Empires: Dawn of the Modern World
Judge the world’s civilizations by their contributions to your empire
Jaded real-time-strategy fans will probably see the premise of Empires: Dawn of the Modern World and think, “Isn’t this just more of the same?” They’ll be dead wrong.
Despite cramming nine civilizations and an entire millennium into one game, Empires is really a case of less of the same. By tossing out (or giving a cursory nod to) complexities like economics, social affairs, and international relations, Empires cuts straight to the amassing of forces capable of pummeling into utter submission any nation that has the nerve to call itself sovereign.
You’ll discover this streamlined approach in the three single-player campaigns, which limit your population and the technology you can research. As Richard the Lionheart, you battle the treacherous King Philip of France as he seeks to gain sway over the English monarchy. In 16th-century Korea, you repel a horde of Japanese invaders with brilliant defensive maneuvers inspired by renowned Korean admiral Yi Sun-shin. And you also get to pick up General Patton’s Colt .45 and spearhead the North African invasion, and experience the breakout of Allied forces in Normandy.
Historical settings aside, you should suspend any sense of disbelief ahead of time: when you see Patton personally dismantling an airstrip with his Colt, you know Empires’ designers have decided that fun trumps realism. What you get is a straight-up, fast-paced wargame that lets Joe Six-Pack realize his dreams of epic conquest, without any need to consult a manual.
The single-player campaigns are, by necessity, a bit thin on features. The unit formations are crummy and pathfinding is just as tenuous as in most RTS games, with a fair share of units opting for the most dangerous route to Point B. And the missions are somewhat undercut by stupendously loquacious cut-scenes and terrible voice-acting. Note to designers: we’re here to play, not watch.
But the multiplayer game is the star of the show, whether you’re battling computer opponents or other people online. Because you have only four resources, you can devote undivided attention to building, defending, and attacking. How you do that depends on which civilization you play as, but be forewarned, you can’t guide each of the nine cultures from swords and arrows to the atomic age: only four choices are available if you start a game in the Medieval era, forcing you to switch to another nation’s ways (and warfare) when you reach World War I.
Seamless GameSpy integration makes multiplayer match-ups a snap, and an auto-match feature allows you to compete on organized ladders right away. The inclusion of instant-action and deathmatch modes (with plenty of workers per resource and lots of stuff to start with) means RTS fans seeking fast doses of explosive mayhem will be well-served.
It would be easy to gripe about the irritating aspects of Empires, if it weren’t for the fact that the same could be said of a dozen other acclaimed RTS games. Unless you’ll accept nothing less than hardcore realism, you’ve gotta be ready to take the good with the bad — or perhaps we should say “the not so good.” Luckily for fans of multiplayer RTS, Empires is everything you’d want in a head-to-head throwdown. It may be the “dumb man’s Rise of Nations,” but it’s still a smart buy for broadband-Internet gamers.
— Stephen Poole