While it may be a lot smoother and simpler than its predecessors, Empire Earth III has been dumbed down to the point of irrelevance.
- Strips away a lot of the bloat from the first two games.
- Just three main civilization types
- Overly simplistic world-domination campaign mode
- Ineffective AI
- Mixed-up units with some bizarre, unfunny specialties
- Spectacularly annoying unit-acknowledgment dialogue.
Be careful what you wish for. A lot of RTS gamers have been clamoring for a simplified Empire Earth over the past couple of years, finding the first two releases in the series to be a mess of units and eras as incomprehensible as a history textbook after it's been fished out of a blender. So, welcome to Empire Earth III, a shot back at the critics that answers complaints by dumbing the whole game down to utter dreck. While the first two games in the series at least inspired love or hate, this new arrival is so "blah" that it can only elicit a lot of "What the hell happened here?" shrugs.
Still, the design is more misguided than flat-out awful. Developer Mad Doc Software probably started from a good place, working with the sensible idea that a lot of the messy cross-epoch elements needed to be stripped away for the franchise to truly compete with the likes of its Rise of Nations and Age of Empires rivals. To accomplish this, the designers scrapped the old individual civilization model and moved to a different route where you guide world regions. Instead of picking the British, the Persians, the Americans, or the like for campaign play, you choose a side from Western, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern empires that encompass basic stereotypes of their cultures. So the Westerners are all about research and expensive, high-quality units. The Easterners deal in huge numbers of infantry. And the Middle Easterners specialize in cavalry and hit-and-run tactics. You can get past these generalities only by playing skirmish mode against the computer or against other human players online and selecting from handfuls of more traditional nations like the US, North Korea, Switzerland, and Russia, and even then these sides don't really differ from the others in their regional blocs.
This concept gets across an imperial theme quite nicely, but it also simplifies things too much. Basically, the standard dozen or so civs typically tricked out with all sorts of varied units and specialties have been swapped out for what amounts to a measly three of them that play a lot like one another anyhow. West and East are structured similarly, with builders constructing traditional Western city centers and Eastern ministries, warehouses, barracks, stables, and so forth. Only the Middle East stands out somewhat, and this is mostly just for portable buildings that can be unpacked without the assistance or any sort of worker unit. You need to get into the future era to notice anything interesting with these sides, as that's when you start seeing ideas like the Middle East's cloaked factory and camouflaged revolutionary guard, and the East's bioengineered units like the supersoldier and hulking mutant. Despite these variances, the styles of play are nearly identical no matter what part of the globe your empire calls home. You need to make accommodations for the blatant specialties noted in the paragraph above (which basically means you need to build cavalry with the Middle Easterners, research a lot of tech with the Westerners, and crank out the infantry with the Easterners), but aside from that this is all about the same old base building, resource gathering, and army rushing.
Much of the new world-domination mode of play feels equally tired. Mad Doc has swiped a page from the Big Huge Studios playbook that the developer used to make Rise of Nations, dropping the typical scripted campaign for a freeform option where you try to conquer the globe. It plays as a cross-genre experiment, with you making moves on a global map in turns and then seeing how they play out in real-time skirmish maps. The only problem is that it's all incredibly bland. Provinces are designated as imperial, economic, military, or research sites based on the amount of each turn-based resource that the region produces (you actually make this formal designation, but there generally isn't much choice since you're given set numbers for each category), but there is nothing to characterize these areas. You don't get to hear that, say, Southern Europe is a great conquest because of its fertile farms and philosophical Greeks; you just see that the province gets good numbers across the board. The only plus is being able to custom-outfit your civilization with various imperial, economy, and commerce world techs like roads and infrastructure, supply lines, and superior intel. You get to directly play most of these techs on provinces, too, which gives you a feeling of actually developing an empire.
Still, most of your time is spent in repetitive conquests of provinces occupied by minor tribes drawn from all of history. These battles cannot be auto-resolved as can scraps with the other empires in the game, so you spend an incredible amount of time building the same base and army to slaughter the same packs of heathens over and over again. Objectives are a bit varied in that you often hook up with tribal allies or need to win over a new friend by doing him or her a favor, but they pretty much always come down to you needing to build a big army to wipe somebody out.