Empire Earth Review

The two primary forces behind the successful Age of Empires games were Rick Goodman and Bruce Shelley.  While Bruce Shelley continues to work on the Age of Empires' series latest game, Age of Mythology, Rick Goodman went on to start Stainless Steel Studios.  Now his new development studio has released its first game, Empire Earth, and it's, in a word, expansive.  Empire Earth is a real-time strategy game in the Age of Empires mold, but while that game focused on ancient empires, Empire Earth covers the entire span of human history from the dawn of time through the not too distant future of the 22nd century.

Empire Earth's ancestry is evident - players familiar with the Age of Empires games will have no trouble just sitting down and beginning play.  The controls are nearly identical and the game basics are very similar.  However, they'd be well-advised to at least spend a little time with the tutorials as there are plenty of differences between the games.

Empire Earth can be played in single player mode as a campaign or random map game, or as a multiplayer game over a LAN or the internet.  The game comes with four campaigns - Greek, English, German, and Russian - that each take place during the major epochs represented by the game.  Each are a series of scripted scenarios which loosely follow major periods in each of the four civilization's histories (or, in the case of the Russian campaign, future).  Players who prefer more of a free-form game will enjoy the random map games, which allow players to choose a starting and ending age, the number of computer opponents, and the victory conditions, to name just a few of the parameters.

Building a healthy economy is vital to success in Empire Earth.  Players recruit citizens from a town center or capitol, and use them to gather resources or construct buildings.  Buildings allow the player to produce additional unit types at the cost of some resources or provide some other type of benefit to the player.  Citizens can also be used to help boost the production of some buildings such as settlements.  Populate a settlement with enough citizens and it will eventually grow to be a capital, providing a large boost to the productivity of the gatherers.  

Resources may also be spent to advance a civilization in a several ways.  The first is through research which can give a civilization an added advantage such as increased citizen or building efficiency.  Resources are also required in order to advance to the next age, which range from the prehistoric to nano ages and number 14 in all, giving the civilization access to more advanced units and technologies.  Finally, resources can be sent to upgrade units in several ways, from improving their armor and defenses to increasing the effectiveness and range of their attacks.  Unlike a lot of strategy games, research centers are not required to upgrade units.  Each unit type created by the player can be upgraded by selecting any of the units of a given type and choosing the desired upgrade.  Players will need to choose carefully, though, as the number of total upgrades that can be applied to a unit is limited. 

Empire Earth's large scope in covering 500,000 years of history allows players to command a large array of units.  From club-wielding cavemen to giant robotic warriors, Empire Earth boasts over two hundred different types of combat units.  These include both ground and naval units, and in the later ages, air units as well.  Players can also recruit heroes to lead their armies.  These heroes come in two types, warriors and strategists.  Warriors are extra strong units that also provide a boost in morale to nearby troops.  Units with high morale become tougher and more difficult to kill.  Strategists provide a healing effect to nearby troops, and can use a special 'battle cry' to demoralize enemy units and make them easier to kill.

Empire Earth uses a circular hierarchy, or paper-scissors-rock method, when resolving combat between units.  In the early ages, for example, sword-bearing troops will defeat archers, archers will defeat spearmen, and spearmen in turn will defeat swordsmen.  Even when the opposing forces are roughly the same size, a troop of archers will make quick work of attacking spearmen while taking little damage themselves.  While this forces the player to take a combined arms approach to combat, the penalty for showing up with arrows to a sword fight is somewhat severe.  These types of battle relationships between unit types carries through to the more modern ages as well, but is complicated somewhat by the addition of additional unit types such as armor and artillery.  In spite of these hierarchies, some anomalies do crop up.  For example, a small group of mortar troops can usually take out a battleship without too much trouble.