You’ve got to feel for megalomaniacal despots of yore. Not only did they have to tend to the needs of their own people, but they had to keep one eye on the horizon too, seeking new territories to conquer and watching for the battle flags of approaching armies.
Rise of Civilizations lets you experience their plight first hand, and on a scale we’ve never seen on mobile before.
We’ll begin at the beginning. You start by choosing to play as one of eight civilizations, from Spain, Rome, Germany, France, Britain, China, Japan and Korea. Then you’re given a small plot of land to cultivate into a city of your own.
At the heart of your city is your City Hall, and as you upgrade this building you gain access to other kinds of buildings, including the usual selection of farm, stable, barracks, archery range, lumber mill, academy, and more. You can also plant trees and build roads.
All of these buildings are upgradeable, and upgrades take time, meaning they have to be queued up at the builder’s hut. Thankfully you can skip them with speed up cards, which you collect through play or buy directly with gems.
This makes your typical mobile gamer’s 5-10 minute playing sessions more meaningful, since you can get stuff done quickly and leave bigger projects to happen in the background while you’re doing something else.
You can load the game, level-up several buildings, send out a few scouts, train some troops, and generally improve your little city all while waiting for the bus.
Got all that? Good. We haven’t really covered anything in depth but you get the general idea.
Now put two fingers on the screen and pinch them together. And again. And again. Eventually you’ll have zoomed out as far as you can go, at which point you can swipe the screen to survey the entire kingdom, most of it shrouded in the fog of war, a mini-map in the top-right corner indicating how much of the world is on your screen.
Swipe all the way to the edge of the mini-map and you’ll arrive at another mini-map. There are nine in all, each one about nine times bigger than a fully zoomed-out screen full of stuff.
Rise of Civilizations is huge, then, and it’s a big bad world outside your little walled city. There are croplands to harvest, barbarians to attack at multiple levels of difficulty, barbarian forts to raid, logging camps, enemy cities, and much, much, more. Every time you send out a scout you create more gameplay.
When it comes to fighting, you’ve got to maintain not only your troops but your RPG commanders, such as Sun Tzu and Joan of Arc. These all have their own skill trees, and you can have several at once, commanding troops in different parts of the map.
You don’t have to take on the whole world alone. Joining an alliance connects you with an entire alliance territory, with shared assets and liabilities.
If you want you can help out your fellow alliance members with troops or donations, and you can ask for help too, with stuff like speeding up research and upgrade processes. You can also contribute funds to alliance-level research projects.
All in all, there’s a dizzying amount of stuff to do in Rise of Civilizations, from domestic housekeeping to bloody war, diplomacy with far off alliances to skirmishes with nearby barbarians, applying buffs to battling through expedition stages, all with simple taps on the screen.
All of this takes place in a continuous, real-time open world environment, with countless notifications letting you know what’s going down when you’re using your phone for something else.
Thankfully there are quests, missions, and daily objectives to drive your forward. These are available in a constant flow, each one rewarding you with food, currency, logs, and other resources.
They involve recruiting more troops, completing researches, improving your horsemanship, and a million other tasks like that, all of them necessary steps on the path to greatness.
We’ve been playing Rise of Civilizations for hours and we still don’t feel like we’ve scratched the surface. There’s so much crammed into this game, in fact, that it can become fiddly at times. You need to make use of the zoom function even within your own city to avoid tapping on the wrong building by mistake.
Likewise, the graphics are serviceable and nicely detailed, but there’s little room for character.
But who needs it? This isn’t that kind of game. It’s an epic real-time strategy MMO in a map that spans thousands of virtual kilometers, and if you have any despotic inclinations whatsoever you should give it a try. Check it out on Google Play or the App Store now.