Well here we are, the bleak cold month of March (for some of us) and if we needed another reason to stay inside, it just came in the form of Empire: Total War. This new addition to the acclaim series by Creative Assembly, takes last year’s smash hit Gears of War 2 line and really delivers on the “Bigger, Better, and more Badass then ever!” Where before the series mostly focused on Europe on this one they unleash the world, allowing you to take on the America’s, India, the Middle East, and faithful Europe. After countless hours of playing the game I am beyond confident in saying this, Empire Total is one of the best PC games to come out in a long time, and will stand as one of the marquee titles of 2009.
But let’s start with the shallow stuff, the looks. To say that Empire Total War looks good is an understatement, being able to watch each man fight and act independently is amazing, you’ll find yourself just zooming right into the thick of things just to watch their desperate struggle to win. You may even find yourself dazed when you see the smoke pour out of each mans rifle as he fires, or be fixated as you watch as they all reload, and I can promise you your going to laugh when you see their bodies going flying as a group of cavalry charge right into their ranks. That’s just the small stuff too; I haven’t even touched upon the scope which can see armies of up to 2000 a side go toe to toe.
The battlefields themselves are also full of eye candy, the trees sway in the wind, and you can see the ground getting muddy as your troops march onward in a thunderstorm. Then there is the new addition to the game, the ship battles, and it’s clear from the few battles I’ve gotten to take part in that a lot of love and care was put into this new addition of the game. Every ship is fully crewed, and again you’re going to find yourself watching all the different crewmen loading cannons, moving up and down the ropes, preparing for a boarding party its truly something that you have to see to believe. Finally the last crowning jewel is the environmental destruction, houses and other forms of defense will break and shattered as they would in real life, and the same will happen to your ships, just wait till a massive war galley with 50 cannons on each side blows away the side of your ship, you can take a peek right in an see the destruction it’s caused as your people scramble to react.
Performance wise, the game is going to ask a lot from your computer, my setup which can be found at the end of every review was able to play everything on high with 4X AA, but I still noticed some minor performance hiccups. So be prepared to either upgrade your computer or play this lovely game on the lowest of low settings.
On the UI and mechanic side, the game has been far more streamlined. No longer will you have to worry about keeping a diplomat at every nation so that you can talk diplomacy with them. With the new era comes the ability to speak to any Major or Minor power which a quick click of the button. On top of this you no longer have to worry about balancing the right amount of the dozens of type buildings that were found in the older titles, now cities will only deal with 5 areas, and the surrounding towns now will occupy one of the other sections. So you’ll know when a new town should be doing food production or research. Another nice touch is the inclusion of a lined arrow that will tell you exactly where each of your units will be moving to, because as you’ll quickly find out telling 800 men to go to one location doesn’t really work, and knowing where they will be setting up shop around your desired location is a huge plus on the battlefield. While you’re playing governor on the world stage, you’ll enjoy a far more useful map that can jump to one of the four major locations in the world allowing you to manage your nation with far more ease than ever before.
On the game play side of things, the game is largely the same, which isn’t a bad thing in this case. You’ll be romping around in the 18th century timeline, just as the thirteen colonels are fighting for independence, and Prussia tries to become Germany. So say goodbye to the crusades, and the Black Plague, and say hello to the Pirates of the Caribbean! The game comes with all the modes you’ve come to expect, recreations of famous battles, simple skirmishes, and the Grand Campaign, which can most easily been described as one giant game of Risk, except there are no dice rolls in this version. You’ll use the over world map to manage your towns and cities, forge trade agreements and alliances, and then zone into the battlefields for your ship and army fights. It’s pretty fair to say that you’ll be spending your time in this area of the game. However there is one new major feature which is called “The Road to Independence.” It’s pretty much a narrative of the thirteen colonies struggle for freedom; it acts as more of a tutorial for the Grand Campaign, but it is the first time that a Total War game has had a real single player to follow.
The combat of your soldiers has changed though, no longer is it about the right melee vs. melee unit, now it’s about position, having your riflemen in the superior position to overwhelm your enemy, this can take some getting used to, because now it’s not instant fighting, your men will line up feet from their foe, load their rifles and fire, and then your enemy will do the same. It may seem crazy, but that’s how war was done back in their day, and that’s how you’ll be doing it. The Ship battles have a pretty steep learning curve, you really manage everything, how full your sails are, which side of the ship is facing the opponent, you’ll be picking which type of cannon ammunition to attack your enemy with, and when to try to board their ship. However once you get a hold of all the little controls and demands, it’s just as much of a blast as the rest of the game. You’ll find that there are less unit variety choices in land battles but this is to be expected, you still have several different types of cavalry and artillery, but the variety you may have once found in the meat of your army is now down to a few different types of rifle men.
Multiplayer returns as of right now in the form we’ve always seen, the setup your army, and duke it out with friends or strangers online or on LAN to see who really is the best field commander. However the reason that I say for right now is that Creative Assembly plans to release a new multiplayer mode in the near future which will allow two people to play the Grand Campaign together. How well this will work and when exactly its coming is still up in the air.
Now for some negatives; the game does have some problems; there are numerous reports of some pretty bad bugs and glitches that literally crash your game when you try to do either The Road to Independence or The Grand Campaign. I haven’t fallen victim to these bugs, however I do find that shadows will flicker in and out on a battlefield if I am moving the camera, and I’ve had several saves crash the game as well. The other major issue is the AI, in some areas it shines, open field and navel combat will allow you to see how smart and good your computer foe is, but in a situation where you’re in a fort or their in a fort, its literally like shooting fish in a barrel, they seem to just stand there and let you run all over them, which can take up to 20 minutes as you try to either break or scale their walls, or chase them away. The AI also loves to team up on you if you’re doing well, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had up to three nations all declare war on me in the same turn. Diplomacy can also be a hassle, simple things like trade agreements are pretty much thrown up to luck, and if they don’t agree to it, it’s not uncommon for them to have a hostile mentality about your nation.
However even with its problems Empire Total War is an amazing addition to the series, it’s great to look at, great to play, and will suck up all of your free time, and then start consuming the time you have set aside for stuff like real life!