Empires, is a Half-life 2 or Source engine mod, attempting (and in most cases succeeding) in crossing three genres and amalgamating them into one hell of an online multiplayer experience. Vehicular combat, RTS, and FPS are all combined to make a team based online shooter. The game modes which are in the mod’s current release are a FPS staple capture point mode, an escort mode and the final mode is the best and most innovative only called “Classic” by the mod team.The flagship game mode involves two teams each commanded by a player (in RTS view) who builds the base, controls research and defences and orders. Which are then carried out by players who fight as infantry and Vehicles with the aim of the destroying the enemy base and command vehicle. The other game modes are fairly self explanatory amalgamations of the Vehicular combat and class based shooter, with a more realistic TF2 style capture point map (or payload in the case of the escort mode)
The Vehicular combat works along with the majority of the systems in the game which are often not associated with the source engine. The RTS screen works, the research screen, and the Vehicle or soldier customization/load out screen all work and all come with default choices allowing you to make either a variety of good choices or bad choices when it comes to customization of your ‘ride’ or soldier. Example of a nicely customized tank would be a medium tank, with absorbent armour a high explosive cannon, a salvo missile launcher and an upgraded engine to stave off the generally fatal overheating. A bad example would be an arty tank (Artillery to you and me) with no armour a bad engine, and an unupgraded gun (or paper arty).
Once you’ve made the right choices with a vehicles load out you come to the combat which feels fast passed in the larger scale battles with missile launcher (ML) turret lock-on’s and RPGs, Mortars and other tanks all exchanging fire amongst infantry, building and repairing walls and also exchanging small arms fire. Sound good? Yeah that’s because for the most part it is, however if you find yourself separated from the rather enjoyable front line and battle and in a 1 vs. 1 situation with another tank which is also well customized it’s a rather slow and tedious affair. This is due to the armour and weapons of the tanks made to be balanced in the large scale combat, which then make them not quite powerful enough to make one on one engagements edgy, fast paced, or realistic and brutal.
The other mechanics of the Vehicular combat are also good with the way cannons, and missiles react during movement and the Vehicular combat becomes as twitch based and skilful as infantry combat and is just as fun. Although in the large scale battles that make it fun, delay between the missiles or cannons firing, hitting a target and registering is often quite high and as such often means vital shots are missed.
My one major fault with the “Classic” game mode is the way the commander is selected; it wasn’t the most effective system the development team could have chosen, because when it comes to the vote you quite often find yourself clicking for the name with the clan tags and hoping that they know what they are doing. Although this may sound reasonable it is often not as a bad commander leads to a bad game, and a good commander leads to a good and fair game. Also with the free for all commander voting system it often leads to grievers winning the vote, combined with water being the bane of every Vehicle grieving is easy to commit and often hard to deal with, making another major problem with the mod.
The community of the mod is also rather unforgiving, leading to new players being abused by the veterans rather than helped also leading to bad com manders being rife and the grieving to be committed not out of being an idiot but m ore out of revenge at the veterans that aggravated you in the first place trying to get rid of you and stop you from taking charge another time.
The infantry combat is very standard class based shooter you have four classes, the scout, the engineer, the grenadier, and last but not least the riflemen. Each class has its own almost direct parallel to TF2, the Engineer is fairly obviously linked with the engineer with its abilities to build turrets walls, and resupply other soldiers. The scout, is closely linked with the quite surprisingly the sniper and the spy, with its ability to (if customized right!) cloak, and its signature weapon being a sniper rifle. The Grenadier is closely linked to the soldier with its RPG and only proper anti infantry weapon being a pistol, although just like TF2 the RPG is great when aiming at infantry’s feet, however with the inclusion of vehicle the RPG is also used in its primary role.
The infantry also have their own load out screen allowing choices of side arm (two types of pistol) and main weapon (most classes have a choice of three although the engineer only has the choice of two SMG’s. Each of the weapons gives the class slightly different roles, an example a riflemen with a Heavy rifle is actually quite effective at medium range, but with an assault rifle he’s much better at storming buildings.
Another thing the infantry lack is any persistence, or feeling, with the vehicles you pay for them out of your ‘wages’ and your commanders ‘resources’ so you feel responsible for the vehicles wellbeing and if it dies it’s your fault and you wasted resources. Valuable resources however the infantry don’t feel like that. You never unlock anything new (apart from skills as you get promoted) the research system doesn’t affect them which make them feel less important as the vehicles. Which dominate the games multiplayer combat.
The promotion system also doesn’t feel as fleshed out or as complex as it could be if they improved on it by making the promotions persistent and unlocking items rather than just skills which are easily forgotten or go by unnoticed. Another problem I have with the simplistic promotion system is linked with the issues I have with the commanders voting system, it’s all well and good to have a democratic system, although some restrictions on who can ‘opt in’ would be great and simply having persistent promotions and a rank requirement to become a commander would have a made a lot more sense, stopped the bad commanders, also allowed people to take the learning curve at a slower pace, and probably not have made the community as unforgiving as it is.
Empires, is a good mod, it’s fun to play, and its easily available through Steam, however in its current release it doesn’t feel as complete as it could be and it also could be easily improved, by fleshing out and expanding on some ideas that are present it would easily make this one of the true mod greats. Currently it just is an above average mod, with some innovative and original ideas that make it playable and repayable none the less.
Pros- Fun vehicular combat which is rarely seen on the Source Engine - A strong blend of multiple genres leads to interesting game play - A strong back story and class/weapon design lead to fun infantry combat. - Future plans, such as aircraft could make this much more fun in future.
Cons- Unforgiving community (caused by some slightly bad design choices) - Hastily add systems that seem like an afterthought which detract from persistence and feelings of making real impact (I’m looking at the promotion system here) - Due to the amount of effects from the vehicular combat, and infantry combat all in short spaces can cause a lot of movement which the Source Engine isn’t great at dealing with, and causes lag. - Commander UI can sometimes be buggy although this is mostly fixed now but still sometimes glitches.
Requirements: A Source engine game
Website Link: http://www.empiresmod.com/drupal/
Download from: Steam
Images thanks to: http://www.empiresmod.com/drupal/