Recently the idea of empire creation in computer games has strayed from the turn base genre, over to the real-time strategy genre. Some of the most impressive titles that have aided this development to date are Empire Earth and Rise of Nations, two very competent games in their own right. However, no RTS has so far achieved a totally convincing empire experience, often shifting from age to age feels rushed, with little detail in between. This could all change with the release of Activision's latest RTS, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. With 7 unique nations and 1000 years of war at the helm, Activision promise gamers the chance of virtual world domination, but can it really satisfy the Emperor in all of us?
Like most RTS titles, the game modes provided in Empires: Dawn of the Modern World consist Multiplayer, single player skirmish and campaign. There is also an included game editor, which allows you to create campaigns and scenarios. I am also pleased to note that the game allows you to play these custom campaigns on demand, so I would expect a reasonably large amount of custom made addons available for download off the Internet in due time.
The Multiplayer and CPU vs Player modes are alike, it is basically your run of the mill skirmish style of gameplay. Choose a map, starting and ending age, population limit etc, and you're ready to fight.
Campaign mode, on the other hand, is reasonably different to the common campaign mode. Instead of the "Risk" style campaign mode seen in Rise of Nations, where your battles and alliances are represented on a large world map, we see a linear style 'story' mode, similar to how an RPG story mode would operate. I really don't consider this style of gameplay to be 'campaign', as that word generally entails dynamic control over your battles, what we see here is definitely more of a story mode.
Upon choosing campaign, you will be given the ability to select from three different campaigns - Richard Lionheart of the Medieval age, Admiral Yi of the Imperial age and General Patton of the WWII age. These campaigns do not cover every age included, there is still the Gun Powder age and the WWI age, however these campaigns are very detailed indeed. So detailed in fact, you'll think you're playing a totally new game for every age you cover. With the amount of variation for units, buildings, technology etc for each age, the gameplay becomes better and better as you progress throughout the game, unlike other Empire style games, where new ages felt like graphical addons rather than real ingame improvements. If you play the medieval age, then the WWII age, the difference is quite remarkable.
As far as the actual in game gameplay goes, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World is a tad mixed. To start, the fundamental aspects are sound, I can't really pin point any aspect I totally dislike, the A.I seems reasonably solid, the pace also seems to be on key, everything just feels about right. As you delve deeper into the game, however, you will notice the general lack of depth for units, buildings, research etc, particularly in campaign mode, and although each age does have good variation of these aspects as mentioned before, the actual amount of depth is not terribly impressive. This is not entirely bad though, as the campaign mode relies more on specialized missions and story events rather than generic "build a base and kill this guy".
Another small gripe I had was the cut scenes - a lot of the time, key story events were determined in cut scenes, which means you had nothing to do but watch. I'll be the first to admit that the story in this game rocks for every campaign, so the cut scenes were enjoyable, however I really think they should have cut down a bit on the amount and their influence. It is a little odd when a key battle is fought completely out of your control.
If there is one definite strong point about the gameplay, it is the amount offered. Simply put, you'll be glued to the screen for ages, going through every inbuilt campaign, then taking it online against friends or strangers, and then downloading custom campaigns, and then perhaps making your own. There is so much action in this game, I couldn't believe it only came on 2 CD's, even the master of all RTS gaming could hibernate to this game.
The current expectation for RTS titles is to feature 3D acceleration. Despite the fact gameplay is far more important in a quality RTS title, with current titles continuously setting the visual benchmark higher, new RTS titles have to match the quality or they will suffer in the market place. It is appropriate to note then that Empires: Dawn of the Modern World does indeed manage to atleast match the visual quality we have come to expect from recent RTS hits.
First of all, your perspective is primarily a long, distant shot, so such things as high resolution textures and high polygon count models are not terribly important, though when you do zoom in close, for instance during a cut scene, which uses the ingame graphic engine, you can see the lacking detail in these aspects. For example, while the animations aren't of huge concern during the heat of battle, when it comes to the cut scenes, the shortcuts taken in the animations are obvious - they are generally very rigid and disjointed. However it is simply not practical for an RTS to feature such impressive graphics yet, atleast not while hundreds of units are rendered at any given time, but perhaps it would have been nice to see a more refined engine used for cut scenes, as they do occur an awful lot.
On a slightly different topic, we did experience some text issues on the main menu's and loading screens. When you click on options or save game, or pretty much any other menu function, the new screen does not load properly, forcing the new menu's text to display itself over the text of the menu you came from. This makes setting changes hard, though I can't really confirm whether this is something wrong with our game PC or something wrong with the game itself.
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World is really a very simple game to navigate, there is really nothing out of the norm concerning the controls. All you really need is a mouse, with wheel preferred, and you can master the game in no time. If anything, it is good to see simplicity being the highest priority with the controls, there is nothing worse than an RTS that tries to further refine the basics, but ends up being uselessly complex. If you can click and point, then you can play Empires: Dawn of the Modern World.
Unlike many of the previous Empire style RTS games, Dawn of a Modern World actually feels complete. As you go by, age through age, it feels like you're playing a totally new game thanks to the huge variation between ages and civilizations, not to mention the seriously indepth campaign mode storyline, which explores each age very thoroughly, if it wasn't for the few minor negatives this game would be close to perfect. Empires: Dawn of the Modern World may not necessarily be the genre's next big thing, as it certainly has it share of let downs, though I can quite honestly say any RTS fan, novice or expert, will have fun playing this game. The concept isn't exactly innovative, but what is these days.