0 A.D. is a real time strategy (RTS) game produced by Wildfire Games. Currently in it’s Alpha testing stages, this game is shaping up to be one of the best freeware RTS games available.
There have been many other games in the RTS realm that have been released mas freeware but few of them have offered the same high quality as 0 A.D.’s Alpha release.
The Wildfire website describes 0 A.D.’s premise as follows: “As the military leader of an ancient civilization, you must gather the resources you need to raise a military force capable of dominating your enemies.” That statement gives an idea of the game’s overall goals but doesn’t really touch on the key features and attractions.
Game origins: before working on 0 A.D. Wildfire created a highly acclaimed and successful ‘mod’ for Age of Empires that offered both the Roman and the Greek civilizations as playable additions to the game. On the heels of that success, Wildfire originally intended to be a total conversion for Age of Empires, after much thought, they decided to release the game as a stand-alone, totally independent program and they have been creating a custom built 3D game engine for that purpose. Bear in mind that all of this is being done entirely by volunteers and you begin to see the shine that 0 A.D. offers to the freeware community in general and the RTS genre specifically.
First off, the game is being designed to be as historically accurate as possible, and Wildfire has a “History Department” entirely devoted to that accuracy. The only exception to this strict adherence to history will be items that might negatively affect gameplay or audience opinion of the game. For example, some of the civilizations featured in the game were historically well-known for being nude most of the time and even in battle, in some cases. Wildfire wants the game to be accurate but also wants it to appeal to the family as a whole, which means not having nude characters wandering around the screen. They do, however, intend the game to be highly customizable through player created modifications, so if you really want any specific bit of historical accuracy, it can be attained through a mod. Wildfire also states that even though 0 A.D. was not technically a real year in our calendar, we should think of it as a created vehicle for the game to carry the interest of history to the audience. This fabricated time period allows them to cover a broad reach from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. and the great civilizations and their particulars within the scope of the game. It also allows the developers and the artists to diversify their talents in producing a game that is gorgeous as well as historically instructive. The first release, according to the game’s website, will focus on six civilizations contained in the first five hundred years of this millennial range. These include the civilizations of the Romans, Hellenes, Celts, Carthaginians, Persians and Iberians. Each civilization will have its own feel and distinctively unique look as far as units, buildings and backgrounds are concerned.
Secondly, the game provides certain ‘innovations’ to the standard RTS genre that will give it a freshness and remove some of the standard irritations of RTS gaming. For example, there won’t be any standard villager/builder or peasant units. Instead, 0 A.D. will feature basic units like cavalry and foot soldiers that will have specific abilities to gather resources, build structures, and repair or capture enemy buildings in addition to their attacking capabilities. This means a great increase in the versatility of the units, as well as removing some of the micro-management headaches of other RTS games. Without dedicated villager units, the player will be forced to change his/her thinking and learn to be more versatile as well. Some of the available units will even self-promote, gaining experience and becoming more powerful as they survive battle after battle. This is another instance of removing tedious extra mouse-clicks from the experience. Also, this means that the strategy and tactics become far more important as the overall focus of the game. Another great innovation and feature is the concept of visually garrisoned units on buildings and ships. While most RTS games will allow you to place units within a specific building to defend it and add to its firepower, none of them that I have personally seen allow the player to actually see the units on the walls of the building, firing their bows or throwing their spears during battle. This is a small touch but it shows the dedication that the Wildfire team has to providing a unique and fresh experience to the venerable RTS design. It also shows an attention to detail that is seriously lacking in many premium games that cost money to buy or a monthly subscription to play. Wildfire assured me that 0 A.D. will never cost money in any way. There are tons of other features planned and many of them are already implemented in the current Alpha release.
When I downloaded and installed the game itself, I was impressed with how clean the graphics are, as well as the smoothness of the animations. I tested it on a lower-end laptop system with nothing special in the realm of graphics capabilities, CPU or RAM. Most of the freeware games I play don’t have such high quality graphics and the ones that do usually require a much higher system spec than 0 A.D. The sound is also pretty darn good. Multiple sounds are clear and distinct, without covering each other and garbling the overall audio experience. The controls were simple at heart but provided a complexity that has come to be expected as a second layer of RTS controls, providing such options as formation buttons, right-click context sensitivity, and keyboard hotkeys for scrolling as well as nearly every other unit specific option. Given that the game began as a mod of the Age of Empires program, this might not seem impressive at first, until we remember that the game is actually running on it’s own custom built engine now. Bearing in mind, as well, that the game continues to progress in an era where there is constant discussion and disagreement among the big dollar companies about whether PC gaming is dead, dying, or just taking a breather, 0 A.D. offers a major argument to the contrary. PC Gaming is alive and well at Wildfire studios and its not going down without a fight from the collective of volunteers who have worked so hard on this game. Games that gain a viral following as free programs and then decide to charge for a completed version of the game, like Minecraft, may have to give way to completely free programs like 0 A.D. in the future of PC gaming, but it certainly isn’t dead.
The only real downside to the game that I found was that, being in Alpha stages, it currently offers somewhat limited levels and scenarios. However, this is a small annoyance and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of actually playing the available content. Wildfire states that they are not bound to any specific deadlines, since they are independent of any publisher, and therefore the game’s development proceeds at it’s own pace. Given that it is entirely free to download and play, I think we can forgive them for not announcing a final release date. In any case, the Alpha build is very playable and enjoyable and I am personally looking forward to seeing all that the game has to offer when it is completed.
Tested on Windows 32-bit Home Premium, Acer Aspire 5532 laptop
Get more info and download the Alpha at the 0AD home page (approx 238 megs).