Date of publish: 09/11/2020 20:10 CET
Real-time strategy games have covered many historical periods, both real and imagined, but until now none has focused exclusively on the discovery and colonization of the New World. This week on “Extended Play” we take a look at “American Conquest,” an ambitious and complex RTS from the developers of 2001’s “Cossacks: European Wars” that brings together the major players in North America during the late 15th through early 19th centuries.
From Columbus to colonists
“American Conquest” contains eight campaigns covering major events of the era, from Columbus’ “discovery” of America up until the Revolutionary War. The roster of 12 nations includes European bigwigs such as England and France, and smaller tribes such as the Hurons and the Sioux, each with its own appropriate characteristics, unique units, and building facades.
The 42 individual missions are introduced with a spoken preface that provides a historical context for what follows. Though on the dry side, these intros add a welcome educational component to the game. The missions cover a variety of simple and complex objectives, including defending an area for a specific amount of time, reaching a resource goal, setting up an outpost, or capturing enemy territory. In addition to the scenario mode, gamers can choose to play a random map against up to six CPU or human players.
Not another ‘Age’
Gamers weaned on “Age of Empires II,” the gold standard of historical real-time strategy, or on one of its many descendents (“Empire Earth,” “Age of Mythology,” and so on), will be surprised by “American Conquest.” The emphasis here is on large-scale battles, with the potential for thousands of soldiers to participate in massive encounters. Building and resource gathering still play significant roles, but warfare definitely takes center stage. Accordingly, “Age” players will need to make some adjustments. The players won’t be able to build walls, buildings can be captured by enemy forces, and there’s a significantly different method for creating units. While these differences are welcome, they also lead to a rather daunting learning curve.
Unfortunately, the documentation leaves much to be desired. The printed manual includes basic startup instructions and some information on battle techniques, but tech trees, unit statistics, and nation data are available only as PDF files. On the plus side, the mission scenarios are structured so that you learn the elements of the game as you progress. Beginners should start on the easiest difficulty setting, though, since the CPU has a tendency to throw an endless supply of units at you from the outset.
The game has six official resources: food, wood, gold, iron, stone, and coal. However, peasants are without a doubt the most important resource — almost to the game’s detriment. Not only will you use them for resource gathering and structure building, but you’ll also need them for soldier training and to garrison buildings as the game’s main form of defense. You’ll need to keep a constant supply of peasants on hand, and that makes creating military units more involved than in other RTS games.
Once you’ve created the huge number of units the game allows, you must then organize and control them. Thankfully, soldiers can be grouped into regiments and treated as a single unit once certain requirements are met. Dealing with these regiments is much easier than is micromanaging individual soldiers, but, even so, keeping a handle on a large number of units remains one of the game’s foremost challenges.
America in two dimensions
At a time when many real-time strategy games are switching to 3D visuals, “American Conquest” sticks with 2D, and the results look great. Set from an attractive isometric perspective, the sheer scale of the game is impressive. Though individual units are necessarily rather small and can become hard to differentiate when in large groups, there’s never any slowdown, even during large skirmishes. We would have welcomed a zoom-in function, but there’s an optional high-altitude view available for greater planning during battles. Although the graphics are 2D, the landscapes are 3D, so the terrain can play an important strategic role. The music and sound effects are unassuming, but they add to the realistic atmosphere of the game with sharp gunfire and bass-heavy explosions.
Serious gamers only
“American Conquest” distinguishes itself not only with its unique setting and time period, but also by its willingness to break away from familiar RTS conventions. The game is clearly aimed at the serious RTS player — one that doesn’t mind micromanagement, perseverance, and constant concentration. While it isn’t as intuitive as the best games in the genre, its underlying complexity is such that you could play for days and only begin to scratch the surface of what it has to offer. This will be the main drawback for some and the big attraction for others. While it’s not for everyone, “Extended Play” gives “American Conquest” four out of five stars.
Written by Skyler Miller
Original date of publish: 28.02.2003