Few games offer as much content as Empire Earth II, last year's epic-scope, real-time-strategy game that let you control one of 15 civilizations from the Stone Age to a robotic, sci-fi age. Hard to believe, but Empire Earth II is about to get even bigger with the release of Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy, an expansion due out next month. And we got our hands on a near-complete version of the expansion pack to see what's in store for the final product.
The Art of Supremacy will introduce four new civilizations to the Empire Earth II mix, along with a number of gameplay improvements and enhancements. The new factions are designed to flesh out the existing "western region" included in Empire Earth II, as well as to introduce a new "African region." If you like Napoleonic-style war, then you can play around with the new French and Russian factions. Since the French specialize in cavalry, it's no surprise that their heavy cavalry get a 10 percent health bonus compared to regular cavalry. The French also have tougher outposts and fortresses, and they benefit from the western region's fast-researching universities and temples. France's unique units include the mangoneau catapult, the cuirassier cavalry, and the Rafale stealth fighter.
The Russians specialize in war production and light artillery. They can churn out units from workshops, factories, stables, and manufacturing plants fairly quickly--25 percent faster than other factions, to be exact--and their light artillery inflict 20 percent more damage. Russian elite units include the Varangian warrior, the Licorn howitzer, and the T-90 attack tank. And, like the other western powers, the Russians have fast-researching universities and temples.
While the French and Russian factions fit in well with the existing western regions, the new Maasai and Zulu factions add a different look and feel to the game. Empire Earth II featured Western and Asian cultures but no African cultures. So the Maasai and Zulu form the new African block, and both get the standard African region bonuses, which include a 10 percent reduction in food costs, barracks that churn out units 10 percent faster, and two free houses with every temple or fortress.
In addition to the standard region bonuses, the Maasai get light infantry that inflict 10 percent more damage than regular light infantry, and they get more powerful helicopters. Their unique units include the morani and laibon warriors, as well as the Sirit heavy bomber. If you're aware of Zulu history, then you'll know that they have a fierce warrior tradition, which is reflected in the game by the Zulu heavy infantry's generous 25 percent damage bonus and 10 percent health bonus. Zulu unique units include the iklwa and inyanga warriors, and also the "horn of the impi" tank.
As expected, you'll be able to play around with some of these new factions in the expansion's three new campaigns. Early Egyptian history is covered in the first campaign; you'll attempt to defeat hostile neighbors and unite the various tribes to create one of the world's great ancient civilizations. The second campaign covers the Napoleonic wars, when France almost conquered the whole of Europe only to be defeated at the gates of Moscow. The third campaign won't be found in any of the history books; it's set in the mid-21st century and pits the Maasai and the Zulu against one another in a futuristic conflict. From what we can tell, these new factions blend in well with the existing Empire Earth II's factions. Still, if you want to experiment in a different direction, the expansion will let you design your own faction, giving you the chance to cherry-pick units and powers from the other factions in the game.
While there are a number of gameplay improvements in The Art of Supremacy--such as the ability to use the war planner to a greater degree so as to coordinate with other players--the gameplay still looks and feels very much like Empire Earth II. This is a big game, and you'll need to keep an eye on gathering resources, constructing buildings in different territories, researching a massive technology tree, advancing through epochs, and building and directing armies in battle. Much of the automation that was built into Empire Earth II is still present, which is a good thing, since otherwise this would simply be too big of a game to manage.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to check out some of the ambitious new multiplayer modes, such as tug-of-war. This mode is one of the big features in the expansion, as it'll let you battle against others in a series of persistent maps, with each player attempting to advance upon the enemy's home base. As with any epic struggle, expect the tide to turn several times during a tug-of-war campaign, as sides will experience setbacks and breakthroughs in turn. From what we've seen of the expansion thus far, The Art of Supremacy should appeal to Empire Earth II fans looking for new content, and the new gameplay modes and customization options offer up more than the obligatory new factions. The expansion is pretty much done at this point, so we'll be waiting for it to ship in February to see how the final product turns out.