"I thought this was supposed to be a historical RTS. You know, based on actual history. That's what it sells itself as, anyway...But I'm reasonably certain none of the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean had the power to throw magical fireballs."
About a year back (roughly the time 300 came out, surprise surprise), Dreamcatcher released a Hellenistic-themed RTS by WorldForge called "Ancient Wars Sparta". "Great War Nations: The Spartans" (or "Fate of Hellas" across the pond, guess they figured North Americans were too dumb to know where Hellas is) is yet another of those stand-alone expansion packs I so adore. You might not guess at first because the title is quite different; perhaps Dreamcatcher decided it was best to distance this game from the lukewarm reception the original got. But this is a review, not a rant, so let's get to it, shall we?
It's always difficult reviewing an expansion, particularly a stand-alone, because one is always in danger of repeating oneself with respect to the original game, because really, most of it IS the original. GWN:TS aka FoH follows the expansion forumla to the letter, offering brand-new content to polish up its predecessor while still keeping the core gameplay and feel the same.
The trouble is, the core gameplay and feel of Ancient Wars Sparta wasn`t that great to begin with.
Let`s start with the good at least; visually, this is one of the most impressive RTS titles I`ve seen, right up there with Supreme Commander. Trees shudder as slaves chop them down, armies leave visible tracks as they traverse sand, mud, dirt, grass dances in the wind, structures sprout realistic-looking flames as your forces raze them to the ground, etc. All this is very nice, but by now you should all know my stance on graphical niceties; they're garnish, nothing more. Put too much garnish on your steak, and you`ve just got a big pile of parsley and no meat.
So let`s deal with the main course then, the gameplay. If you`ve played Age of Empires, or Warcraft, or any RTS that came out in the last...well, ever, you know what to expect. Collect resources using workers, bring them to your town hall, build farms, build barracks, start massing the strongest unit type you can build. Rinse and repeat. AWS/GWN:TS/FoH mix it up a little by adding customization options; instead of building Predefined Unit A or B, you`re able to select from a list of weapons and armor unlocked through research, and equip them to one of a few basic soldier `types`. If you like, you can `train` up horses and chariots and have your units mount them, or build warships and crew them. In this cleverly-disguised expansion, enemy soldiers now sometimes drop their equipment when they die, and when your workers bring these spoils of war back to your encampment and issue them for free to your soldiers instead of having to build them with your hard-earned resources.
Sure beats having to pay for equipment, especially when your soldiers die so easily and frequently. Units do a lot of damage, and have comparatively few hitpoints, which isn't a problem given this is true for ALL units, but it does mean that you're less likely to want to go on the offensive if a rabble of archers can halve your forces before they can get within stabbing distance. Even so, it's hard to even build up a sufficiently safe army; the AI sends raiding parties with aggrivating frequency and relentlessness. It makes the game difficult, I can't deny that, but not difficult in a challenging way; it's more difficult in a kind of fruitless way, and knowing that at any moment another raiding party could show up and smash your amassing forces doesn't really encourage you to keep playing.
Moral: Difficult AI is no replacement for smart AI. Ancient Wars had the same problem.
But enough about the problems with the core engine. New stuff: Singleplayer campaign missions are fairly well-executed. I suppose. They're standard fare among the RTS genre, so again, it's what you'd expect from any other game. New factions fit into the existing mix without a hitch, but there's still not much to distinguish between all of them; they look different, but they all feel the same.
Except for the new spellcasters.
Get ready for a rant.
I thought this was supposed to be a historical RTS. You know, based on actual history. That's what it sells itself as, anyway; the back of the box tells us excitedly that this game allows us to "Relive the epic battles of classic Greece" and "rewrite history" as we "fight historic-based battles". But I'm reasonably certain none of the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean had the power to throw magical fireballs. Or magically heal wounds. Or see far-away places with their magical powers.
Ancient Wars: Sparta was at least noteworthy in that it tried to be historical, even if it was a bit cookie-cutter. Fate of Hellas/Great War Nations adds more to the game, sure, but only by drawing on even more cliches and genre standards. I've got nothing against unit diversity, but I really would have preferred they stay away from magic-using units, especially in a game that sells itself as a historical strategy title like Rome: Total War.
Anyway, if you really liked Ancient Wars Sparta (first write to PC Gamer, you might win something), this here expansion is more of the same. On the other hand, it's not going to bring you into the fold if you didn't like the original.
Freelance review by Will Roy (June 09, 2008)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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