Empire Earth II

Proving once again that more is less.

14Empire Earth 2 has a lot of stuff. Fourteen civilizations from four separate regions, each with three spell powers and three wonders, all available over the course of fifteen epochs, in which there are always at least six different resources and sometimes seven, and some of them being swapped out as you advance epochs? No problem. How about a system of a half dozen plus types of land units, special units like priests, medics, and spies, not to mention the ships, and later the airplanes and helicopters, and finally a couple of epochs with giant robots? Oh, and the 42 unique units for particular civilizations.

That’s not all. How about being able to upgrade any type of unit to veteran, and then elite, which will sometimes require researching the correct technology from the list of 128, many of which have effects like -10% build time for riflemen, +1 line of sight for palisades, or -10% tribute cost, and all of which are divided into three categories in which you can win a temporary crown to give you your choice of up to eleven bonuses and also to give you a leader unit with special abilities? Plus there are stone walls, and wooden palisades, and roads. And weather. And trade routes.

But despite having all of this complexity, Empire Earth 2, a sequel to a game that was already booming with stuff, just isn’t fun. You’ll need more than a fair bit of patience for the task. It takes a long time, and no small amount of study, to wrap your brain around what’s going on in Empire Earth 2, and then it takes a seriously wide attention span to actually keep track of it, thanks in part to an obtuse interface. (To be fair, there are some nifty peon shuffling shortcuts.)

8This game is, as you’d expect, much bigger than its predecessor, which was already too big for its own good. It’s also messier and arguably uglier, considering how poorly the engine has aged and how good other RTS games look. Empire Earth 2 doesn’t feel like it was developed so much as it was hacked with a machete out of a 3000-page spreadsheet. When you set up a game, you even get the sense from all the options available that the developers at Mad Doc Software decided not to fix anything at a set value.

You can change the pace at which units move, the damage they do, the speed of research, and even how good priests are at converting. It’s as if they knew there were far too many variables for there ever to be a right balance. Compare this to Rise of Nations — from where Empire Earth 2 borrows liberally, all the while missing the point of that game’s relentlessly streamlined design—where complexity is subsumed to playability. This is the exact opposite. Playability rides in the back seat and needless detail drives the game for you.

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Once you resign yourself to shoving your face into this informational Tower of Babel, it keeps you busy. And if you’re willing to take the time to stop and crunch the numbers, you might, through some strange logic, enjoy it. Of course, if you play attention this closely, you’ll see the weak AI, the messy unit management, and an economy almost impossible to manage effectively. No, I say. We should keep things simpler, and Empire Earth II doesn’t play that way.

System Requirements: Pentium III 1.5 Ghz, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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