The most accurate thing I can say about Empires Apart is that it is a charming, old-school RTS for folks who still think Age of Empires is the high-point of real time strategy game design. And, given that a remaster of that game’s recently come out, well, that must be a pretty sizeable demographic.
The worst I can say is that Empires Apart is essentially a lo-fi clone of Age of Empires, with little soul of its own, and no real innovation.
The game’s charm comes from blocky, colourful graphical style – it’s particularly cartoon-like, which not only looks remarkably unique in this day and age of hi-res, photo-realistic graphics, but also means the game runs like a charm on even relatively ancient hardware. Maps are procedurally generated, so each game feels unique from that point of view. Units and buildings and tech trees, though, offer little new – this really is a case of ‘if you’ve played Age of Empires, you know exactly what you’re getting’. Archers and spearmen, farms and harvesting, build queues and faction upgrades – it’s all there.
However, there’s not a lot to the game’s AI, which is both a blessing and a curse. It means that new players can stretch their legs without worrying about a horde of AI spearman rampaging through their peasant production lines, but it’s not going to push you, either. There is one shining light here, though, and that’s the challenge mode, which is a lot of fun. In this mode, you must build up your economy and military might to stave off ever-increasing enemy attacks, though they only attack at night. As the day/night cycle rotates, your view distance decreases, and you must ready your troops to defend your town hall.
Straight matches against the AI, though… not so much fun. Aside from the Survival mode, there are Challenge modes for each faction, but the game’s real lack is a long-term campaign mode.
Like Age of Empires, Empire’s Apart is more thoroughly focused on PvP over PvE. The game’s six factions are not only well-balanced, but quite uniquely designed. The Byzantines (hello, yes please!) are highly defensive, while the Mongols are much more suited to mobile attack. There are mess of ways to plat, from all-in player brawls, to four versus four matches, and co-op against AI opponents. Being able to mix and match cool combinations of co-op factions makes for some neat strategising between partners.
Ultimately this is a game that you get out of what you put into it – if you miss those hoary old days of LAN parties with mates to play games like old-school Starcraft and Age of Empires, this will certainly scratch that itch. But if you’re looking for a more cerebral, solo take on strategy game, Empires Apart thoroughly disappoints.