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But set against all these good points, there is a lot here that is so-so, or ever so slightly dull. You have four civilizations to choose from, but none of them seems to bring anything really special or different to the party. Tactics that work with the Greeks seem just as likely to work with the Persians, Romans or Egyptians, and – bar a few special units – you seem stuck with the standard groups (basic infantry, archers, cavalry, and spearmen) and their traditional advantages and disadvantages. The research trees are uninspired, and while the troops rank up nicely, actual combat too frequently disintegrates into the usual sort of scrum. As with Age of Empires III, you can see that Rise and Fall is trying to be good, but there’s a slightly depressing feeling that you’ve seen it all too many times before.
Worse, some aspects are actually poor. Any pretence at formation goes out of a window as soon as troops go up a ladder, and there seem to be problems with line of sight and AI. For instance, I found myself forever rescuing troops stuck at the top of a town wall, as they stood in blissful ignorance of the battles raging immediately below. At times, the pathfinding is woefully suspect – there’s little more frustrating than losing a battle because your troops can’t navigate their way down a hill, and if their route involves stairs or a ladder, there are times when you might as well forget it.
Finally, the two campaigns – featuring Alexander and Cleopatra – lack any real coherence or sense of progression. The plotlines are weak, the cut-scenes poorly rendered, and the dialogue is about as laughable as in-game dialogue gets, to the point where you’re almost hoping they meant it to be a parody. The maps are also slightly too linear; as long as you’re not stupid in your resource management and base building, it’s just a matter of following objectives in order until you hit the enemy HQ at the end.