding your city.
Another new addition to the realism factor, are the games' physics. Shocks caused by for instance Catapult impacts, may cause nearby buildings to collapse. So even if you do not hit a building directly, you may be causing serious damage. Again the space between buildings are of influence in the game. These seemingly small touches will force you to plan before you build and adds a level of realism that most other RTS games are missing.
The units of Ancient Wars: Sparta are mostly infantry based but also include other unit types. In the 'range' department, the game features Archery units but also includes heavy war machines like Catapults and Ballistae. Mounted units like War Chariots and Elephants make an appearance and are sure to add to the fun and chaos on the battlefield. Ships themselves aren't units as such, but serve as transports on which units can be placed. This enables you to, for instance, create ships that are specialised in ranged attacks (Archers, Ballistae) or in hand-to-hand combat (Sword infantry).
Armies can consist of hundreds of units, creating epic battles that are somewhat reminiscent of the Total War games. While units will physically look more or less the same, their equipment may vary. It will be possible to customize each unit, determining what type of weapon or shield they should carry.
The quality and style of the graphics in Ancient Wars: Sparta are solid and very appealing. Both impressed me quite a bit as they are a good leap up for RTS games everywhere. The developers are paying attention to realism but not up to the point that the game becomes a military simulator. They are also trying to innovate and that is a bold thing to do in this world of RTS sequels that seem to improve and bank only on graphical splendour. Ancient Wars: Sparta however, does both. Innovative new features and a graphics engine that is finger-licking good, may well give the game an edge over other RTS titles coming out this year.