Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: World Forge
Release Date: April 24, 2007
In 480 BC, an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian Empire at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. Vastly outnumbered (300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and 6,000 various other Greeks against about 2.5 million), the Greeks held back the Persians for three days in one of history's most famous last stands. On the third and final day, all but 2,000 Greeks were dismissed, and the Persians put an end to the Greek allies. Despite their defeat, this gave time for the rest of Greece to amass their army to battle against the Persians. This battle has become very popular recently due to the hit movie "300," based on Frank Miller's graphic novel depicting the Battle of Thermopylae. Ancient Wars: Sparta is a real-time strategy game about the events during this time, playable through the eyes of Greece, Egypt, and Persia. Unfortunately, the title seems to try and capitalize on the era's recent popularity, rather than being a truly spectacular RTS game in its own right.
Ancient Wars: Sparta plays like your typical RTS game: Build a variety of structures, including defenses, amass a small group of units or a large army, and wipe out your enemy. No matter which campaign you choose to play — Sparta, trying to hold and retaliate against the Persians; Persia, rising to power under the rule of King Xerxes; or Egypt, attempting to escape the slavery of the Persians — they generally have the same type of buildings (Basic, Offensive, and Defenses). The resources are gold, lumber, and food; gold is obtained by creating gold mines on ore veins, lumber by harvesting nearby trees, and food by constructing farms. I found that these resources accumulated very slowly, and I often found myself sitting around and waiting for resources to accumulate before creating each unit.
As far as storyline goes, Ancient Wars: Sparta tries its best to follow the historic events around 480 BC. Apart from multiple scenarios for each campaign to help tell the story, the game also features cinematics and cut scenes using in-game assets. I often skipped the cut scenes, which were very choppy and boring. The voiceovers were horrible, and after watching "300," I thought of King Leonidas as being strong and heroic. Based on his voice in Ancient Wars: Sparta, he sounds just like my neighbor Ed, who sells furniture for a living.
Without a doubt, the title's most innovative and exciting feature is the ability to customize your units with different weapons and equipment. Each of the three campaigns has a "Light," "Medium," and "Heavy" unit, which can be customized with various weapons and armor. The downside is that Spartas, Persians, and Egyptians really aren't unique at all; they can be customized the same way and consist of light, medium, and heavy units. Another cool feature that goes hand in hand with the customization is the option to pick up equipment from your fallen enemies. This can reduce the build time and cost of your units, but still takes time and can be tedious; you must send a worker to the corpse of your enemy, who picks up the equipment, and then must walk all the way back to your base.
While unit customization is exciting yet lacking in terms of variety, other cool little features set apart the three different factions. Each faction has unique heroes, such as Xerxes for the Persians and King Leonidas for the Spartans, as well as unique units, such as Immortals for the Persians. While these features certainly do not create a vast amount of diversity between the three factions, it helps to ensure that when you're the Persian campaign, it feels like you're playing the Persian campaign.
In terms of historical accuracy, Ancient Wars: Sparta seems to do pretty well. I know a little about the Battle of Thermopylae and the events of its time, and was able to point out certain events and scenarios in the game that were historically accurate. I also did a little bit of research on the Internet and found that most of the events in the game actually did take place, and Ancient Wars: Sparta does a good job at chronologically displaying those events.
Graphically, Ancient Wars: Sparta doesn't look bad at all. Unfortunately, the game refuses to let you play on a resolution that doesn't fit your monitor's aspect ratio, so despite what size you may want to play it on, you can't. Because of this, the game looked worse than it should have, but overall, the environment and structures were textured quite well for an RTS title. One thing I didn't like, though, is customizing units was often confusing because each unit looked practically the same, regardless of which weapons it had. This makes it very tedious to organize your armies, and I often found myself charging my ranged troops into close combat, or expecting my swordsman to fire arrows from afar.
As if the voiceovers weren't horrible enough, the overall sound effects, from swords clanging to buildings collapsing, didn't give an immersive feel at all. For a game that tries hard to pinpoint historic elements to ancient Sparta and its events, almost every sound file in the game seemed fake and almost silly. The quality of the ambient sound effects could have been improved, and I'm certain that they could have hired better voice actors.
The multiplayer features for Ancient Wars: Sparta were very limited. It can be used to play AI-controlled forces on up to nine different maps, or against other players in a competitive mode, though I was unable to try out. It seems as if the game would take no skill, but rather depended on who got lucky by creating the right unit combination to face others, due to the lack of in unit variety among the Persians, Greeks, and Spartans.
Overall, Ancient Wars: Sparta is a very generic RTS game. It's graphically appealing, but in terms of gameplay, there are many better RTS offerings out there. I wouldn't recommend AW:S unless you're a hardcore fan of the events that took place around the time of the Battle of Thermopylae, but if you're looking for a great RTS game to enjoy the campaign or exciting multiplayer content ... then Ancient Wars: Sparta isn't your best choice.