Battles are more than straight skirmishes too, sub-missions spawning as you enter an area, depending on the current situation (which area it is, your tech level, what the prophets read in the open belly of a goat). For example, near the start of the game a local tribe might have their princess stolen, and you can rescue her to gain their allegiance. As you progress, you'll increasingly be given missions on the strategic level, such as conquering three of a faction's provinces to precipitate Empire Earth's equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The actual real-time strategy is also a considerable departure. While still based on historical fact, a broader, more exaggerated look prevails, much like you'd expect if Blizzard designed an historical RTS. And rather than the many civilizations previous games simulated shallowly, EE3's three generalized ones - western, middle-eastern and far-eastern - each have far more unique unit progressions and specialized hero types. Some comic touches are already evident in the voiceovers.
At this stage, everything seems more alive than in previous games. In the wake of the huge leaps forward made by Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander, this is exactly the kind of revitalization to keep Empire Earth relevant in the modern age.