A few weeks ago, Activision invited a few people down to Sydney for the first Australian unveiling of their recently announced
strategy title, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. This title is currently being developed as part of a new relationship with Stainless Steel Studios, which is headed up by Rick Goodman, who the keen strategy gamer will recognise as being the designer of Empire Earth.
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World follows in the footsteps placed by Empire Earth. Spanning over 1,000 years of human history, Empires promises to devote significant attention to historical detail, focusing on the actual unique attributes of the various human civilisations as they progressed throughout the ages, including their weapons and technologies. Gamers will have the opportunity to play through as several different civilisations from the Middle Ages up to World War 2.
This attention to historical detail is a key part of the game, and something which Stainless Steel hopes will set it apart from many of the other titles in recent RTS history. The entire game is wrapped in a brand new 3d engine, which we're starting to see become more prevalent in strategy games as developers and designers start to overcome the challenges that it poses.
Rick Goodman presented the game, walking us through the general gameplay, showing off some of the features of the engine, and going into detail with several aspects of the game, including one excellent demonstration of the use of cows as weapons of war. We were shown several great examples of the differences between the civilisations and the generally huge scope of the game. While it doesn't encompass as large a time period as Empire Earth, the added attention to detail for each civilisation in each different time period and the differences between each of them more than make up for this in terms of gameplay.
The core gameplay is, as one would expect, fairly similar to that of other modern real-time strategy games. Generally speaking, the bulk of the game will be played from the standard top-down viewpoint, though thanks to the new 3d engine, you can zoom right into the action. Unit movement, resource collection, and combat are all handled fairly traditionally, although the differences in the game environment mean that you'll have to be constantly thinking to make sure you're playing as efficiently as possible, and taking advantage of every possibly opportunity. The unique features of each civilisation constantly need to be considered when playing, otherwise you'll end up in big trouble.
The era of most interest to me was World War 2, both because I'm an FPS junkie but also because I have a keen personal interest in modern and military history, so I was really looking forward to getting a glimpse at this one. We were treated to a look at a particular scenario which featured combat between Germany and Great Britain, showcasing some of the different units (including the powerful German Tiger Tank and the elite SAS) and one of the unique abilities of the Germans - to launch a devastating (though inaccurate) V2 attack.
Again, the historical accuracy was the focus here - the V2 system is very expensive to develop, and while it is immensely effective, there is a possibility that it simply won't hit its desired target. If you're playing as the Germans, you need to balance this risk carefully - using all your resources to develop a V2 rocket system might sound like a good idea, but it could end in ruin.
Visually, the game is very impressive. The first thing that really grabbed my attention was the surprisingly high detail textures used in just about everything - zooming right up to the action reveals a much greater attention to texture detail than many other titles. The models are all fairly high detail as well, considering that most of the game will probably be played from a fairly distant perspective. The effects all look good and fit nicely in the game. All the environments are detailed and look great; the terrain is varied and covered with a variety of landscaping objects such as trees, shrubs, and rocks.
My only negative complaint about the visuals was the use of team colour is just a little too excessive for my liking - everything is just a slight bit too colourful. There is definitely a balance point though; if there isn't enough team colour it becomes far too hard to discern which units are which in the midst of a large battle. This is more of a personal gripe that I've had with a lot of games; I've always felt that war games should have some emphasis on players having to be careful about their units and pay attention to detail.
Multiplayer looks like it will have a lot of potential as well. Although we didn't see a demonstration of the multiplayer in action, based on the game's core focus of historical realism and the huge effort that will undoubtedly be going into it to ensure that it will remain balanced, it is almost certainly safe to assume that the multiplayer will be a significant aspect of this title.
I was fortunate enough to be able to have a brief chat with Rick after the presentation and discussed some of the aspects of multiplayer. AusGamers has always had a particular interest in promoting multiplayer games, more so now as they are growing so rapidly in popularity and the number of quality titles out there grows as well. From the sounds of things, Empires is going to be targetted not just at the general public but also at the keen hardcore gamer that is looking for a challenge. Rick mentioned that the multiplayer aspect of the game is being carefully considered, and discussed one of the aspects of the multiplayer was a very fast-paced multiplayer gametype to cater specifically for the hardcore strategy gamer.
Overall, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World is shaping up to look pretty impressive. Visually, it is very impressive; a lot of effort has gone into making this game look great. The strong focus on historical accuracy will keep realism buffs happy, but (more importantly) much attention has been paid to ensuring the game is fun to play while maintaining a high level of realism. The single player component of the game will certainly offer an involving experience, as gamers will be able to make their way through the game and experience the full richness of all the civilisations on offer. Further, multiplayer has a lot of potential with the enormous variety, although one would imagine the balancing issues in such a game would be complex to say the least.
Fans of real-time strategy games will definitely want to stay tuned for more information about this one.