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Game review: Ancient Conquest: The Golden Fleece

August 10, 1999
Web posted at: 8:35 a.m. EDT (1235 GMT)

by Barry Brenesal


(IDG) -- Ancient Conquest revives my faith in the ability of developers to extract good ore from the heavily-worked mine shaft of real-time strategy.

The setting is the Greece of ancient legends, and, specifically, the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason's uncle has unlawfully withheld his kingdom after the young man's coming-of-age, but agrees to return it in exchange for the legendary Golden Fleece. Jason gradually acquires skilled teammates (including the demi-god Hercules), sets sail, and succeeds.

Of course, there's more to the tale; and more to the game, which only loosely uses the Argonaut's tale for its own purposes.

Its most distinctive feature, as it unfolds over 14 linked and another 15 stand-alone scenarios, is that nearly all significant activities take place on water--on boats that gather resources of fish and amber and various warships that explore the unrevealed map, fulfill missions, and destroy enemy convoys. You don't land soldiers to destroy a Persian stronghold, but bombard it from the sea. Ship-to-ship combat tactics include ramming, firing upon, and boarding the vessels of your enemies.
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The difficulties associated with fleet combat give Ancient Conquest its unique flavor. Ship speed changes according to wind direction; bombardment and ramming require specific angles of attack. (You don't have to figure any of this out yourself, of course, but you'll want to keep it in mind, because the player who fires weapons first has both an undeniable advantage.)

Your ships will also have to deal with hazards that increase as quests grow more complex: sirens, harpies, sharks, dragons, waterspouts and wizards that cast fireballs.

Enemy AI is among the best we've seen. Each ship knows when to retreat, when to ram, when to bombard, and so forth. High marks also go to controls that allow you to create patterns of behavior for your own fleets. You can set them to concentrate on specific attack modes, patrol, scout, guard zones and form convoys.

In later stages, the game focuses a bit more on research. You'll be able to create temples and cast spells, using your gathered resources for power, and erect workshops and sage buildings to design better projectile weapons and armor. The research tree is relatively simple, but that's all to the good. In a real-time startegy game, you can't afford to neglect the battlefield while musing over hulls and sail fabric.

You can play with up to seven other people--either allied or in a free-for-all--over a wide range of connections on the 25 included maps or create your own with the Scenario Builder. If multiplayer doesn't stand out as much as it might, blame the enemy AI in the single-player game. You don't feel the lack of an opposing intelligence.

Now, Ancient Conquest isn't all that new or striking. It doesn't offer anywhere near the number of buildings or units that C&C does. It doesn't let you play three sides with distinct strategic advantages, like StarCraft, and it lacks the visual punch of Myth II. But its distinctive setting and challenges, sea combat, generous scenarios and exemplary AI kick much-needed life back into the RTS genre.


  • Boarding ships is better than ramming or destroying them with shot, since you not only eliminate a successfully boarded enemy-you gain an extra ship.

  • If boats are ordered to gather fish or amber from specific spots, they will stop gathering once these resources are gone. To increase their hunting range, click on the boat, then Resources, then choose a resource and click-drag the mouse over its territory.

  • Nowhere in the documentation will you read that if you keep a useful artifact or treasure aboard a ship at the end of a scenario, it doesn't transfer to the next scenario. It has to be dropped off at one of your settlements to make the transition.

  • An easy way for warships to gain experience in the early scenarios is to set them on auto-pilot, attacking Amazons on the lower left side of the map. The ships will take no direct damage, but weaponry will occasionally break. Take them back to port and refit them.

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