In the world of real-time strategy (RTS) games, the bar has been set awfully high. Series like Command & Conquer and Warcraft have been hugely, monstrously, amazingly successful. This naturally causes other games to follow in their wake. Some of the games are better than others, but none, in this case, seems to be able to touch the might of the Warcraft franchise.
Entering the fray is a new RTS game by Playlogic and Eidos, Ancient Wars: Sparta. If you have ever played any other entry into the genre, Ancienct Wars: Sparta is incredibly easy to get the hang of, the very look and feel of the screen is virtually identical to those games that have come before it. The in-game graphics are certainly more attractive, but the general gameplay remains the same.
Again, with those games that have come before it, Ancienct Wars: Sparta allows players to choose to play campaigns from multiple races, in this case they are Spartans, Egyptians, and Persians. While there are minor differences in the races and the way they function, they all have equivalent types of buildings and warriors, the differences are more for show than anything else (like all games of this genre).
The storyline for the three races deals with the same historical events that surround the blockbuster movie 300. Though, this connection is not purposeful — the game and the film simply happen to have been released around the same time. The Spartans are trying to fend off the evil Persians. While some of the missions are flashbacks, and that ought to add depth to the game, it doesn't. The grand over-arching narrative for the game is distinctly lacking.
The levels themselves tend, once you're beyond the first one or two in each mission (the training levels), to be packed with stuff to do and stuff that can be done to you. It's not that they're that intricate, as there are always loads of enemy warriors gunning for you. One or two wrong moves in a level can prove completely disastrous and force you to start from the beginning (not a fun thing when you're an hour into the level).
To be sure, there are some interesting tweaks here and there to the traditional RTS, most notably ship combat and the development of warriors. Ship combat is far more intricate than any other game I've played, with different types of soldiers on the ships affecting the battles. In terms of warrior development, while there are only a couple of buildings necessary to "train" (read as "create") your warriors, through the use of researchable technology upgrades, each building can create warriors with a number of different weapon and shield combinations (which all cost varying amounts of money). In addition, the laborers who construct buildings, farm, and get gold can pick up the weapons of dead enemy combatants, making them available for kitting your own warriors (but only in the specific amount that were picked up).
While this is a wonderfully interesting feature, the implementation leaves something to be desired. The laborers need to be directed to each individual weapon and shield to be picked up, even when they weapons and shields are all right next to each other, rather than being able to set the laborer to a "scavenge" mode and have them troll for dropped items. Having the ability to pick up advanced weaponry is great, but not if all your soldiers are dying in a battle because you're busy clicking on each individual bow to get them into your stockpile.
Ancient Wars: Sparta is, at turns, frustrating and incredibly fun. I hope that the "Ancient Wars" preface to the title is a precursor of more games to come in the series. There are certainly good elements here to be built upon and refined in follow-ups. In its current iteration, the game provides a decent bridge to tide over gamers to the next blockbuster release in the genre.
Ancient Wars: Sparta is rated M (Mature) for blood and violence by the ESRB.