Review: Empires Apart29 Mar 2018 0
Review: Empires Apart
Released 29 Mar 2018
The Age of Empires series redefined RTS back in the 90s, but its influence has largely gone away in recent years. The industry absorbed its lessons and pitfalls before swiftly moving on as the genre matured, but one developer has gone back to the drawing board with Empires Apart: Slitherine’s modern, multiplayer-focused take on Microsoft’s classic franchise.
Empires Apart is largely focused on multiplayer -- teams, faction balance, and maps were built from the ground up to offer satisfying PvP skirmishes. You can play against up to seven opponents in online matches, be they AI or human, cooperative or versus, and with any combination of civilizations plucked from human history.
The game does have single player options, from basic PvE matches and faction challenges to a Survival mode, where you must gather resources during the day and withstand hordes of enemies during the night. In normal matches, nightfall only brings a reduced field of view, but in Survival it also brings waves of enemies, creating a very interesting and novel experience.
Multiplayer or single player, Empires Apart offers you six distinct factions set in medieval times: the Aztecs, Chinese, French, Mongols, Arabs, and Byzantines. Definite care has been taken to separate them from each other at a fundamental level -- while Mongolian units grow stronger through battle, the Byzantine defensive focus rewards the building of walls and archer towers. While the Aztec may advance through battle, the Chinese already start at a higher tech level. Each civilization has their own speciality and play style, complete with unique heroes, buildings, and unit rosters, and the game even uses language-specific unit and building names to further drive home the point the cultures are not the same.
Maps in Empire Apart are procedurally generated, and overall offer a sizeable mix of the various resources required. The starting location is randomised but predictable -- you can always count on having wood, stone, gold, and food bushes in the vicinity, allowing you to quickly get things underway without a lot of exploration. There are only seven maps in the game at launch, but they offer an interesting selection of biomes ranging from forests and deserts to islands and snow-covered terrain.
The selling point of Empires Apart is that it’s a modern Age of Empires, retaining the same gameplay of its inspiration, but packing better graphics and mechanics. The game faithfully embraces what made Age great, including the constant logistic arrangement of workers and the beautiful freeform construction of defensive walls and towers to protect your territory.
As you progress through the tech tree, you move from spearmen to archers, knights, and siege weapons. There are also special units, like heroes with a special buff or ability, and priests that can gather relics which give you stat bonuses. Some priests, like the Chinese Monk, also heal nearby units, which is a fantastic boom in a game where every soldier is made of paper.
As an ‘old-school’ RTS, Empires Apart falls victim to the old strategy of rushing units as soon as possible to beat your opponents, which thankfully doesn’t happen in single player -- the AI is very docile, allowing you to learn the game at your own pace and having fun without worrying somebody will rush you five minutes into a match. For those that do want PvP, the game’s multiplayer is robust and reliable, even offering host migration in case somebody disconnects, which shows care of thought and commendable attention to the important details.
Technically, the game behaves quite well, with stable performance and a very pleasing aesthetic and UI. The music is also quite good, although the non-dynamic soundtrack cannot be relied upon to inform you of the game status -- and the constant random battle music in your ears do get a bit grinding after a while. Some minor quality of life improvements are also missing, like gates that auto open or upgrading wooden palisades to stone walls, forcing you to manually manage the openings to keep AI pathfinding efficient and delete the walls to replace them, respectively.
In the end, Empires Apart is both a good spiritual successor to Microsoft’s classic and a good game in its own right, delivering a very capable experience that successfully brings most of Age of Empires mechanics into the modern age. If you liked Ensemble’s iconic series then you should definitely take a look at this game.