Empire Earth Review (PC)
Empire Earth is indeed an ambitious project. There are 14 different epochs that give the game vast replay possibilities. Admittedly, not all 14 epochs are significantly different but there is enough variety here to please most people. There is a significant change at the third epoch, Copper, at the Renaissance epoch, because you get gunpowder, and at the World War 1 epoch because you get tanks and planes. The last two epochs also offer an interesting addition in the form of Cybers. These mech-like units are more interesting than one might imagine. They each have unique capabilities and can do some serious butt-kickin’! They really do make the Digital and Nano ages a lot of fun.
There are well over 200 different units that you can choose from as you advance through the epochs. You start with cavemen who carry slings and clubs. You advance through the usual pikemen, cavalry and cannons of the Middle ages on into tanks and planes in later epochs. Some units are phased out and some can be upgraded to all new units. Air power takes on great significance with bombers, fighters, fighter/bombers, and nuclear bombers. That’s right, NUCLEAR BOMBERS! This one has a seriously large explosion and does some serious damage. Very cool to use and to watch. Air power can be a little complicated to use but the flight patterns look very nice, somewhat similar to the way Total Annihilation did their planes. In addition to the normal soldiers there are also “Heroes” that are available. These special units come in two types. One is a strategic unit and the other is a warrior. They give morale to your troops and help them to fight better. The strategist also heals units while the warrior is a fierce combat unit.
When playing online one of the first things you do is to select a civilization. This is a little different from the Age of Empires series where you selected your civilization before the game launched. In EE this selection process is on-the-fly, and for the most part, it prevents others from selecting a civilization to counter yours. There are no unique units but your civilization does give you bonuses in certain areas. These bonuses do things like speed up citizens or make your cavalry stronger or many other varied options. You also can play a “Custom Civ” game where you choose what bonuses you would like with an overall limit on how many you can get. These custom civs can be built before the game starts in a custom civ builder. There is also an excellent scenario editor that gives a lot of flexibility for creating maps or missions or campaigns.
When was the last time you actually read a game manual? Not only do you need to read this one but you will “want” to read this one. SSSI and Sierra have given us an excellent 200+ page manual that covers many aspects of the game. Also included is a hotkey card with dozens and dozens of hotkeys. There is also a huge foldout chart that shows epochs, units, buildings and much more. The documentation is well-done and is definitely a positive for the gaming experience.
The vast number of units is almost overwhelming but are fun to learn as every unit has a counter unit. There is also a naval warfare. These all can be upgraded through the ages so this helps to simplify the battles on the sea. Aircraft choices also include helicopters. There are four different kinds of helicopters that can be built, with each having a specific task.
The biggest draw that EE has is that it is just so big. There are so many options that some might feel a little overwhelmed but for the diehard gamer, it is heaven. Don’t know what epoch to begin in? No problem. Just select random and you will randomly start in anyone of the 14 different epochs. There are choices for starting resources and modes of play and on and on. EE can be played in so many ways. If you only play during the middle epochs you might feel like you are playing an Age of Empires clone. But if you only play those epochs then you are missing the real fun part of EE. It is so much more than those few epochs. It is almost like 4 or 5 games in one.
It’s a little tougher to find negative things to say about EE, though it certainly is not a perfect game.
Speaking of zooming in, you don’t really want to do that. The worst part about zooming in is that it reveals just how poor the graphics are. Though the game looks alright from a normal view it is easy to see just how few polygons were used when you step into the action just a little. I’m not saying that EE is an ugly game but some compromises were made in this area to keep the game running at a decent pace on slower machines. Some people love the graphics and some people hate them. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground on this topic.
One of my personal gripes with EE is not about the gameplay but about something that limits the immersion factor. As somewhat of a history buff it pains me to have the same units available for every civilization. It seems weird to pick England and then produce Panzer tanks or fly ME-109s. Or to choose France and fly P-51s and Fokkers. Every player uses the very same units. There are no real different sides. This is very different for me. I am comfortable with unique sides like the Zerg or Protoss or Terran of StarCraft. Or at least having unique units like in Age of Empires. But thats not the case here. Everybody fights with the same identical units.
Another common complaint is rushing. This is one of those complaints that is heard in every RTS since the genre first started. This early attack is very much alive and well in EE. If you play an “Experts Only” game then expect to get rushed. This is something that seemingly cannot be avoided in an RTS game but at times does take some of the fun out of it. Do yourself a favor and just avoid those expert only games. You’ll have more fun playing average players who like to “epoch up” and build huge armies and have unbelievably large battles.
The advertising for EE says that epoch is too small of a word. Believe it. This game is massive and massively FUN!!