Empire Earth is the only RTS series that allows players to build and rule an empire from the ancient world to the distant future, battling it out across the globe through the eons in a bid for worldwide control. Unlike other RTS games that take away the spoils of victory, Empire Earth III will offer continuous free-form gameplay that will allow players to keep units from one battle to the next.
I sat down with this one for the long weekend and put it through it’s paces. It offered up some nice perks like a physics engine, some nice things to look at, and an odd sense of humor. If you really love the real-time strategy games then this falls into that category. But if you need a challenging environment to micro-manage and plan tactics down to the finest detail, or if your computer is anything on the other side of ‘older’ then don’t bother gonig any further. Seriously, just stop right here.
AMD Athlon MP 2.2GHz
1.5GB RAM PC3200
Nvidia 6800GT 256MB
The visuals in the game are really good for the most part. The landscapes are highly detailed and lush. There were some problems with coast lines being a little jagged, but I could easily blame that on my AGP architecture. The jungles and mountains and the global view from space for the campaign look beautiful. However, there is a small price to pay for using the physics model. The parts can go flying in very unrealistic ways (like uphill) if one isn’t careful, and it does not appear that anyone was too careful.
The units aren’t terrifically detailed, but the camera view doesn’t look down that far. The soldiers’ walk isn’t timed quite right, and there are some weird steps being taken. These are minor issues and are usually caused by them trying to go the extra mile with the Physics engine from Ageia. If you’re going to go with detailed environments there must be a lot of attention paid to the details of what can be walked over, or flown over, and what can’t. Thus, the problem becomes that we have wound up in very attractive prisons.
The interface is nothing original, but it does look pretty. However, one really annoying feature with the UI was that when you want to place a building, your mouse pointer has very little to say about the matter. Buildings will float near the cursor, but not precisely. The game is trying to help you by guessing where you want it to go and coming up with an approximation that is zoned for building placement. I can manage that on my own, thanks. If I can’t place a tower on the spot my cursor is located then a simple red color, or an icon that says no, is fine.
Well, I suppose they tried. Each of the units have a different saying; even per epoch. For example, when the Western builders are in the medieval area they say silly simpleton things like “Me builder. Me build.” Then later when you move out of the dark ages and into the colonial times, he is a bit more spohisticated with union required tea breaks. These are often cute, if not suggestive, and represent the different feelings of the times regarding superstitions, bravado, and geekiness. However, some of it is downright vulgar and has no place in the game.
The problem is that they won’t shut up. Many of the phrases are more than a few words and everytime you tell that unit to move it is another sililoquy. Since there are only 3 or 4 per epoch, you hear that same thing over and over. You rush to get ahead to the future upgrades, and you get to listen to those guys a lot.
The sounds of battle are completely uninteresting and flat. You’re viewing the battle from a good distance up so it isn’t like one expects to hear grass crunching under foot, but rifles, cannons and vehicles are just quite non-descript. Combine that with the endless chatter and sound takes a big hit.
Really this is just another Age of Empires clone that brings it forward a couple era. The controls are pretty close to the same. However, there are some annoying omissions. The lack of a map filter makes for a very challenging time in trying to discern buildings from soldiers from workers. You still get the standard options for division of labor with the ctrl+# so a quick tap of the appropriate number on the keyboard selects that particular army or place like many other games. The same goes for waypoints coming out of the training building.
The differentiating features aren’t numerous, but a couple were quite helpful. Population management is a snap since buildings come with their own workers. So you don’t have to spend all day cranking peons out of the town center. You can have just one or two builders making everything and those buildings are then self-maintaining. He can build a warehouse near a deposit of ore or lumber, and that warehouse comes with 3 works that spend their time harvesting it. You can spend extra money for that building to hire extra workers and increase productivity, but, thankfully, that is a one time expenditure. The other big difference is that one doesn’t need to manage several different resources. No matter if the deposit is ore, lumber, or fish it all goes into the same resources pool. Combine that with a wealth pool (built up by commerce in the market place) and managing your army couldn’t be easier.
Of course, most of the complaints are along these lines. The RTS has been so dramatically simplified that an NBC writer (presently on strike, thank Goodness) could do it! Well, true I don’t have to worry about chopping down trees, mining ore with scores of slaves, or having them all get killed by a bombing run. Yes, it lowers the bar of difficulty, steeply, but that can make the game a bit more accessible.
Yet in lowering that bar a lot more people will be affected by the gameplay, and there are a lot of issues with the game.
The AI is piteous. Armies would often march passed each other on the battlefield to take out a building that is very simply replaced and rarely strategic. They’d take out my marketplace which dampens my wealth, but come on! They’d come at me in droves, but only from a single direction which was very easy to defend even as I was still getting used to the layout. Combine that with the fact that each force is very similar that it feels overpowering. While I can’t simply win with a single type of unit, there are no big difficiencies that make me manage a widely varied force. A couple tanks, a few troops and a couple lf air bases and it was over in 90 minutes; even 7 vs 1. That the AI attacks itself helped, but it didn’t even do that very well. I watched one PC civilization pummel another one and then conveniently leave its army sitting there in the corner. A pair of flame tanks took them out without a fight and that should never happen.
Pathing in general is pretty poor as vehicles can’t get around each other as they try to navigate, and yet the enemy can march right through yours. It’s rather pointless to set up roadblocks because all one does is stifle his or her own troops from getting where they are needed. In one case, my helicopters wouldn’t fly over a single trooper because he was standing halfway up the hill the enemy was perched upon. Naval battles are hideous as boats take several deadly minutes trying to line up to get the enemy in the firing arc. If there are three or more in a fleet they just bump into each other like blind children, taking fire all the while, until they finally get into range and orientation to fire. As the ships get bigger and more powerful this is actually less of a problem as you need less ship to do equal damage, but still very annoying. These games have been around for a long time, and these oversights are rather rediculous.
Another issue is the huge leap in PC requirements. My machine isn’t the newest kid on the block, but the recommended PC has a 3.2GHz CPU, 1GB+ RAM, and an NVIDIa 7000 series video card! That’s a lot of power for an RTS and one that doesn’t work very hard to be great anyway. I was able to play, but I got warned about my video memory being low several times. I think a little bit more time could have been spent on optimizing this part.
The multiplayer is frought with issues, the single player skirmishes are boring due to a couple game-breaking abilities, and the World Domination mode seems to be a hapless version of Rise of Nations. It is a lot easier to play now that so much minutia has been removed, but it isn’t challenging to the verteran types that have been anxiously awaiting another of the EE series. In simplifying the interface, many have been left insulted, and the game goes on to insult one’s intelligence regarding historical accuracy.
Furthermore, right out of the box you need a 380+MB download to patch the game and there is lots of room for many many more.