Empire Earth II Updated Impressions
The sequel to the popular real-time strategy game is starting to come together, and we get a chance to check it out.
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We last saw Empire Earth II at E3, when it was unveiled to the public for the first time. A couple of months have passed, and we recently had the chance to get another look at this major real-time strategy game, which will once again allow you to guide a civilization through the course of human history. Developer Mad Doc Software, which had been secretly working on the game since last year, has made a considerable amount of progress, and Empire Earth II has advanced quite a bit.
Like the original game, Empire Earth II will be an epic-scale real-time strategy game covering a wide span of history, this time from 10,000 BC to AD 2230. The game begins in the Stone Age and continues through to a relatively distant future dominated by giant robots. (Empire Earth II will actually tie into another Vivendi-licensed game by incorporating the robots from the Earthsiege games.) There will be 15 civilizations in the game, including German, English, American, Greek, Babylonian, Incan, Turkish, and Aztec. To differentiate the civilizations and to add some personality into the game, each nation will have its own architecture and music. More importantly, each will have distinct bonuses and advantages that are native to them. The Turks, for instance, have a wall bonus that lets them construct walls faster and cheaper. In addition, each civilization will have three unique military units that only it can build.
There will be several different ways to play the game. First, there's the traditional epic campaign, which requires you to start from the Stone Age and progress through all 15 epochs until you reach the end. This campaign can take quite a while, so Mad Doc is also including three shorter campaigns, each focusing on a different era in history. There's an ancient Korean campaign, a Middle Ages German campaign, and a modern American campaign. All told, those three campaigns will weigh in at a little more than 30 missions, and they'll feature what are called "turning point missions," which are important battles in history upon which the future is hinged. Then there's the skirmish mode, which will allow you to play against up to nine other players. Skirmish will let you modify the various game settings, so you can restrict the game to a single epoch, or to the first three epochs, and so on.
Mad Doc is looking to both simplify and make the gameplay more intuitive, while at the same time adding new concepts and features into the real-time strategy formula. To this extent, the game will come with a fairly simplified tech tree that will make it easy to keep track of your scientific progress.
Another new concept in Empire Earth II is territories. Each map will be divided into distinct territories that you will have to seize and secure. This means that you can quickly gauge who's winning simply by looking at the minimap and seeing who has the most territory. But territories will also play an important role in the strategy of the game. In order to access resources on a territory, you have to control it, and more importantly, the number of territories that you possess will determine your population cap. So the more territories you possess, the more units you can build. In addition, there are certain buildings that you can construct to speed up your research, such as temples and universities, but those are limited to one of each per territory. To get ahead, you'll need multiple territories with well-developed cities in them, so it will be important to control and defend as much territory as possible. In order to seize a territory adjacent to one of your existing territories, you need to build a city center in it. To seize a territory that's not connected to your existing territories, you must create a city center and a fortress.
Guns and Butter
We also got a better look at the citizen manager and war planner in action, two new features designed to make the game easier to play. The citizen manager is an attempt to streamline the micromanagement required to manage all the resources under your command; in some of the larger levels, we're told that you'll have up to 200 citizens running around. The citizen manager calls up a map of the world, showing the location of known resources as well as listing the game's primary resources on the right-hand side of the screen. If you want to dispatch 10 citizens to gather a particular resource, all you have to do is click on that resource 10 times, and it'll assign 10 available citizens to the task. You can also pick up citizens from one resource and drop them to another, letting you shift them around without having to find them on the map.
The war planner uses the same map as the citizen manager, but instead of resources and citizens it simply shows the map divided into territories, which are all color coded to correspond with the civilization to which that territory belongs, or if its control is in dispute. The war planner is a way for you to direct your military forces without having to actually click on them individually; if you want to attack from one province to another, all you have to do is click on the map and draw a line, indicating that you wish forces to attack in a certain direction, and then your forces will carry out your orders. You can also request any allies that you have to attack as well, by drawing arrows from their territory to the target and putting in labels such as "attack here." Your allies may follow your advice, or they may propose a different attack plan to be negotiated, or they may ignore you altogether. Just because a civilization is your ally it doesn't mean that it answers to you; in Empire Earth II, each nation will look after its own interests first.
Empire Earth II will feature a fairly sophisticated diplomacy system, one that will allow more than just the designating of civilizations simply as friends or foes. There's an option to set a time limit on treaties, ranging from an actual minute limit to the triggering of an event, such as a declaration of war. If you're allied with another civilization, you can give it full access to your territory (meaning that its military units can pass through on the way to their objective), limit it to civilian units only, or close the border entirely. You can also share your full line-of-sight information with allies (letting them see everything you can see) or limit that to varying degrees, such as giving them access to just the location of buildings and not to military units, and so on. There's also a way to give resource rights to your allies, allowing them to enter your territory and mine untapped resources in exchange for a percentage of the harvest, which you can decide.
Mad Doc promises an advanced, noncheating artificial intelligence, which basically means that the computer opponents will have to play by the same rules you do. You'll also have the ability to play with up to 9 other human players in multiplayer, and you can select from a wide variety of games and victory conditions. After more than a year in development, all the parts of Empire Earth II are coming together at long last, and the game looks like it has come far. The developers have been able to play daily multiplayer matches for quite a while, and they're using the experience to continually tweak and balance the game. Empire Earth II is due out sometime in the first quarter of 2005, so make sure to check back with us for updates on the game.