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Topic Subject: Demo Impressions
posted 11-11-07 07:20 PM EDT (US)   
My Take on the EEIII Demo

Summary: The EEIII Demo reflects a game that is something more than a simple evolution of the Empire Earth franchise. It introduces an outstanding strategic metagame (World Domination mode); retains the territorial system of EEII; cuts the basic factions to only three while significantly differentiating each of those factions (only the Western appears in the demo); greatly reduces and streamlines citizen management; adopts a “cartoonish” graphical style; and compresses history into five epochs. Only the final two epochs, Modern and Future, are represented. Gamers who have played both the demo and the full game report the technical bugs in the demo are fixed in the game.* I've played too many RTS games to properly assess whether or not EEIII can serve as an entrance game into the genre for newcomers, but I think it's still a bit too difficult. For RTS veterans in general and EE vets in particular, EEIII may not evolve the art of multi-epoch historical games to satisfaction, unless the World Domination mode serves to draw them.

Intro: I've enjoyed various RTS games; Total Annihilation, Rise of Nations, and the Cossacks series have been my favorites. I'm also not a stranger to the Age games. The original Empire Earth was great fun for a while, but I missed out on EEII. Mad Doc's decision to add a “World Domination” strategic layer to their latest game grabbed my attention, so I downloaded the Empire Earth III public demo. I've now logged several hours of solitaire play on an AMD Athlon 64 x2 3800+, 1 GB RAM, GeForce 6600 (256 MB) system.

World Domination Mode: Curiosity as to what Mad Doc created in a World Domination mode most excited me as an old RoN fan. I wasn't disappointed. EEIII's World Domination metagame is the most mature form of a turn-based strategic umbrella layer I've encountered in an RTS. You can create and customize armies in the strategic provinces and even decide how you'll specialize each province, whether to have each produce Military, Commerce, Research, or Imperial points to accumulate and spend on provincial or empire-wide improvements. I was especially impressed with the possibility of adding roads to individual provinces. String enough roaded provinces together and you can move armies across whole continents in a single turn. The turns are “WEGO”: you and the active AIs plan your moves, then the game resolves them all simultaneously at the end of the turn. You fight out the resulting battles as conventional RTS skirmishes or have them auto-resolved based more-or-less on the numbers of armies engaged. Armies on the strategic map that have engaged in combat take attrition damage; leave them stationary and they return to full strength over time. EEIIIs World Domination mode appears to be the new state-of-the-art RTS metagame.

Skirmish Economy: Possibly following after Rise of Legends, EEIII takes its own big step away from traditional RTS citizen creation. Simply controlling a province by building a Town center seems to generate a slow, continuous accumulation of generic raw materials, gold, and research points. Citizens are no longer your builders; Town centers can produce Engineers, and they build all your other structures. Each town center also has five slots for scholars, who each increase the rate of research point accumulation but who also each cost more than the previous one (ramping costs). Scattered around the map are raw material gathering points; build a warehouse next to one and three out of a maximum of five gatherers immediately pop out. Each additional gatherer ramps in cost. Build a market and one of a maximum of three cargo trucks appears to begin a gold-generating trade route. These enormous trucks seem to head for the nearest town center as a default, but, as longer routes generate more gold, you can re-target them on more remote centers.

Skirmish Combat: I didn't really notice much innovation here apart from the airfields. Not only can you produce helicopter or hovering air units (no fighters unfortunately), for a cost in gold (if I remember) the airfield itself will generate a reconnaissance, bombing, or escorted bombing mission to anywhere on the map. The bombing missions seemed quite destructive when applied against concentrations of enemy units. Naval action is not represented in the demo. Pathfinding is still a problem at times. Edit: see below for Warspite2's comment on fighters in the full game.

Skirmish Diplomacy: As the six-player map was more than my system could handle at a decent framerate, I can't comment on the range of diplomatic options available. I suppose they're similar to those of EEII. On the medium-sized map a neutral tribe/nation occupied the center. Their stance toward me grew from indifferent to “like” to “love” as I gifted them raw materials and built small Western Monuments near their city center. Eventually they swore fealty to me and sent troops to combat the enemy AI.

Graphics: This is where potential customers may recoil. Several of the previews have mentioned EEIII's adoption of a “cartoonish” graphics style. That's true, but what struck me more was that within the one actual historical epoch featured in the demo, the Modern era, I confronted units with graphical skins drawn from the nineteenth century, WWI, WWII, and contemporary times. Imagine a force composed of WWI tanks, Napoleonic Congreve Rocketeers, generic 20th century riflemen, WWII mobile howitzers and 88mm guns, and contemporary anti-tank helicopters. I know it's all zeroes and ones beneath the skins, but I still suffered from no small case of historical dissonance. On the other hand, the animations were at times amazing. The animators really lavished their creativity on that black hole/singularity weapon; you see the nearby buildings slowly breaking up and individual soldiers desperately clinging to whatever they can to keep from being swallowed by the nothingness. On the other other hand, I found the distortions and camera shaking intended to accompany some battlefield events to be overly distracting.

Voiceovers & Music: Music – good. Unit voice responses – corny; amusing the first few times, distracting thereafter.

Hardware Considerations: As other people have indicated, it appears the demo is not fully code-optimized, and it would be unfair to estimate the full game's performance on any given system using the demo as a baseline. In general, I recommend the prospective customer approach EEIII as the 2007 triple-A title it is. You can configure graphical options to meet the needs of older systems, but full enjoyment demands robust equipment, which in this case probably means at least 1 GB of RAM if you're playing on WinXP (more on Vista) and a less-than-one-year-old video card.

Who Will Like EEIII: Basing myself on the demo alone, I suspect dedicated fans of EEII are those most likely to enjoy EEIII. Some Rise of Nations/Rise of Legends fans who can't wait for RoN II (may it be!) might also find a temporary fix here. A few Age of Empires folks who don't mind tackling a paradigm shift and something of a graphic shock will also find EEIII tempting.

Who Will Dislike EEIII: Reading around the forums and judging from my own experience, gamers who believe EEI represents the high point of the series will probably have a hard time swallowing EEIII. EEII fans who revel in its complexities and innovations such as the citizen and combat managers will also less likely be converts to EEIII. Most Age fans will probably find little here to draw them away from enjoying the most recent iteration of their passion. People for whom graphical historical authenticity is important will also probably remain unconvinced.

Personally, EEIII as reflected in the demo – except for the World Domination mode – doesn't appear to go far enough beyond good ol' RoN to encourage me to purchase it at full price. I might consider getting it sometime in the future when I have a better system and EEIII is a discount title.

*Special thanks to WickedShark and Warspite2 for confirming the technical superiority of the full game over the demo!

[This message has been edited by Rohag (edited 11-11-2007 @ 10:34 PM).]

Replies:
posted 11-11-07 09:11 PM EDT (US)     1 / 9  
Well written Rohag! They do have fighters in the full game. I think the way it works if you fly near an enemy airfield (or carrier) fighters will automatically launch, intercept and attack. This was what the AI was doing to me, I had 3 air strikes my planes got shot down and never got through. I know I have been able to research the upgrades for their attack and range. When you do escorted bombing runs or recons, fighters go in.

-Warspite-
posted 11-11-07 09:24 PM EDT (US)     2 / 9  
Yeah this was a really good review.

EE forever
posted 11-11-07 10:40 PM EDT (US)     3 / 9  
Thank you. I've added a brief edit pointing to Warspite's comment on fighters in the full game.

Evidence is accumulating that the demo only vaguely represents EEIII... Let readers beware
posted 11-12-07 00:02 AM EDT (US)     4 / 9  
Nice review. It has been newsied, along with Warspite's.

"It seems to me the humour of Sails is so dry you could strike a match on it and it would be the humour that caught fire." - Friend of Old
posted 11-12-07 06:01 PM EDT (US)     5 / 9  
Yes I would have to agree the demo was really poor as compared to the actual game. The full version is so much better and runs smoother to.

The released demo does more harm than good I think for the fate of the game. Not sure what they were thinking there. You cannot make a sound choice in my opinnion about EEIII using only the demo.
posted 11-12-07 06:52 PM EDT (US)     6 / 9  
I also agree this is a well written review. You gave fair comments on the game, instead of simply bashing it emotively.

I guess it's probably unlikely that I might buy the game after all. As I'm the type who cares a bit more about the historical accuracy, unless the ancient and medieval eras aren't affected. I hated how EEII had units like Teotonic Knights in Industrial Age, or Legionaries in Stone Age.

This is the best signature ever!
posted 11-20-07 10:17 AM EDT (US)     7 / 9  
I had to jump in and say "HI!" to Rohag. Nice review, well thought out as always.
posted 11-20-07 11:59 AM EDT (US)     8 / 9  
ya. real good review. totally unbiased.

Does anyone know when the next half decent historical rts is coming out?

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...All American Bunny.....
posted 11-21-07 03:35 AM EDT (US)     9 / 9  
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