Genre: Real Time Strategy
Developer: Stainless Steel
Release Date: October 21, 2003
Buy 'EMPIRES: Dawn of the Modern World': PC
From renowned game designer Rick Goodman and respected game developer Stainless Steel Studios comes a detailed RTS that lets you completely command unique, historically accurate civilizations-from China to Germany and the United States. From the Medieval Age to World War II, lead your nation to dominate the globe. Each civilization's strengths and weaknesses affect the game play experience. Your ability to adapt to these differences is only one of the challenges you will face as a world leader.
Rick Goodman is one of those names that actually get mentioned on the box and marketing campaigns because of notoriety he has developed as a strategy game developer. Rick created a little game called Empire Earth with his studio Stainless Steel back in 2001. Empire Earth received some critical acclaim. It has a fairly good following and many were eager to see Stainless Steel's and Rick's next adventure. Rick's fame came mainly from founding SSSI and co-founding Ensemble Studios which has given us the great Age of Empires series. When Rick left Ensemble he chose the path of creating an rts game in a new genre with Age of Mythology. Rick and his studio stayed with the military scheme and produced Empire Earth and now Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. So, when it comes to real time strategy, throwing Rick's name in the marketing for a new game garners some attention.
The first venture that Stainless Steel released, Empire Earth was an epic rts that had a lot of depth and spanned the breadth of human history. It even went into future technologies. Because it tried to be so much more than any title out there, it also left many gamers feeling a little bit undernourished. It was so big that it was impersonal. It didn't have some of the personality that other great games from Ensemble like Age of Kings did. It had so much upgrading and progressing options that the casual gamer felt overwhelmed. That's not to say that it doesn't have a following though. Many liked it enough to warrant an expansion. However, as for Rick's first deliverable with his own company, many were expecting much more and felt it was a bit disappointing. Sometimes too much isn't as great as it sounds. Easy to remember since thanksgiving just passed.
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World spans a great deal of history from medieval times to World War 2. It does however have a more limited scope than Empire Earth. Plus, there is definitely more focus on trying to create a game that has some personality. Like the vast sweeping epic movie Lord of the Rings, if the focus was just on war, the movie would be impersonal and loose any real involvement with the characters. Like Peter Jackson has tried to do with the upcoming Return of the King, Rick Goodman is trying to pump some personality into the game and the battles by focusing on some characters in history throughout many of the scenarios. These characters are actually hero type units and come in handy. Richard the Lionheart, Korea's Admiral Yi, and General Patton are the personalities chosen and theirs is the campaigns you will fight through. They do lend themselves to giving the game more immersion into the stories and bringing the gamer into a more involved gaming experience. Unfortunately the hero units are not a part of multiplayer or skirmish game modes. This is a little disappointing however your units can grow in experience and gain some upgrades by fighting enough enemy units.
Right off the bat you will see extended movies with the game engine telling background and setting the stage for your next battle. The hero units are involved in each story line so you have a common thread to pull you along and give the game some personality.
Installation is a cinch as the game comes on two disks and will be into your hard drive for about 800 megabytes. This is a very standard installation amount for today's games. The first thing you will note is that graphically Empires DOMW is a gem. It looks fantastic and is right on par with the best out there if not beating some in its use of the newer DirectX drivers. The game requires a 600 megahertz PIII or Athalon and a DirectX 9 compatible video card with at least 32 mb of video ram. System Ram required is 128 mb. You can pan in all the way to the ground and see quite a bit of detail in the characters and environments. Speaking of panning, you have complete 360 degree control of the camera and the ability to zoom up a moderate distance. This is nice to see as some designers, I won't mention any names or games but is sounds like Blizzard and Warcraft 3, have chosen to limit panning to a very small degree.
Oddly enough there is no tutorial. Not in the game or in the manual. Empires DOMW has a decent amount of depth to it so this seems out of place. The manual does mention different abilities for each nation but does not mention how to use them or when you get them. The resource model and basic village/town construction is very on par with most rts games. If you have played any rts games at all you will probably not have a problem getting up and running with basic town management. If you are completely new to rts games there is not enough instruction here to help you find your way. The first campaign, Richard the Lionheart, does have some simple scripted events to follow so this may help. I did find the scripting a little incomplete. The very first scenario had a side quest that was next to impossible to accomplish and depleted so much of your resources that you had no way of finishing. I actually had to start the scenario over and leave the side quest out. Also, if I had not come back to town out of frustration, I would have never noticed another scripted event that is triggered only by re-entering your town. This particular event gave me a trebuchet that was needed to progress to the next level.
There is nothing out of the ordinary as far as resources are concerned. You have your basic gold, stone, wood and food to keep up with. You also have basic population management to tend to by building houses. Your peons, excuse me, civilians do a pretty good job of finding their way to surrounding tasks.
I found the enemy AI to be exceedingly lazy as I swept through my first skirmish game with no resistance at all. If you let your enemy build up enough they will provide a resistance. However, with a mild amount of offence you will sweep through without much resistance. This was with the difficulty setting to officer.
I also found one unit to be completely over balanced. The saboteur has some powerful abilities and can be purchased right from you armory along with your other ground units. The saboteur can blow up buildings in just a few seconds. And, unless you have some stealth detection, you will never see them coming. You can actually take, for a relatively small cost, several saboteurs in an enemy encampment and blow up most if not all of their valuable buildings ala command and conquer. This makes for some overbalancing issues when playing skirmishes against the computer. This is also only an issue during WWII as that is when the saboteur is available. If you are playing multiplayer, this problem will be cut back considerably as you can build spy detection and defense up enough to warrant off most attacks. If just one or two get in though, it's over baby.
There are a few god powers that can be researched and used. You also get to research many things at the library that can add to the strength of your nation. Depending on which nation you pick, the library allows research of some god powers like the Korean's typhoon. You can also research some upgrades to armor which is typical. What isn't typical is you can select which type of unit gets the benefit. But, for the most part, as I played through I didn't sense enough difference to really keep me engaged for more than a skirmish or two.
Sounds are very fitting for the units. Some of the bigger artillery packs a real punch and feels like your right in the middle of battle. There are no random acknowledgements from your troops. It gets a little bothersome to hear a unit's standard one answer when you're are setting waypoints or clicking multiple times. The music quality is good but very repetitive in many places.
Overall this is a solid game with some good personality built into it compared to Stainless Steels first offering, Empire Earth. Some of the sins committed by trying to be too much were traded in as lessons learned to give Empire, DOMW a tighter focus with more personality. I did enjoy the skirmishes I played and the campaigns were well thought out. Although, some of the campaigns felt a little undone and could be frustrating due to some very linear play. I couldn't help but compare this game to the excellent Rise of Nations as I played through. I kept thinking, this would be good, but I'm missing things like national borders or a different resource model. The units are quite a bit bigger than a 2d game so this may limit some options. The 3d engine is very nice to look at. I found myself panning around several times just to get a look at things closer.
If you're new to real time strategy, this game could be very frustrating with no tutorial and a load of upgrade potential as you progress through the ages. If you're a veteran on the other hand, there isn't too much new here to really keep you engaged for long. The graphics are very nice and it is fun to look at some of the battles play out. There is nothing that makes the game a bad choice either. I am assuming that a lot of people will have fun with this game and enjoy many hours of play over the net.
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