And while Emperor: Battle for Dune
presents a few new options in terms of gameplay, in the end it's the same sort of stuff Westwood's been turning out for years. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on your personal tastes; while I enjoyed playing Emperor
, I realized that I had much the same experience playing Red Alert 2
a few months back.
Those of us who fondly remember playing the original Dune II (or even Dune, which had more story than action but nonetheless did a good job of presenting the world) will sigh with pleasure once you see the familiar bushy brows of the Atreides Mentat or the fat, loathsome glare of the duke of House Harkonnen. Emperor is set immediately after Dune II; with the Galactic Emperor dead, the throne must be filled, and the three houses decide to do a sort of 'dance of death' on the surface of Arrakis. The winner takes all.
For the most part, Emperor plays like pretty much every RTS since Dune II. You construct your base, build your units, and crush the enemy. Indeed, it plays a lot more like Dune II than most, for obvious reasons. The two resources in Emperor are power, gained by using windtraps, and credits, gained by harvesting spice.
This is the first place that old-schoolers will notice a difference [other than the 3D]. Emperor automanages the harvesters for you, picking them up and sending them out with carry-alls instead of requiring you to babysit them. You can upgrade the refinery to have even more harvesters, which is nice. The taking away of micromanagement duties is always a Good Thing in games like this.
The other major change you'll notice in the game is the addition of subhouses. These five groups, ranging from the Fremen and Sardaukar to some rather bizarre alien races like the Ix, each add a couple of units to your repetoire. You can befriend them in the course of the campaign, or simply pick which ones you have when you play skirmishes.
The core campaign lets you choose from one of the three main houses. The battles are waged on an overworld map, one very similar to the map in Dune II--although this time you have much more control over what's going on. You can pick your line of attack, and often have to defend against the enemy from your home territory. Some of the battles that occur are 'plot battles', which get you new allies or progress the story. Others are 'kill foozle' or 'defend foozle', thrown in to make the game longer.
Unfortunately, this non-linearity ends up hurting the game experience more than I'd have liked. You really feel no attachment to what's going on in the game--progression has to be its own reward. It's a shame, really.
If you tire of the single-player campaign, you can always skirmish against the AI, or play with or against your friends on the Internet. The ability to do cooperative campaigns is intriguing; the ability to deathmatch is much more appealing in the short run. The game offers a lot of options for multiplayer, and the subhouses mean that every side is somewhat unique. Nice.