Empire Earth II is a really, really big game. Lots of people like to throw the word epic around, but this is certainly appropriate. Not only for the many periods of history involved, but for all of the variations of play, hours of gaming, and tactics that can be used to crush your enemies. Mad Doc has taken the ground works laid down by Stainless Steeel with the original title and created a truly deep and enjoyable real-time strategy experience on all levels.
Both single player and multiplayer are a hell of a lot of fun. This is truly an epic game on all levels.As with the first Empire Earth, the sequel bases itself on the history of our planet from a very early stage in human development. It doesn't go back quite as far as the first game, but it's not something that I missed. Instead, the action is focused on periods of time in history that are more interesting from the standpoint of strategic gaming.
Periods of history are divided into epochs that advance civilizations into whole new realms of technology and culture. In one game you can actually see your civilization rise from shooting arrows and poking each other with sticks to shooting lasers and poking each other with nuclear bombs. The scope is huge and allows such a gigantic room for mistake that it's amazing more weren't made.
There's a good attention to history in the campaign missions, though license has most certainly been taken with geography and accuracy for obvious gameplay reasons. The campaigns in general are awesome. Some of the mission design is really, really good and none of the missions call for every last one of the enemies to be dead, which is a huge blessing considering the size of some of these maps. In fact, some of the time, missions will only charge you with taking over a set number of territories to win and push whatever invading army it was back into the hinterlands.
Three eight mission campaigns follow the beginnings of Korea, Prussia's rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise to power eventually creating Germany, and the United States entry onto the world stage starting with the expulsion of Spain from Cuba into the future. All of these campaigns are very satisfying and provide a variety of scenarios to keep things interesting. The difficulty level can vary, but there are some great challenges to be had that are quite entertaining.
Playing as the Prussians fighting Napoleon's retreating Grand Army was especially exciting and required more than a little perseverance. I'm not used to being in my death throws in RTSs nowadays. It's nice to see a campaign that can provide an interesting challenge.
Outside of the campaign there are turning point battles (Normandy and Three Kingdoms) that can be played from both sides to see if you can change history and excellent skirmish and multiplayer modes. Players can choose from one of fourteen civilizations with different advantages of their own, including unique units, from four different regions with different advantages, powers, and wonders. Picking the right civilization for a certain type of game in a certain range of epochs is actually part of the strategy. There's a lot to think about before you even get into the game.
Of course, it's this epic nature that is really the game's only real downfall from a gameplay perspective, if you can even truly call it that. This is a complex game for hotkey heroes. If you want to be successful, you're going to have to learn which combination of keys do what. For all of the great extra features included in the game like the citizen manager, war plan, and picture in picture, there are a thousand other things that you have to remember.
And half the time, the hotkeys are hard to remember because there's just so many of them. The entire alphabet is used up so that both the shift and ctrl keys have to be used as modifiers for most of the other commands. The single player games allow for the forgiving pause and order feature, but multiplayer matches will challenge your memory of hotkeys, civilization bonuses, technologies, buildings, leader powers, unit uses, and more. This is a deep, deep game that will take most players a while to get familiar with.