Empires of Steel – PC Game Review
Empires of Steel. PC game. Battlefront.com / Atomicboy Software. $45.00.
Passed Inspection: Relatively simple war game with plenty of options. Graphics, sound, and gameplay all solid.
Failed Basic: May be just a bit too simple for experienced wargamers. Price tag also seems a tad steep.
Unlike other war games, EoS doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to wipe you off the map
Empires of Steel (EoS) is the latest PC war game from Battlefront.com and Atomicboy Software. First announced in June 2008, it was finally released on November 25, 2009.
Empires of Steel is a game of exploration, resource development, and conquest, set in the 20th century. The game is turn-based, or what Battlefront.com calls "simultaneous turn-resolution," otherwise known as I-Go-Then-You-Go. The customary units are there-infantry, armor, aircraft, naval ships, and even missiles-and all may be upgraded to varying degrees, increasing their combat effectiveness. EoS has a rudimentary diplomacy system built in, allowing for alliances, open declaration of war, and the occasional surprise attack. There is also a trade system in place whereby players may buy and sell the four world resources (iron, food, oil, and money) either on the open market or to another human or AI player.
Much of the rest of EoS gameplay is of the established explore-and-conquer style. Game settings allow for manipulating fog-of-war, AI levels, number of players, map and geography settings, research rates, and victory conditions. EoS also includes a game editor for sprucing up gameplay. Yet, despite all that, I still have the feeling there is something missing here.
Shortly after starting my first single-player session, I got the feeling that maybe EoS was trying to be like Civilization, as I found a few similarities between the two games. The feeling continued as I started more sessions just to get a better understanding of the game mechanics. The beginning process is simple: you start off on an island with only two cities under your control. You must then quickly explore the map to find more of the crucial resources while being very careful not to use up what limited resources you are given to start with. Unit-building and research take place in the cities, and there are plenty of upgrades (air force bases, shipyards, barracks, radar, etc.) to be constructed.
It wasn’t until my fifth game that I I realized I was trying to play EoS too much like Civilization. I kept running out of one of the resources very early-between the fifth and tenth turns. In EoS, it’s better to focus on one item at a time, instead of attempting to rush exploration and mass production.
Unlike other war games, EoS doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to wipe you off the map. I’ve played as many as 200 turns into a session before war was declared on me. It is still imperative to quickly gain control of as many resources as possible, but simply reinforcing your cities with military and resource-enhancing capabilities like factories and oil refineries goes a long way in spreading your meager initial resource pile.
Utilizing the trade system is another way to augment your resources. Once you have found and secured a steady resource supply, placing some of your excess for sale on the open market increases your income, and you may buy another resource outright or trade for it in a lump sum or on a per-turn basis.
Eventually, you come to the point of war, as resources and land are both vital for continued growth of an empire. Sadly, there’s nothing exciting and new here, especially when compared with other Battlefront.com games. Most of what I’ve seen from all three levels of AI (novice, veteran, and elite) amounts to simply securing a bunch of resources and amassing units for zerg attacks.
The AI does know and employ each unit it has very well but also seems to be into every attack 100%, with no regard for morale or attrition. There are no territorial boundaries other than what can be envisioned by controlled resources and cities. Aerial combat is a bit light, and enemy aircraft are easily defended against with a solid number of flak cannons to protect your empire. Naval combat ranks at about the same level, except when it comes to spearheading a beach assault near a heavily fortified city. Naval guns combined with missiles fired from within a city can make for a very short-lived action, but it’s fun to watch it all happen.
From the looks of comments on the official forum, there are a lot of options that players want added. The random map generator is one puzzling concern, in that it will always start a session with your cities placed on an island, no matter how you change the settings. This forces you to use ships and aircraft for initial exploration, which uses up oil. Infantry are much better suited for this job, since they don’t require oil to move.
Another issue with the map generator is that land areas are all rather small. There is an option for "Large Continents" in the map settings, but they are not very large at all when compared to those possible in Civilization, Hearts of Iron III, and TOAW III. For a war game that describes itself as being about global domination, it really doesn’t have that globally dominating feel.
I’ve only so far played EoS on single-player mode, a sad fact when contrasted with the announcement that the game "was built from the ground up with multi-player in mind." Yet, each and every time I’ve fired up the Multiplayer > Internet Games option, the lobby has been empty. I’ve even hosted a game and let it set open for almost two hours, and not a single other player entered. Either the multiplayer mechanic is broken, no one else owns the game, or no one wants to go up against me. Yeah, that must be it.
Empires of Steel is a game I recommend to beginner war gamers. Those with more experience may find this one too unchallenging. I keep thinking of the other Battlefront.com games I’ve played, like Theatre of War, the Combat Mission series, and my favorite, TacOps, none of which I would recommend to a beginner war gamer. Empires of Steel does have its own fun factor, to be sure, but for the most part, it’s just not my kind of fun. The $45 price is, I think, a bit steep for what you get.