I admit I never played Empire Earth the first time around. I was always vaguely aware there was a game called Empire Earth and that it involved commanding armies during the most violent and bloody periods of human history, but I already owned Age of Mythology and saw little reason to expand my real-time strategy repertoire at a time when my gaming budget consisted of birthday money. So I passed it over for a sweet box set of Lucas Arts games. Or maybe that was when I bought the Journeymen Project. I can’t remember. At any rate, I finally scored a copy of Empire Earth around Christmas when a Steam-like website was giving it away for free. Yep. Like Tophat I’m a bit of a penny pincher these days. It was lucky that I came across the deal because I had reached my fun limit for Age of Empires Online, Microsoft’s ill-conceived attempt to bring a RTS MMO to a world that had never considered such a bizarre concept.
I’m generally bad a videogames and RTSs in particular, so I avoided the multiplayer option all together and went with campaign mode. The intro levels were precisely what I expected. I started out in the cradle of civilization and led my people to societal coherence through enlightenment and plenty of merciless slaughtering. You know. Your standard historical RTS stuff. Perhaps the most significant difference between Age of Empires and Empire Earth is the concept that certain types of troops have strengths and weaknesses. For example, spearmen may be good against cavalry but will be cut down by archers. This is a good idea in theory. It forces you to take a more direct role in battle strategy instead of the typical RTS strategy of selecting your entire army and sending them headlong into battle while you go off to establish a new mining colony somewhere. The trouble is there are far too many options and possibilities and with technological advances it becomes very difficult to remember which group of soldiers is best suited for which task. This is especially troubling in the World War I campaign. Obviously I can figure out what an anti-tank gun’s strengths are but with the infantry and particularly the aircraft it gets very confusing very fast.
I eventually got bored with fiddling around in the same handful of ages all the time so I leaped ahead to the modern age and the World War I campaigns and suddenly the game came to life.
I’ve studied history, I’ve read All Quiet on the Western Front and the Sun Also Rises, oh man have I read the Sun Also Rises, but I never truly grasped the utterly senselessness of the “War to End All Wars” until I played Empire Earth. The WWI campaigns are not about strategy. They’re not about superior tactics or lightning speed reactions. They’re about numbers. Pure and simple. I could not win the game by advancing technologically. I could not win by out maneuvering my opponent. I could only win by sending more and more young men to their deaths. I could destroy the enemy strongholds with relative ease but each stronghold completely decimated my forces in the process. It was horrifying. The endless slaughter is made all the worse when you realize the fighting began foolishly and ultimately accomplished nothing. Just twenty short years later we were at it again.
The World War II campaign in Empire Earth gives you control of the Russian Army fighting Nazis on the Eastern Front. I never actually made it that far before I got distracted by OTTD and with the imminent arrival of my firstborn it seems unlikely I will have time for anything but Minecraft and my writing. I’m also curious to see what that will do to my movie watching habits, but I digress.
After playing Age of Empires as a kid one of my biggest issues with Warcraft and subsequently Starcraft was that the pace was so exceptionally fast. By the time I was settling in and ready to start building up my army some computer army was swooping down and decimating my poor little worker drones. But I’ve owned Starcraft II for over a year now. I’ve adapted. So the pacing in Empire Earth now feels like the result of a snail mating with a turtle. This would be more tolerable if I could develop technologically at a reasonable pace. There is nothing I love more than to defeat my enemies through superior culture and technology. “Oh you’ve got a thousand men carrying spears? They’re no match for my ten machine gunners! Ha!” Of course machineguns versus spears might be a bit extreme. The point is in RTS games I have always preferred cultural and technological advancement over shear army build up. Empire Earth of course allows for this, but in the campaigns these features are hampered for the sake of story. I tried starting a simple AI v. me game that would allow me to develop my tech while occasional beating back barbarian hordes until I had lasers and satellite weapons but that takes such a massive amount of time it sucks the fun right out of it.
So basically what I’m saying is, I think the game I really want to play is Civilization VI. Luckily it’s due out later this year. Apparently they’ve brought back the religion aspect of previous Civ titles so you can actually take over other nations by convincing them it is your divine right to do so. Or you can earn money from enemy nations that share your religion and therefore send you tithes. How fun does that sound? A lot more fun than putzing around the Mediterranean trying to develop triremes for three hours I can tell you that.