Empire Earth (beta)
TomChick - Early Hours - Comments - 05/29/04

Tom's Comments:It's Age of Empires 2 with rampant feature creep. That's pretty much what you've got here. If you're wondering how something works in Empire Earth -- resources, combat, buildings, tech upgrades -- just assume it's the same as Age of Empires 2.

But then there's a bunch of extra stuff: fourteen eras, each with unique techs, units, and graphics; unit stats that can be individually upgraded; controllable formations; spell casting units that can zap enemies with hurricanes and earthquakes; unique heroes that give their army bonuses; a global population limit split between all surviving players; naval warfare with subs; fighters and bombers with fuel limits; distinct wonders of the world that bend the game mechanics.

However, the core of Empire Earth is also the stuff you find in Age of Empires: rock/paper/scissors unit relationships, priests who can convert enemies, healing, technology upgrades to resource harvesting, peasants. Mainly peasants. Lots of peasants. Swarms of the little guys. Most games of Empire Earth will be decided by peasants. This is yet another RTS about economics. Gold makes the world go round. And wood, stone, iron, and food. Those nifty tanks and pikemen and dragoons are mere formalities.

To its credit, Empire Earth tries to force expansion by limiting the number of peasants who can harvest a single resource node. In theory, this means to get more gold, iron, and stone, you have to spread out across the map. In practice, it means you're going to spend even more time herding peasants.

As with Age of Empires, there are only vague differences between the sides/races/empires/civs. Each "nation" is just a list of modifiers, such as +10% to stone production or -15% building time for tanks. Because you can also create your own nation, Empire Earth seems to say 'ahh, screw it, just choose your own modifiers'. But this isn't where you'll find the game's personality. That comes through the different eras, each one a sort of lively self-contained RTS. You can configure Empire Earth to advance as quickly or slowly, but the march of time is this game's most immediate appeal. It's always a thrill in Civilization to be the first to discover gunpowder or flight. So it is with Empire Earth's musketeers and biplanes.

The interface needs some work to make all this sprawl more manageable. But the developers have a good month or so before they wrap it up and go gold. They're in the middle of an ambitious beta program in which anyone who preorders the game gets to play the beta online. Which is exactly what Empire Earth needs: a few thousand people banging on it. I'm not sure it'll necessarily help, because I can't imagine there's much hope for actually balancing this thing. This will be the sort of enormously complex game that brings out the cheesiest of the cheese.

But it's also probably going to be the kind of enormously popular game that sells a lot of copies because it eschews innovation for agglutination. On one hand, you've got business as usual. On the other hand, you've got a lot of extra stuff clumped on. The end result? An armload of game that lots of people -- including me -- will buy, no matter how overly complex, poorly balanced, or baldly derivative.

More Early Hours by TomChick

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