Empire: Total War is the latest game in the Total War franchise, renowned for its huge battles, complex strategy and rewarding gameplay. This new iteration features several new gameplay elements such as naval combat, realistically modelled gunpowder weapons and more. As with the previous games, you will still be expected to take control of a fledgling country and turn it into an empire spanning the breadth of the map. And as many will be glad to hear, the map size is much bigger this go-round; Empire Total War lets you spread your kingdom through all of Europe and north Asia, all of North America, the Caribbean and India. This prospect will no doubt daunt both new and veteran players, as your campaign objectives will often require you to take over provinces all over the map.However, some of the ambitious features of the game fail to meet the polished standards of the previous games.
The Grand Campaign is where you will spend most of your time in E:TW. This allows you to take over any one of several nations, and, starting in the year 1700, strive to accomplish a set of objectives, involving capturing other provinces. The “long campaign” option stretches right across the whole of the 18th Century. Don’t be put off by the “short” 100-year campaign though; even a 50 year campaign will take a serious amount of time to complete, as one turn equals half a year. Through the campaign you must not only govern your empire?s armies, but also your people’s taxation and happiness, trade, diplomacy, subterfuge and technology. Unfortunately, the game has included the ineffective and redundant emissaries, now under the title “Gentlemen,” who are a cross between a diplomatic agent and a spy. As in the previous games, they serve very little purpose aside from watching the initially-entertaining clips which show the duels that you can send your Gentlemen to carry out killings of other Gentlemen. However,diplomacy has been sharpened up across the board, as you now no longer need to track down a rival king or agent in order to discuss international relations. A simple to use menu displays all the world powers set into groups of Major and Minor powers. From there you simply select the country you wish to contact, and you can choose from a number of options; from offering a trade deal, to asking for money, to declaring war.
Technology is another area of the game that is making a first appearance. First, you must build universities to research, them you choose to either study Military, Philosophyor Industry technologies. There are many highly useful technologies to be researched here, the most noticeable and impressive of which can be found inthe military section. For example, the Fire By Rank technology enables your first row of line infantry to fire, then duck while the row behind them fires.I have seen many an army of superior numbers crumble beneath by continuousbarrages of fire. The technology also presents you with some interesting choices; whether to focus on technology research by building several universities and wiping out your enemies through technological advances, or to go all outand recruit vast armies to steamroll your opponents with.
War does not have to always be won through superior numbers though. Dastardly actions of sabotage can bejust as effective and sending in the cavalry. Why waste men when you can put your enemies in a stranglehold by raiding their trade routes? Or why not send in missionaries to convert the population and cause uprisings in your favour? There are many ways to cripple nations in Empire Total War, but much depends on your playing style.
Nevertheless, you would be missing out on some of the most satisfying portions of the game by denying yourself from playing out the breathtaking real time battles. There is an autoresolve option with all the battles, but this must be taken with a pinch of salt. While the AI in real time battles is adequate, it does have a habit of throwing all its units at you at once, which means that a smart player withwell placed units and reserves can beat the AI while losing very few. And when the auto resolve throws two armies at each other in this way, be prepared to suffer heavy casualties. That?s not to say that the AI is all bad though; they will often attempt to flank and will attack you with skirmishers from long range to whittle you down. They target weak spots, and if you have any undefended artillery, be prepared to kiss goodbye to that canister shot barrage. The AI in the campaign is of a similar nature; generally rough around the edges, but with some glimmers of brilliance. They will sometimes declare war on you even if they have severely depleted armies, or will not notice if your conquering gradually takes you to their gates. However, they demonstrate some amount of tactics in that they will defend borders with forts and guard some of their trade routes.
Real time naval battles are the main new feature of this game though. Unfortunately, they are not all they are cracked up to be. While they do look incredible, and the feeling you get after seeing an enemy ship explode after a lucky shot hits the powder is awesome, they just don?t have a decent pace to them. The whole aspect feels clunky. And because the ships move so slowly, you will find yourself pressing the fast forward button a lot during naval battles. Poor AI is especially apparent in naval battles, as the computer will deploy the exact same strategy every match. They also never seem to change tactics either; the game offers you a choice between round shot (hull damage), grapeshot(crew damage) and chainshot(mast damage), however, the AI only ever uses round shot. They aren?t to keen on boarding ships either. However, despite these shortcomings, you owe it to yourself to play the best looking naval combat game out, if for no other reason than to see a rocket ship strike a direct hit.
The multiplayer in the game is limited as to its effectiveness, but it does offer a refreshing break from the repetitive AI, especially in naval battles. There are online and LAN options, and hosts can choose between siege battles, naval battles, standard land battles, historic battles and more. Unfortunately, if one person in a match quits, the game ends for everyone, which means you either have to be very patient with the public, or stick to playing your friends. Almost everyone uses the same tactic as well i.e. use rangers as a front line, and have a set of heavy infantry behind them to engage when the enemy get close. However, the multiplayer adds a bit of longevity to the game, but it?s not like a game of this calibre and size requires much thickening up. The Grand Campaign, with itsmany nations to choose can be played indefinitely, as no game will ever turn out the same way. One campaign will take around 15 hours to complete if you invest time in following routes of subterfuge and diplomacy as well as all outwar.
The graphics in this gameare outstanding. While the game does hold very high requirements for smooth, high quality play, the rewards are huge if you have a beefy system. Character models are fairly well detailed, and animations are smooth, even up close (NOTE: You can even go to a first person view of a unit in your army if you press “insert” in a real time battle, and when your man fires, the camera follows the bullet! You can pretend you?re playing 18th Century Quake!). And if you have a system capable of running it, the ability to put thousands of men on screen at once is simply awe inspiring.
It is well known that Empire Total War has some issues. Crashes to desktops are a common occurrence for some players, and general slowdowns are not uncommon. My system has experienced 6 crashes to desktop through the time it takes to play through 2 and a half grand campaigns, which, according to some, is good. Obviously it is not acceptable to have so many crashes, and other people have had more, but I believe that CA will fix this soon.
Put simply, Empire Total War is one of the best games of this year, and is far and away one of the best strategy games of the year; maybe even the best. The huge scope, the fantastic real time battles and the strategic depth have all come together to create a game that is a joy to play-even if it is a little rough around the edges.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Fantastic visuals, endless replayability, lengthy campaigns, massive real time battles
Multiplayer fairly stale, repetive soundbytes, stability issues
Empire: Total War is one of the best games of this year, and is far and away one of the best strategy games of the year; maybe even the best.