The historically themed city-building made popular in Impressions games such as Caesar III and Zeus: Master of Olympus moves from the Mediterranean to the Far East with this release set in ancient China. Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom takes players behind the Great Wall to nurture a metropolis that will stand the tests of time. This release was developed by BreakAway Games, the studio that created the Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile expansion for Pharaoh.
As in earlier Sierra releases under the Impressions label, this building game is infused with history and culture. Players begin under the Xia reign of 2100 B.C., then progress three thousand years through the Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui/Tang, and Song dynasties. Cultures develop along the four ancient philosophies of ancestor worship, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. City improvements produce appropriate commodities such as rice, silk, tea, jade, and many others.
Players have new options in manipulating trade and commodity prices, under a system designed to allow participation in trade wars. The game also features elements of martial defense and combat as well, with realistic wartime hazards such as siege engines, collateral damage, and flammable structures. Like the earlier games though, the focus is on developing a complete, balanced infrastructure for an ancient Chinese capital that will endure any challenge that history holds.
Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom is built on a new graphics engine for greater visual detail in all areas of gameplay. Multiplayer games feature spies and diplomacy, and players can raise armies and send them to invade a rival or assist and ally. Allied players can also work together to complete great wonders of engineering, such as the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.
First there was Caesar, then Pharaoh, then Zeus, and now Emperor. One has to wonder how many twists on the same basic game design can be made before fans of the genre grow tired of the same thing with different graphics. However, it must be said, that Impressions did a good job of refining the gameplay with this installment.
For those of you unfamiliar with Impressions city building series, it is based in ancient times (Rome, Egypt, Greece, and now China), and players attempt to attain certain goals when building their cities in the single player campaign. In open play, players attempt to build the most bad-ass city they can with no specific objective or time limit. New this time around, the developers have added a multiplayer component to the game. Players can now play a scenario online against or cooperating with their friends and family.
For those wanting to jump right into the open play option, I suggest that you don't. I did just that and found myself hopelessly bogged down and confused after about one hour of play. The tutorials really aren't that much help either, as they don't provide enough information as you are playing through the mission. The manual really is the best bet. I know; manuals are for lamers, but in this case if you are new to the series, (as I was, relatively speaking) the manual is indispensable. The cheat sheet is also extremely useful when in the middle of the game as it provides most of your essential info stripped down and into a condensed format.
In Emperor buildings produce goods that can be in turn transformed into other more valuable goods, with the proper artisans. If a certain raw material is unavailable as a resource on your map, you can always trade for it with another city. Your citizens also demand certain things like ceramics, access to religion, entertainment, and hygiene. The other primary strategic aspect of the game comes in the form of the game's walkers. Certain buildings produce characters that supply buildings that they walk past by with a good or service. This makes the planning of your roads extremely important.
The other main aspects of the game are paying homage to the gods, trading with other cities, and managing your military/intelligence. There are too many relationships between all the different aspects of the game to go into detail about all of them here but suffice to say that the level of balanced gameplay that is reached is really a credit to the designers.
After playing through a few of the tutorials and finding them a little tedious, I jumped back into the open play option, and started a new city. Playing in the first of the three selectable ages (Bronze, Iron, and Steel), I was hoping that I would be able to advance my way through the ages. I quickly began setting up my industry, commerce, agriculture, residential areas, and contacting trading partners. When my city was totally set up and booming, I found that I could not make my houses evolve anymore because some of the required demands of my citizens could not be met in the Bronze era. After consulting the manual, I saw that I was stuck in this age forever.
With a sad sigh I began to build a new city in the modern(ish) Steel Age. With more buildings available, I spent a lot of time creating a glorious city. The only thing my city needed now was a monument as a testament to is glory. Alas, as I soon discovered, there is no way to build a monument in open play, and once again, my dreams for total perfection were dashed. The only way to build a monument is in the campaign play, in either single or multiplayer mode. This is unfortunate as I feel the most satisfaction is derived from completing a monument.
Aside from the historical significance of the different ages, one has to wonder as to the importance of the inclusion of the Bronze, and Iron ages in the game. They are merely the same as the Steel age, minus a few buildings. Essentially, playing in those ages adds nothing to the gaming experience, and restricting the available buildings does not add a worthwhile strategic dynamic. Their only significance lies perhaps in the designers' decision to try and create an accurate historical representation in the campaigns. However, I would have liked to seen more of a difference between the different ages.
Something that I really enjoyed was the simplicity in the combat. As this is not a real time strategy game but a city builder, the focus should not, and is not on combat. In Emperor, you simply build as many units as you can and send them to conquer another city, with specific orders of course, or just point where you want them to defend. It's a simple affair that leaves something to be desired only by those who should be playing an RTS anyways.
The addition of the online multiplayer is a nice touch, but most of the time, there were not that many people playing online, but it did add a new dimension to the game playing against human rulers.
Overall, this installment of the Impressions series doesn't add much to what they've already accomplished. Some minor quibbles in the open play section, where I think most of the gamers will be spending their time, keep Emperor from being essential. If however, you are new to the Impressions series, Emperor is a great place for an introduction.
People who downloaded Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom have also downloaded:
Zeus: Master of Olympus, Caesar IV, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World, Empire Earth, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Pharaoh and Cleopatra, Empire Earth II, Caesar 3
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