Review by Trucidation
The sequel to the grandfather of all strategy games lives on
"Empire Deluxe", the 'enhanced' edition, Windows-compatible, was released by White Wolf in 1993. It's the sequel to "Empire: Wargame of the Century", the spiritual grandfather to all strategy games. Without Empire, we would not have the overcrowded RTS genre today. Yes folks, this is the game that started it all.
- - -[ Introduction ]- - -
Like its predecessor, Empire Deluxe is a turn-based strategy (TBS) wargame. The game is played on a map consisting of terrain and cities. Basically your goal is to capture all the cities on the map. Each player is assigned a colour and starts with 1 city. Each city can produce any type of combat unit, and how many turns the unit takes to be produced depends on what unit it is. The catch is that only the basic army unit can capture cities - hence all the other units exist only to support your entire war effort.
At least, that was the state of things in the original Empire game. In Empire Deluxe several additional gameplay modes were introduced, each adding a few new twists and rules. One of the most fundamental improvements was the concept of "fog of war", i.e. you actually had to explore the world map, instead of just zooming in on your opponents' cities. Second was the introduction of terrain modifiers, although these were kept to a minimum. For example a land unit had an increased chance of surviving an attack from an air unit when in forested terrain.
Then came the concept of "efficiency", which was a rough way of extrapolating support for your units, i.e. by dividing the number of units you had deployed with the number of cities you own. If this number grew too big (meaning you had too few cities versus too many units already produced), the production of additional units would be penalized by taking longer to produce.
At the heart Empire Deluxe remains true to its predecessor - a wargame where you have to annihilate the opposition to win.
- - -[ Storyline ]- - -
There is no story in Empire Deluxe. It is basically a board game concept brought to the computer. You play one of six sides, and to win the map you must crush all opposition. There are several modes of selecting players, from network games, to the hot-seat concept which is sadly seeing far less use nowadays. It sure made for some fun games back in the day, when not everybody had a computer (indeed, when for most people the word "computer" conjured up visions of the geeks over at the finance department in a large corporation, as opposed to an everyday layman's machine nowadays).
Unfortunately, since it is such an ancient game, there are no fun modes like capture the flag or economic victory like in strategy games nowadays -- the only way to win a map in Empire Deluxe is to totally wipe out all units not belonging to you (including cities obviously, since cities are where units are produced). You do not "destory" cities, by the way, you capture them, turning them into yours. Neutral (uncaptured) cities do not produce anything, although they still require a successful attack to capture.
- - -[ Interface ]- - -
The entire game is played on the world map, which takes up the whole game window. Each player takes his turn to move all his units, and any action taken is resolved immediately, not at an "end of turn" or "end of everyone's turn" manner.
When your turn starts, you are given a short briefing of all units that finished production, and you are given a chance to change the production of the cities you control. After that each unit not given any standing orders will activate one by one. You may "cut in" (press esc) to activate a manual mode, where you can move a cursor around the map. Using this cursor you may change orders given to a unit, change production of a city, pull up reports and summaries (e.g. total cities owned, how many units produced, etc).
The game is controlled largely using the keypad - players on a laptop may find this inconvenient as using the mouse can get tedious when you have hundreds of units to direct.
- - -[ Presentation ]- - -
The game is played out on a grid, the size of which is determined by the player at map creation time. Empire Deluxe lives up to pretty much all the 2D grid sprite-based stereotypes. The resolution is pretty low by nowadays' standards, but they are still crisp and sufficient. Even the lowly colour palette (basic VGA!) does the job of displaying all the units and terrain types distinctly.
Audio effects are pretty much limited to the basic growling of moving war units, as well as the basic thuds of simulated combat. What do you expect, this game came out in 1993, a time when Creative Labs' SoundBlaster had not yet totally obliterated competition. DirectX didn't even exist, heck, Windows was basically a non-gaming platform with the exception of good ol' Solitaire. Real games still required you to boot from DOS, this was a time where the average PC gamer (a rare species) was 95% likely to be a nerd and comfortable with manually editing system configuration files.
Empire Deluxe is pretty simple enough and so resource-light that it easily plays in a window, so you can even multitask and leave it in the background while you attend to other things. Just perfect. Impeccable alt-tab behaviour and windowed mode availability never fails to score points in my book. I hate games which totally dominate your system and seize control of it while you play. After all it is YOUR computer, if you want to temporarily put the game in the background while you look something up in google or chat with someone that's your choice.
- - -[ Summary ]- - -
Despite its age, Empire Deluxe still performs admirably. It is a solid wargame and will appeal not just to retro gamers, but also those who appreciate a good game instead of turds hiding behind pretty graphics. It may be simple and straightforward, but the random map generator and generous sized maps will keep you occupied much like Solitaire does - everyone laughs at it, but millions of people still play it. Why? Precisely because it is so simple. It is uncluttered, and being turn based will happily wait for eternity until you make your moves. You can save at any point, and resume at any time.
The only regret I have after all these years is that the maps are pretty small. I know what you're thinking, if 200 x 200 is too small then what is enough for this guy, lol? I've played epic 1,000+ turn battles in this game, and even despite that I want more, more! You can imagine my disgust with current games that sport measly 30 unit caps and maps you can scroll in 4-5 screens. Wargames are meant to be epic, which is why I prefer turnbased games as opposed to the mindless realtime scrambles.
That's why you get junk that Warcraft helped popularise, the utter boringness of "zerg rushing", where the only strategy is simply to vomit units all over your opponents. Stupid, uninspiring, and mindless. Little wonder why today's wargamer is fixated on graphics just like the FPS shooter type gamers.
This game is a piece of history; if you come across a copy of it, don't hesitate to buy it. Of course, odds are most of the existing copies left are in the possession of the original owners, people who were around when computer games meant endless hours of engrossing gameplay, instead of the crap turds we have nowadays which you dispose of and forgotten once completed. You'll most likely need to pay a pretty penny to get your hands on Empire Deluxe, but it'll be worth it.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Empire Deluxe (US, 12/31/93)
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