Game Over Online ~ Empires: Dawn of the Modern World (c) Activision

Empires: Dawn of the Modern World (c) Activision

Published: Wednesday, October 15th, 2003 at 08:23 PM
Written By: Lawrence Wong

It's said that amongst the rise and fall of empires, there is only one constant - that we inherently don't like empires and history has a tendency to pit all of the competing nations against the uber-power. First, it was the Spanish and its armada. Then it was Napoleon and the French. The British were the targets in the 19th century. Germany was twice the target in the 20th century alone and finally the mother of all imperial battles ended by the 21st century; the one between United States and Russia.

Empires: Dawn of the Modern World will give you a chance to, in the words of the developer, Stainless Steel Studios, build a nation and forge an empire. Its focus will solely be on the last millennium, a time period encompassing roughly the medieval period to modernity. In it, you will get a chance to build structures, organize economic production and do battles in a fully 3D environment.

So confident, in fact, are the developers in their craft, they've actually included cinematic cutscenes in all of their campaign missions. And no, they aren't separate movies. These scenes use the actual engine itself, which is very impressive - even stacked against top contenders for this year like Age of Mythology: Titans or Rise of Nations. These storyboards go into buildings and outside of them as well, constantly pushing you towards objectives that are crucial to the campaign.

There were three campaigns available to me during my time with Empires. The first involves Richard the Lionheart, his dynastic struggles and duty as a monarch after the death of his father. The second captures the nationalist rising of Korea in its repulsion of Japanese invasion. Finally, the last campaign revolves around Patton and his contributions to the Allied effort in World War II. All three are meticulously laid out, with well-researched plausible plots. These translated to missions that were tightly strung together with changing objectives to keep the game focused. And of course, sometimes they kept me surprised, as I found out when I fled Richard towards a friendly castle thinking it was safe refuge from the dozens of knights charging at me, only to find them barring the gates on me. Treachery would become a familiar theme throughout the British campaign.

While much of Empires will immediately become recognizable to real-time strategy fans (and even more so to fans of recent epics like Rise of Nations or this game's predecessor, Empire Earth), it does have a few unique features that no other title carries. One in particular I liked was the ability for computer players in skirmishes (multiplayer or otherwise) to announce their strategy to the allied players. Using a flashing icon on the minimap, they would inform me where their scouts were moving and what activities they were up to; a clever idea to entice me to keep them around for multiplayer matches.

Another feature I appreciated was the automation approach. When I built a food warehouse as the British in the World War II age, there were no individual farms to maintain or till. Empires is a game that feels more one on one. You'll develop a more intimate relationship with your units because unlike Command and Conquer Generals or Rise of Nations, you build units singly here. By default, the building speed is slower too. The result: fewer hordes and en masse rushes. The other thing that helps cozy you up to your units is the camera angle. It's cut in very low towards the individual unit. You'll never get an overarching birds-eye view of the battlefield. This serves to promote a more tactical approach to the battles.

Developers of real-time strategy games often hit a roadblock when weighing on the one hand, the need to have diversity between your civilizations and their units. On the other hand, you also want some sort of balance, so people don't simply flock to one side or unit in the game. With multiplayer being such an important part of Empires, Stainless Steel Studios has a difficult task in front of them. You want grandeur to offer lots but at the same time, you need to be fair. My experience with the game has told me that Empires is looking pretty good in this area. There is enough variety between the different civilizations but the pros and cons you get won't discourage you from trying the others out.

There's no mistaking that Empires is an elaborate endeavor. Even for this developer, it can be daunting to cover such a vast period of time. Empire Earth was faulted for modeling maybe a little a too much of history, so I think for this edition, Empires' focus has tightened up. Leaving the classical, dark ages and early civilization periods out of the picture has given the game a more defined look and feel. I'm always partial to any real-time strategy game with guns (but not on the level of Command and Conquer), so I was pleasantly surprised to see muskets in the earlier epochs of Empires, not mid-game as it traditionally is in other titles.

There aren't any regular real time strategy games on the market anymore. Not any successful ones at least. Publishers are either pushing games that span all eras of combat or niche titles in specific fantasy lore and worlds. Empires is in the unique position of having done it before with Empire Earth. Can the lessons learnt from that game be carried forward to keep it a generation ahead of its competitors? Luckily, you won't have to wait a thousand years. You'll be able to tell yourself on October 21st when Empires hits the shelves.

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