Emperor: Battle for Dune

2_1Arrakis – the world made famous in Frank Herbert’s legendary novel Dune – is featured once again in Westwood’s long-awaited leap into 3D with Emperor: Battle for Dune. If 3D is the most conspicuous contribution that Emperor makes to the Westwood line of real-time strategy games, its AI and its new dynamic campaign style finally does add more depth to the tired C&C formula. Finally, Emperor offers a variety of interface improvements over its progenitors. But beneath the veneer of a sleek interface, 3D, and the dynamic campaign, the classic Westwood look and feel will be unmistakable.

The Houses Atreides, Harkonnen, and Ordos return in the year 10190, and one of them has managed with the help of Lady Elera (a star of the Dune 2000 cutscenes) to have Padishah Emperor Frederick IV, Ruler of the of the Known Universe, assassinated. The throne is left open, and more importantly, so is control of Arrakis, the source of the most valuable commodity in the universe: the spice Melange that is indispensable for space travel. The Atreides, Harkonnen, and Ordos reinitiate their three-way ground war on Dune, this time supported by a variety of sub-houses, for control of the spice and the imperial throne.

Something Old

Emperor’s backstory is characteristic of Herbert’s creation, and is be told through cutscenes that will remind one of Dune 2000 specifically, and any Westwood strategy title generally. The FMV does add much to the experience, as once again they’ve landed recognizable faces to star in the video, including Michael Dorn—Worf of Star Trek fame—who plays the Atreides duke, and Vincent Schiavelli, who plays the Harkonnen mentat. However, the videos are not be mission briefings, as they have been in the past, but rather reflections on the campaign progress.

Each House features it’s own campaign and cast of characters. House Ordos could be considered a cross between the Borg and Ferrengi. The House Ordos crosses the line of moral consciousness, employing whatever means – including resurrecting and reprogramming the bodies of its fallen foes – necessary to accomplish its ends. House Harkonnen is known for its malevolence, hatred and brutality. The head of the house has two sons, vying for power and position and eagerly awaiting the day their father dies. House Atreides is as pristine as the planet it hails from. They value loyalty and honor. This is the House that has made friends with the Fremen, the inhabitants of Arrakis. But that fragile treaty has been broken, and must be made whole again if the House Atreides is to rise to power. In typical Dune fashion, each side sports their own weapons and tweaked playing styles.

16_1Jagged Rocks

The shift from isometric to 3D battlefields is a mixed bag. While it does lend to a different gaming experience, it doesn’t always do so for the better. The biggest issue is the loss of visual flair (early 3D strategy games can’t begin to compare with their isometric counterparts – their textures just look so washed out and low res), but on the bright side you don’t get the expected issues with navigating the camera. Everything in the game, from buildings to ridges, is so flat that you’ll never find your units obstructed.

Besides the obvious shift to 3D, the most noticeable change in Emperor is the campaign that allows players to have greater flexibility than ever before in choosing their pre-mission course of action. On the strategic map of Arrakis, comprised of thirty-three territories, you will be able to conduct attacks from any of the border territories you control, and offensive missions often will be followed by defensive missions as your AI opponents attack your territories in turn. The campaigns will not be scripted, and because there are over 100 possible missions and Westwood estimates that a typical campaign will be completed in approximately 10-15 missions, Emperor features a ton of replay value.

From the campaign map, you will have a wide variety of strategic options. In-mission reinforcements rates will be determined by the number of adjacent territories you control, so you will have a natural advantage attacking territories that you have surrounded, and a natural disadvantage against territories jutting into the enemy lines. If you find yourself losing a mission, or if you have already completed the mission’s objectives, such as making an alliance with a sub-house, without actually taking control of the territory, you can choose to retreat. For safety, you can leave a reserve force associated with the territory that you can make use of later.

25_1Finally, even if you lose a mission the campaign can continue. If you find yourself needing help, you can also recruit a friend to participate in your campaign in cooperative multiplayer mode. But don’t be fooled into thinking Emperor is revolutionarily different from any other of Westwood’s RTS mold. It’s not, though part of this is what makes their action-strategy hybrids so damn appealing. Their approach stretches back to their formative Dune days, carries on through Command & Conquer, and finally goes full circle with Emperor: Battle for Dune.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, Win95

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