Fans of the Empire Earth series are in for a bit of a shock when Empire Earth III hits shelves later this year. Earlier games in the series were well known for being somewhat complex. Empire Earth II, for example, featured 10 different resources, 15 epochs of time that players progressed through, and 14 individual races to play as. With Empire Earth III, developer Mad Doc has gone back to the drawing board and reduced some of the games' complex features in the hopes that the streamlined gameplay will win the series new fans, while still appealing to veterans.
To begin with, Empire Earth III now features only two resources on the battle map (not including the special "tech" resource), five epochs, and only three races. While most of the gameplay is intact, these differences will definitely help the game feel less intimidating to a wider variety of real-time strategy players.
One new addition, however, is the inclusion of the world domination map. The single-player campaigns in Empire Earth III will take place on a large, 3D version of the globe, which is actually reminiscent of X-Com's old map. It's even separated out into different provinces, but in Empire Earth, these provinces are there to be captured, not protected. When you start the game, you'll begin with only a few provinces under your belt, and you'll be surrounded by other provinces that are filled with inhabitants, either of a competing race, or of the "native tribes" that will need to be subjugated.
World domination plays out a bit like Risk or Civilization. You can initiate diplomacy with your enemies, invade neighboring provinces, research new technologies, and collect resources from the provinces that you already have under your control. You can also build new armies and use them to attack nearby provinces. Each army will be able to move or invade a province once per turn. Knowing when to sit back and build up your research points, and when to be aggressive and attack, will be crucial here. Each turn will advance the game's built-in clock by a number of years (500 years per turn early on), so if you don't manage to progress to a higher epoch, you may find yourself bumping up against technologically advanced enemies sooner than you think.
In addition to the standard exploration dynamic, gameplay is also given a bit of variety with "events," which are basically quests that pop up at various times. These can appear on either the world map or in a battle, and offer unique rewards. For example, if you're about to invade a province to add it to your empire, you may get a request by the native peoples of the province. One example given to us was that the native princess may be kidnapped; if you help find her and rescue her from the hostile tribes, you can take over the province and keep the natives as followers, instead of having to wipe them out.
As one of the few RTS games to take place across the entire history--and future--of humankind, the Empire Earth series still has a pretty unique niche to fill in the computer-games market. The design team has done a lot of tweaking to ensure that the latest installment builds upon the success of the previous games while still being accessible to new players. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information as the game nears its fall release date.