Shortly after Empire Earth II wrapped up production earlier this year, the developers at Mad Doc Software began work on The Art of Supremacy expansion. Now nearing completion, The Art of Supremacy will add four new civilizations, two new gameplay modes, and a slew of new features. We had a chance recently to see the expansion in its final stages of development to get a firsthand look at what's in store for Empire Earth II fans early next year.
Like its predecessor, Empire Earth II is a real-time strategy game that lets you guide a Stone Age civilization through history, and even a bit into the future. As such, Empire Earth II is a massive game. Well, it's about to get even bigger in The Art of Supremacy; the designers have added two new civilizations to the western region, in the form of France and Russia. Then there's a new African region with two new civilizations, the Zulu and the Maasai, which should help round out the game's scope. Of course, these new civilizations are put to good use--there are three new campaigns of five missions each, as well as two new turning point battles.
The first new campaign is set during the Napoleonic Wars, which is a good showcase for both France and Russia. Another campaign is set in ancient Egypt, while a third is a futuristic African campaign centered on the Maasai. The two new turning point battles should also present a challenge. Turning points are set-piece scenarios that you can play from either side, and they represent a pivotal event in history. One of the turning points in The Art of Supremacy deals with Rorke's Drift, a desperate last stand by heavily-outnumbered British troops against thousands of Zulu warriors. The other turning point deals with the World War II battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history, when the Germans tried one last final offensive to turn the tide on the Russian front.
When you're not playing the campaign or the turning point battles, you can enjoy the new quick start mode for skirmish and multiplayer games. Quick start is basically a way to skip the mundane base-building and army-raising that's standard in most real-time strategy games, a problem especially in multiplayer, when there's nothing going on for the first 10 minutes because everyone is trying to build up their forces. Basically, you get a set number of points you can use to purchase units and buildings that you'll start with, which will let you get into combat faster. You can create quick-start templates that you can use over and over again in skirmish and multiplayer, each one custom-made for a certain epoch. For example, you can create an ancient quick-start force if the game starts in the early ages, but you can also create and save a modern-day quick-start force for when a game starts in the modern age.
There have also been a slew of improvements made to the overall gameplay. Perhaps the most significant is the fact that the war planner now works for your own forces. The war planner was originally designed to let allies plot their moves together, so you could draw an arrow indicating you'd attack from one direction, while you could suggest an axis of attack to your allies. The Art of Supremacy will improve the war planner so that you can now give orders to your own troops this way. If you have multiple army groups, you can just plot out their moves on the map and tell them to go simultaneously, rather than having to click on each group in battle and hurriedly give them orders. It doesn't sound like a huge advance at first, but it should let you synchronize your attacks more efficiently.
If you don't like any of the prebuilt civilizations, you'll also now be able to create your own custom civilization using the civilization editor. You can choose a name, choose which region your civilization comes from (which affects its bonuses), and select civilization-specific attributes (such as heavy infantry, which gives 10 percent more health to heavy infantry units). You can then select three unique units from the roster of units, as well as determine the tech tree. There's even a way to create a list of city and territory names, so that when you create a new city or conquer a new territory, it'll get a brand new name that you selected yourself.
Finally, there are two gameplay modes to discuss. The first is territory hotspots, which is a variation of a mode that ships in the core game. The second mode, tug of war, is more interesting because it's something we haven't seen before. The idea in tug of war is that you or your group battle for supremacy against an opponent or a group of opponents. However, instead of taking place on just one map, tug of war takes place on as few as three maps, or as many as nine maps. Think of the maps as linked together in a chain, each side having a home territory at one end of the chain. The first battle starts in the middle of the chain, and if you win, you push the opponent back. However, if you lose, then you get pushed back toward your home base. The idea is that in order to win, you have to push your opponent all the way back to their home base and wipe them out. But as long as that home base is alive, they're still alive, and they can try to push you back. Of course, it gets harder the closer you get to someone's home base, because they receive defensive bonuses to reflect that you're fighting in their territory. Then again, the same goes for you when your back is against the wall. As you can imagine, this mode will take quite a lot of time, but you can save the game's progress and pick it up when you want, so you can stretch a tug-of-war game for as long as you want.
There's a lot of new content in The Art of Supremacy for Empire Earth II fans to enjoy, but we'll see how it does in terms of welcoming new fans to the franchise. One of the challenges of Empire Earth II is that it's such a dauntingly big game, but Mad Doc Software hopes that features such as the quick start mode help lessen the curve for new players and get them into the game faster. The expansion is nearly complete, though publisher VU Games plans to put it through a rigorous testing phase in the coming month. If all goes well, you can plan for The Art of Supremacy to ship on Valentine's Day, 2006.