Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom
4th September 2002
2033 BCE – 1234 CE
Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom is a city-builder game designed by BreakAway Games and Impressions Games, being published by Sierra Entertainment. It was the last game in the classic city-building series, as Impressions went bust the following year and closed down.
Like most of the previous games in the series, Emperor follows the historical route of an ancient civilisation: in this case, it follows the ancient history of China, the only civilisation known to be continuous and never conquered and converted to another civilisation's ideologies.
Emperor builds upon the game engine designed for Zeus: Master of Olympus. As such, similarities between the games can be seen, which include the separation of housing into Common Housing and Elite Housing, more varied mission goals and separate trading posts.
The game starts during the prehistoric Xia Dynasty and leads the player through most of the major dynasties, up to the construction of Zhongdu during the Jin Dynasty – the city that would become the present-day Beijing. Unlike previous games, the player is not required to complete any dynasty in order and may elect to play any dynasty they wish, although the dynasties get harder and novice players may find the Song-Jin Dynasty campaign to be extremely difficult if they have not completed the basic tutorial missions of the Xia dynasty.
Unlike Pharaoh, the player is unable to select any of the missions individually, even after completion, and is required to make saves of missions if they wish to repeat them later.
During some campaign missions, the player will be expected to build a variety of monuments to complete the mission. True to the historical nature of the game, many of the monuments are built in their actual locations and the player also has the opportunity to build sections of the Great Wall of China, both of dirt and stone. The player also gets to build the Grand Pagoda, a large structure that signified the coming of the Buddhist faith within China itself.
Although many critics complained that the game had no originality and was too similar to previous games, the game does introduce some useful changes. One of the larger changes was trading: unlike in previous games, the player cannot see the types of goods that a city buys or sells (unless the city is already trading at the start of a mission), which requires the player to either send gifts to other cities or send diplomatic requests.
The changes to trading also introduced a per-city favour feature: unlike in previous games where cities would be open all the time (unless they were scripted to close temporarily), cities can stop trading, be destroyed or invade if they feel that you have no military strength or if you ignore their requests too often. Unless a city is destroyed, which only occurs if requests for troops are ignored repeatedly, trading with a city can be re-established very easily by simply improving the cities favour towards you.
A year after the release of the game, a patch was released which fixed a number of game-breaking bugs. Some bugs which were fixed include the patching of Sun Tzu's blessing (which did not work at all in base game) and a fix for a crash-to-desktop whenever the Lhasa trading post was placed.
The patch was supposed to fix a regularly occurring bug when sending troops to defend other cities. Although the patch mitigated the issue, it did not eliminate the issue, as sending troops when given the "one month notice to comply" causes the bug to trigger anyway. The fan-run website, Emperor Heaven, documents several bugs that still occur after patching, which have never been fixed as Impressions Games went bust not long after the release of the patch.
The game received favourable reviews from many critics. However, despite the positive reviews, many were critical of the lack of originality and that "little difference" existed between Emperor and all preceding games.