Arrakis: As Peaceful as it is Beautiful
From the beginning, the FMV (Full-Motion Video) scenes were incredible, and worthy of entry into a Dune movie. I was quite stunned to see Michael Dorn (Lt. Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation) appearing in his third video-game role that I'm aware of, though it was even more startling seeing him without forehead ridges for a change! Dorn plays the Duke of House Atreides , though, I suppose it shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, as his Star Trek co-star Patrick Stewart was in the original Dune movie. Granted, one celebrity certainly doesn't make bad movies good, but, fortunately, the rest of the cast chosen for the FMV was also terrific. All special effects were done to the demanding quality of a movie; I almost began to forget that I was playing a game after watching the movies for a while. Westwood is certainly the only game developer I've seen that has actually mastered the art of FMV. The only other game I've seen other than Westwood's with such quality cinematics was Klingon Academy, but 14 East doesn't really get the credit for that since I'm pretty sure the movies were filmed on the Paramount lots.
While the three houses are fairly similar to each other in terms of the buildings they have, and even many of the units, they are most definitely divergent when it comes to the majority of the units. House Atreides is pretty much balanced with a strong infantry and some strong vehicles and very strong air. House Harkonnen specializes in damage dealt out and heavily armored units, but their units are expensive and slow to build, so using them correctly becomes highly important. House Ordos is sort of the oddball one, specializing in gas weapons and stealth attacks, Ordos has only a handful of units, making them strategically simplistic to play, but they have, perhaps, the most unique units of all. Laser tanks that are devastating to armored units, and long range mobile turrets. Many Ordos units are shielded and can regenerate health. Ordos units also use gas attacks for many of their weapons.
The single player campaign system is perhaps the most unique I've ever seen in an RTS. Unlike Starcraft and other predecessors whose campaigns featured a series of set maps in succession, Emperor takes something of a different approach. The campaigns are dynamic. After a few set missions required to develop the storyline, you are presented a map between missions. On the map, the Houses take turns, first with the player choosing who to attack, then both AIs take turns, and the player may have to defend a territory. This makes for a tremendously huge single player campaign that plays more like a series of skirmishes than a campaign except for a few required campaigns. I, so far, have played all three campaigns nearly half-way through, and I have played them all twice, both times, most of the mission objectives were totally different for the "random" maps (the non-key ones.) This makes the single player campaign's replayability value the highest I've ever seen for an RTS. It's literally like a different game each time, and unlike other games, it is in no way a quick campaign. A single map can take anywhere up to 50 minutes to complete. There are tons of territories on the map (I'm not sure yet if the map itself changes each time as well, so giving an exact figure of territories probably isn't wise) and you may be called to defend as many as two territories for each territory you invade. Needless to say a single campaign may take up to a month to complete.
In addition to the quality of the single player campaign, there are of course skirmishes and a nice built-in interface for Westwood Online to challenge people online. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to really play online as random games for an RTS while reviewing don't usually turn out so well, but I did test it out myself, and the servers seemed very capable of handling what's going to be thrown at it, and, of course, I played quite a few skirmishes, and while the single player campaign is similar to the skirmishes as well, the ability to choose subhouses and the like made for a truly fun multiplayer game, bringing back memories of playing Dark Reign online.
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