When I heard Empire Earth was going to have an expansion pack, I was surprised. Empire Earth, a real-time strategy game released last year by Stainless Steel Studios and Sierra Entertainment, had just about everything you could imagine, with over 200 different units covering 14 epochs of Earth’s history. In fact, the game was so thorough and complete that it didn’t leave much room for additions. Stainless Steel Studios, perhaps realizing this, declined to create an expansion pack, but Sierra, perhaps noting that Empire Earth sold well and thinking that an expansion pack would do likewise, found a different developer, Mad Doc Software, to add things to the game.
And so you have a third party expansion pack for a game that didn’t really need an expansion pack. That means Empire Earth: The Art of Conquest is going to be bad, right? Well, no. The Art of Conquest isn’t the best expansion pack around, but it makes changes throughout the game’s engine, and it includes three new and (perhaps overly) thoughtful campaigns, and it seems to have enough content to be worth its $25 retail price.
The main addition in The Art of Conquest is a new space epoch (why the expansion pack is called The Art of Conquest and not, say, The Space Age is a mystery to me). The epoch includes five kinds of spacecraft, including the slow-moving but powerful capital ship and the speedier corvette, plus some new buildings, like the automated farm. Space is treated like an ocean, with the “islands” being planets and moons, and so dealing with space conflict is much like participating in naval battles, except the spacecraft don’t bump and jostle into each other as much as Empire Earth’s ships did. Overall, the epoch works well enough; it just has the same problem as Empire Earth’s other epochs. That is, if you’re interested in a particular time in history, then there are probably better games out there (although I really like the World War I epoch), but if you want variety, then Empire Earth is now even better than before.
The Art of Conquest also adds a few other things to the Empire Earth engine. You can now build wooden towers and palisades in some of the earlier epochs, civilizations now get specialized enhancements to make them more unique, there are two new civilizations (Japan and Korea), and some other, minor things (like the addition of a standard bearer in medieval times). It’s just that these additions are relatively minor -- Empire Earth included 21 civilizations and allowed you to create custom civilizations, so how useful are two new ones? -- and so if you’re interested in The Art of Conquest, it should be for the new space epoch.
Besides changes to the Empire Earth engine, The Art of Conquest also comes with three new campaigns, one each for the Romans, World War II, and a futuristic Korea. Each campaign includes six scenarios, and each is generally bad. I almost hate to say that, because Mad Doc Software’s scenario design team made good use of the game’s (excellent) campaign editor, but the scenarios are often sloppy, with broken triggers, and objectives that don’t show up on the objectives page, and more, and the scenarios also tend to be balanced badly, being generally too easy and too long. For example, in one scenario you start out having to fend off multiple balanced attacks, including some nuclear bombers, and it looks like the scenario is going to be life and death, but then after that you only get attacked by infantry and helicopters, and so it turns out to be discouragingly easy. In another scenario you get 100 infantry units, but you can meet all the objectives with about ten of them. Besides that, Mad Doc Software also has the mentality that if doing something once is fun, then doing it, oh, five times is much more fun, and that’s when the scenarios get long and tedious. I went back and played Empire Earth’s campaigns to re-familiarize myself with the engine, and I enjoyed them even the second time, but I didn’t enjoy The Art of Conquest’s campaigns at all.
The manual for The Art of Conquest claims the expansion pack comes with a “bevy” of changes. I probably wouldn’t say that (even if I agreed with the concept, I’m more of a “multitude” person myself), but Mad Doc Software included more changes than you usually find in an expansion pack, and you don’t have to worry that the changes were slapped together in a hurry so Sierra could make a few extra bucks. It’s just that I don’t know how much the changes were necessary, and since I also didn’t enjoy the included campaigns, I’m not sure how worthwhile the expansion pack is. If you played Empire Earth when it came out but haven’t looked at it since, you might be better off downloading some user-created campaigns and trying them instead. But if you’re an Empire Earth addict, The Art of Conquest might be useful just for spicing up multiplayer games.