A Marvelous Example of an MMORTS Done Right
Empire by Goodgame Studios in Germany is an MMORTS played across three Kingdoms much in the same vain as Travian or Snail Game’s Ministry of War. It has all the hallmarks of RTS games – you build your base, farm resources, recruit soldiers and do a little raiding of your neighbors for fun and glory, not to mention swiping all their goodies.
It is a free-to-play browser game and you will find the usual graphical limitations in order to keep the game running smoothly, for example, the inability to customize the UI, move windows or even have more than one window active at a time, and the bigger your monitor, the more real estate you see. Literally.
And there is a lot of real estate to look at as you pan in all directions, looking for safe targets to hit.
Aesthetics – 8 / 10
The art style is cartoony with distinct icons and colors chosen to work well even on a tiny laptop screen (mine at work). The setting is medieval European with castles and soldiers in plate armor. The little touches chosen to emphasize the world include your workers in your castle walking back and forth, customized pennants flying from your watch towers and wisps of smoke curling up from the chimneys of your houses. If you get raided (and you will), you can see your structures burning. The UI is actually pretty super. Virtually every icon is useful and the question mark pulls up a tool-tip.
The music chosen conveys the heroic nature of the game well and sounds pretty good. A pity the cut to the loop is abrupt and jarring. Over the hours you play, it repeats ad nauseum and you hunt and find the “Music off” button in settings.
Gameplay – 8.5/10
In Empire, it’s all about time management. Time for resources to build, time for your army to be recruited, time for buildings to be completed, time for your army to march across the map – the lighter and more nimble your army, the faster it goes. If you bring siege weapons, heavy fighters and loot carts, it slows. Time can by cut with gold or rubies, but only by so much. An 8 hour march across the map could be cut by a hour or so.
Every choice you make is strategic. You have one building slot and another can be purchased but it’s a queue. Your structures aren’t built simultaneously. So what do you boost first in your quest to conquer the land? Food for your soldiers? Houses for citizens so you can collect more taxes to recruit soldiers? Guard houses? Then, there is choice of targets. NPC robber baron castles are available for gold and loot (stat boosting equipment). Quest completion gives you resources but you have to balance the quests objectives against your plans.
This is an incredibly well balanced game. You can’t buy your way to greatness (well, you can but you’d be spending mega bucks – more on that in value) but you can earn everything you need in game. Rubies are the premium currency. You start off with some and many quests and leveling rewards yield more.
There are also little nuances that allow you to manage the defenses of your castle like building more guard houses in order to station more soldiers on the walls and a stronghold so hide your more valuable troops which may be strong attackers but weak defenders. Mousing over icons yield not just information, but you find tweakable features by clicking on them, like the ratio of melee to ranged soldiers on each section of your base.
When you are finally of level to start looking around for fat pigeons to plunder, you’d be well advised to check their alliance and their pacts first before you raid them. Never smart to smack the toe of an angry giant when you are a tiny little guy. The game is linear with level gating. At 13, you can build an estate; acquire a castellan and capture and outpost. At 20, you can level up that estate, acquire another Castellan and caption another. At 25, you unlock a new kingdom to play in.
PVP is the name of this game and it can be interesting as you receive alerts if members of your alliance is being attacked and you can also let your alliance view your raids or hide them – if you have something to hide. The game provides protection so that one player cannot hit another multiple times in succession, however, your entire alliance can land hard on a bully. Players can also send support troops, or one of my favorite tricks, send an army to attack the case of the player whose army is attacking an alliance member.
Conversations can be interesting sometimes. I had attacked an under developed and wide open outpost right at the foot of my castle. Him: “Why u atk me?”
Me: “It’s a war game. You are 4 levels hgher and it gave me lots of points. Feel free to attack me back. No hard feelings.”
Him: “No I no atk u but why u atk outpost not main?”
Me: “Because it’s right next to me. You can’t hope to protect it in time.”
It remained on fire for 3 days after which I sent him a note asking if I could have it when I gained level 20. He must have bought a ton of rubies because it was level 3 next I looked.
Development in game is not only in the castles and outposts you own, but gearing up your Commanders and Castellans with gear. Equipment drop from NPC castles, otherwise known as RBCs – Robber Baron Castles. Better gear can be forged in the smithy and your alliance also has a smithy where you can forge pieces of gear.
Innovation – 7 / 10
There’s nothing to say that a game has to be innovative to be good. Or perhaps you could say it’s a well balanced game. How innovative! There’s also the technology that we don’t see behind the game. The PvP matching is as opaque as it can be. Click on a castle of your level or even higher and it could give you nothing. It could have been hit too many times recently or the player may have abandoned it. However, quests will point you at suitable targets. The 7 reflects a passing mark. Nothing super notable.