Date of publish: 16/11/2020 18:49 CET
Gameplay is more important than graphics, right? That’s what you’ll hear on any gaming message board, alongside posts where people are comparing benchmarks scores for their new $500 video card. We gamers can be a contradictory lot, wouldn’t you say?
In American Conquest: Divided Nation, GSC Game World is banking on the “gameplay trumps graphics” argument being true, and that gamers are more interested in a deep strategy game than Age of Empires III-level graphics … or even Age of Mythology-level, for that matter. And had they accomplished their goal, all would be well. Unfortunately, the game falls short in a number of areas.
The setting for American Conquest: Divided Nation is primarily during the American Civil War of the 1860s, or roughly the same period as Age of Empires III. This period had been underserved in the strategy game category, with the most notable game being Sid Meier’s Gettysburg. It was a smart move by GSC Game World to hunt out a unique niche for their game, which might attract gamers bored by or disinterested in the standard RTS settings of fantasy or medieval history. However, with the coinciding release of AoE III, which covers approximately the same period of time, American Conquest finds itself in a difficult spot of competing against one of the genre heavyweights.
After the install and requisite reboot required by the StarForce copy protection (and subsequent entering of a second key – one for the game, one for StarForce), launching the game brings the game menu and some pleasant period music, the name of which I don’t know but to which my mind insists the lyrics are “The ants go marching 1 by 1, hurrah hurrah”. There are a number of choices to make, but games can broadly be classified into two categories: the “standard” RTS model where you collect resources, build an army, and let mayhem ensue; and a more tactical game where you start off with your military units and can not build more – the person who deploys their units with the most skill and imagination wins. This second style is perhaps a bit reminiscent of the Myth series, except on a much bigger scale involving hundreds of units.
The first thing I generally do when first playing a RTS game is go through the tutorial to learn the game’s mechanisms. Though the RTS genre is fairly standardized, each game tends to have a few unique conventions that a well-crafted tutorial will introduce you to. Unfortunately, there’s no tutorial to be found here. The manual and trial-and-error will have to suffice. Except, they don’t. Oh, the manual is fairly thorough, but various basics of gameplay are touched upon too briefly, or not at all, making for a frustrating learning curve. As such, I initially struggled quite a bit even versus the Easy computer before figuring out how to accomplish tasks like creating mines. There is also a bit too much micromanagement for my taste: six resources to collect, more than half-a-dozen attack conditions to be set, five formations to choose from – American Conquest: Divided Nation feels like it wants to be a turn-based strategy game, instead of a real-time strategy game where the trend has been towards abstracting these issues in the name of gameplay over realism.
One nice touch GSC Game World included is the multitude of configurable options available when you play a random map. With options for terrain, starting units, “peacetime” length (a no-rush option that enforces peace for a given amount of time) and more, only Rise of Nations in recent memory has as many ways to tweak the game conditions. Upon launching a game, the aspect you immediately notice is the graphics. There’s no sugarcoating it – these graphics are dated. We’re talking original Age of Empires or Starcraft-era graphics. Fortunately, the buildings are large and detailed, and it’s always easy to identify the types of units. The interface doesn’t fare quite as well. Compared to other strategy games, it is difficult to immediately see, for example, how close to completion a building under construction is, it takes two mouse clicks to see how many units are garrisoned inside a building, and so on. Some streamlining of the interface and emphasizing of important details would go a long ways to making the game more accessible.
The Myth-style tactical battles fare better. Knowing unit’s strengths and weaknesses and deploying squads appropriately is exciting and rewarding. You soon learn the importance of protecting your cannons and keeping units out of each other’s gunfire, and seeing a horde of Union soldiers about to break through a lightly defended section of your line is nerve-wracking. Performance becomes an issue when you have upwards of a thousand units spread out on the battlefield and the game would become noticeably choppy on a system that exceeded the game’s recommended specs.
The multiplayer options include hotseat, lan, and internet. There were only a handful of games online the times I checked, but that may be due to limited release in the United States thus far.
Overall, it is difficult to find a reason to recommend this game over, say, Age of Empires III. A higher learning curve, more micromanagement, dated graphics, and an interface that could use a bit of fine-tuning make this a mediocre game.
Written by Ian Cowan
Original date of publish: 19.01.2006