Ancient Wars: Sparta is a real-time strategy game in which the player controls the Spartans, the Ancient Egyptians and the Ancient Persians. The game is divided up into three separate campaigns, one for each of the three cultures, with each campaign divided into multiple missions. The campaigns are independent of one another, and can be played in any order. The missions within each campaign, however, are linear, and each mission only becomes available when the previous one has been completed. Although gameplay focuses primarily on combat, the game also features elements of economic micromanagement, as the player must generate enough resources to build up their armies to the point where they can defeat the opposing forces. Within each mission, the player will usually have multiple primary objectives, and will often have one or more secondary objectives. Secondary objectives are not necessary to complete the mission, but often reward the player with troops and/or resources if fulfilled.
The game features three basic types of infantry unit; "Light", "Medium", and "Heavy". Light infantry ("Psiloi" for the Spartans, "Nubian mercenaries" for the Egyptians, and "Kara Warriors" for the Persians) are lightly armored and fast, functioning best as ranged attackers. Medium infantry ("Spartiate" for the Spartans, "Mighty Nadsez" for the Egyptians, and "Nobles" for the Persians), are medium armored and stronger, functioning well as either ranged or melee units. Heavy infantry ("Hoplites" for the Spartans, "Pharaoh's Guard" for the Egyptians and "Immortals" for the Persians) are heavily armored and slow, best utilized as melee units. However, the player is free to create melee warriors and archers from all three types of unit, allowing for a total of six different types of infantry.
All infantry units are "built" either at the barracks or archery range. Before building a unit, the player must choose which items are to be equipped to that unit. Each unit has three slots for customization, with the player free to choose from a primary weapon, a secondary weapon and, depending on the primary and secondary weapon, a shield. However, most weapons and shields must be researched before the player can equip them. Once researched, the weapon then has to be manufactured, with research and manufacture carried out in two separate buildings, with each process costing resources and taking time. Once a weapon has been researched and manufactured, the player is free to equip it to a unit. Weapon manufacture is a one-time procedure, and is not required every time the player equips that particular weapon. An alternative way to equip soldiers is to have workers collect the equipment of defeated enemies. These weapons can then be used by the player to equip their own army at no cost, and with no research or manufacture time.
Players can also produce siege weaponry such as, depending on what campaign they are playing, battering rams, catapults, siege towers, ballistae and war animals, such as camels and elephants. Opponents' siege weaponry and animals cans be taken over and used by the player in the same manner as their weaponry.
The game also features heroes, who have more health points and are stronger than normal units, and who can acquire special abilities when they level up. In some missions, if the player's hero dies, the mission is immediately over. If the mission does not require the hero to survive, but he is killed in combat, the player can revive him in the main building for a fee.
During combat, the player has four different attack patterns from which to choose; "Aggressive" (attack enemies as soon as they come within range, and pursue fleeing enemies indefinitely), "Defensive" (attack enemies as soon as they come within range, but only pursue them a short distance), "Hold the ground" (units defend their position and do not pursue the enemy), and "Passive" (units do not attack the enemy unless they are attacked first). The game also features naval combat, involving three different types of ship: light battleships (fast but weak), heavy battleships (equipped with a catapult), and barges (defenceless; used to transport large groups of soldiers and equipment).
In terms of resource management, the game features three types of resource; gold, wood and food. Gold and wood are required to construct buildings, research new weaponry and technologies, equip warriors with weapons and shields, and build heavy equipment such as catapults and chariots. Food is required to sustain the army and workers. If food reserves drop to zero, the number of health points of all combat units begins to diminish, eventually dropping to 10% of the maximum amount. The player can acquire gold by building goldmines, wood by clearing forests, and food by constructing buildings such as farms.
Workers are necessary to build all buildings, and to gather wood. They also occupy and operate buildings such as farms and goldmines to produce food and gold, and buildings involved in the research and manufacture of new weaponry. Workers can also repair buildings, can collect enemy weapons, and, in the Persian campaign, are required to directly build ships and heavy equipment.
The game contains three semi-fictional campaigns centered around three ancient civilizations: Sparta, Ancient Egypt and Persia.
The Spartan campaign:
The story begins during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Leonidas has left Sparta for Thermopylae, planning to face the much larger Persian army led by Xerxes. Anticipating reinforcements from the other Greek states, he is disappointed to learn they have not been sent. Additionally, even the Spartan people think Leonidas' plan is foolish and doomed to failure. As such, Pausanias has been sent to find Leonidas and talk him out of fighting. Refusing to back down, Leondias tells Pausanias the story of his early days as king. Shortly after ascending to the throne, a rebellion spread throughout the neighboring states. As Leonidas and his friend Candaules fight the rebels, they are approached by Leonidas' uncle, Demaratus, known as the "exiled king." Demaratus pledges troops to their struggle, and together, they are able to put down the rebellion. However, Demeratus then betrays Leonidas, saying he is the only true king and is planning to take the throne back. Leonidas heads back to Sparta, where he learns Demaratus has recruited a large body of Athenians to fight in his army. He attacks Demaratus' camp, defeating him. However, Demaratus survives and escapes.
Leonidas story of defending Sparta from a greater force inspires Pausanias to join him in the fight against Xerxes. At the Battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas is killed, and the Spartans defeated, but before he dies, Leonidas appoints Pausanias as head of the army, urging him to return to Sparta and assemble as large an army as he can. After hearing of the sacrifice made by the Spartans at Thermopylae, thousands of Greek warriors join the struggle, and Pausanias leads them to Salamis for a final battle against Xerxes. At the Battle of Salamis, the Greeks are victorious, breaking the back of the Persian army. Xerxes retreats to Miletus, where the Greek army follow him. As he attempts to flee, his barge is destroyed and he drowns, ending the invasion of Greece.
The Egyptian campaign:
After the Persian conquest of Egypt, the Persian commander in Egypt, Megabyzus, forces the Egyptians to fight as expendable soldiers in Xerxes armies. Inaros trains soldiers for the Persian army, but has never thought of rebellion because he knows the Persians are much stronger than the Egyptians. The only thing that gives him comfort is his lover Meritaton. However, when Megabyzus abducts Meritaton, Inaros is moved to begin a rebellion. As news of the rebellion spreads throughout Egypt, Megabyzus begins slaughtering innocent citizens. Inaros heads to Elbo to recruit the Nubians, and then to Libya to urge the Libyans to join him. After they pledge their support, word reaches Inaros that Leonidas has arrived in Egypt and is laying siege to Sais. Inaros aligns himself with Leonidas and the Spartans against the Persians, helping Leonidas conquer Sais, before heading to recruit more Egyptians into the rebellion, and arranging to meet the Greeks and Libyans near Memphis. After defeating a Persian force in Athribis, Inaros rescues Leonidas from a trap, and rendezvouses with the Libyans. Together, the Egyptians, Spartans and Libyans attack Memphis, killing Megabyzus. Inaros is reunited with Meritaton, as the Egyptians celebrate their freedom.
The Persian campaign:
The story begins at the conclusion of the first Persian invasion of Greece, with Darius returning to Persia in disgrace having been defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon. Determined to conquer Greece, he raises another army, but before leaving, he elects his son Xerxes as his successor over Xerxes' brother, Artabuzes. Behind the scenes, Xerxes secretly had the aid of the exiled king of Sparta, Demaratus, and the two had struck a deal; Demaratus would help Xerxes become king, and Xerxes would appoint Demaratus governor of Sparta once the Persians have conquered it. After announcing Xerxes as his successor, Darius dies before he is able to invade Greece again. Xerxes orders a week of mourning, but Artabuzes attempts to stage a coup. He is defeated by Mardonius and Demaratus, who are then sent by Xerxes to quell a rebellion against Persian rule in Egypt. They do so, as Xerxes invades India for its resources.
Multiple victories in India fill Xerxes with confidence, and despite the warnings of his counsellor Artabanus that he is pushing his army too hard and extending his reach too far, he continues invading new territory. Fed up fighting, a small group of Persians revolt, but Xerxes, Demaratus, Mardonius, and Hydarnes brutally suppress the rebellion. Xerxes then turns his attention to Greece, invading and attacking Sparta. Demeratus is soon killed, but at the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans are defeated, although Hydarnes is also killed. Hearing that the Spartans brave defence at Thermopylae has inspired the previously passive Greek city states, Xerxes orders his soldiers to continue to attack without allowing them rest. At the Battle of Plataea, the Persians prove victorious, defeating the Greeks. At the conclusion of the battle, Xerxes looks for Artabanus with whom to celebrate, but he is unable to find him.
The game was first announced on February 11, 2005 as Sparta: Ancient Wars, with German consulting firm Interactive Media Consulting unveiling it as the first in a proposed series of Ancient Wars games. Unusually, in the announcement, neither the developer nor the publisher were revealed. World Forge were announced as the developers in April. In an interview with IGN, producer Torsten Hess, and Ingo Horn of IMC spoke of their hopes that the game would be the first in a franchise, and emphasised the historical reality of Sparta;
The name Ancient Wars has been chosen to establish a brand for potential future RTS games like Sparta, but with different historical content. It is new for the genre of RTS games that actual events and historical facts will be the base for such a game. In the past, many games were set in such scenarios, but were freer in terms of storyline, characters and units. With Sparta, we have put much effort into research about the time, and living and dying in those days. Also, we did not implement any fantasy or scientific elements in the game, like magic or gods. So, everything you will encounter is a real part of that time.
Speaking of combat and the AI system, they explained,
we are going in a relatively free direction with the AI. Of course, the stone, scissor, paper rules play a big part in Sparta, but in terms of tactics, we will add several features to the genre that are totally unique and have never been seen before. They will really add stunning new gaming experiences, enable much greater tactical variety, and require much better understanding of ancient warfare. In most common ancient RTS games, it has just been kind of "which player had more and better units," but in Sparta, you will get several other possible ways to achieve your goals.
They also explained the game was using a newly developed game engine, dubbed the "Ancient Wars Graphic Engine," which was specifically designed for Sparta, and specialises in displaying large vistas when the player is zoomed out, and high levels of detail when the player zooms in. The engine implemented a state-of-the-art vertex shader, DirectX 9, self-shadowing and dynamic lighting. The game also features its own newly developed physics engine.
In an IGN interview in May 2006, Horn emphasised why he felt Sparta was unique in the RTS genre:
it is a VERY ambitious and amazing game, not only one with stunning graphics. The key feature is, of course, the ability to capture the enemy's weapons and special units, and the use of wind and fire - which has never been done in a RTS game before in the way we are going to show you [...] When we look into the communities of various RTS games, we always see a high demand for realistic features. In Sparta, players will be able to get most of them, so they can actually FEEL the new features - and you can imagine what this means for new tactics and strategic decisions during matches. So, everyone playing current RTS titles - no matter if they're ancient war scenarios, future or fantasy - should keep Sparta on his watch list, because it is not only ambitious, but also will be absolutely thrilling to play.
Horn expressed confidence that the game would be a commercial success, and stated he was looking forward to working on future Ancient Wars games; "when we release the next title in the Ancient Wars series, I am very much looking forward to more aggressive PR based on the success of Sparta."
The game received "mixed or average reviews," with an aggregate score of 59 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on twenty-one reviews.
Eurogamer's Rob Fahey scored it 4 out of 10, writing "it fails to deliver an experience which is up to the standards of previous, incredibly similar games." He felt all three campaigns played similarly, and combat involved no strategy; "instead of the kind of solid, varied combat which the RTS genre has been steadily evolving towards over the years, Ancient Wars: Sparta falls back on resource management for its core gameplay. This is a sub-Age of Empires affair which rapidly becomes a chore." He was critical of the level design, writing "a shocking number of levels in the game are actually completely linear pathways." Ultimately, he felt the game was "stuck in the past."
GamesRadar's Troy Goodfellow scored it 2 out of 5, writing "Sparta offers little that is original or captivating." He was critical of the rate of resource production; "the relatively high cost of creating an army means that the early skirmishes are about protecting an extra gold mine with too few men." He felt the whole issue of economic micromanagement was badly handled in the game, wondering "why the developer decided to engage such a hopelessly antiquated design that takes classic RTS design and adds unnecessary levels of micromanagement."
IGN's Martin Korda scored it 5.8 out of 10, writing "this is a game we've all played before in virtually every aspect [...] After countless months of hype, promising us FPS-level visuals and groundbreaking physics, along with three titanic and diverse campaigns, the final result is positively under-whelming." He too was critical of the rate of resource acquisition; "the main problem with the game doesn't lie in its lack of originality though - rather, it's the [...] pedestrian pace in which armies are mustered." He also criticized the lack of strategy, and the similarity of the three campaigns, concluding "It just comes down to the fact that Ancient Wars: Sparta doesn't have anything special in a genre filled with incredible game experiences right now."
GameSpot's Jason Ocampo scored it 6.3 out of 10, praising the graphics but finding the gameplay derivative, the voice acting very poor and the difficulty too high. Of the graphics, he wrote "Sparta's 3D graphics allow for a pretty-looking ancient world, though one that looks not unlike most other 3D RTS games. There are nice little touches, such as snakes that slither across the landscape, and the larger units, such as elephants and galleys, look great." However, he also wrote "there's not a lot here to make the game stand out from a relatively crowded field," and felt Sparta "delivers a fairly standard real-time strategy experience that's indistinguishable from the rest of the genre."