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Empire: Total War (PC)

Empire: Total War (PC)


I have been waiting on Empire Total War for a long time and Creative Assembly have delivered a fantastic strategic experience with the newest title in their successful franchise. Empire: Total War is one of the finest war games I have played because it not only refines several aspects of the Total War formula but it also throws a few curveballs into the mix.

For those who haven’t been following this series since its inception Total War combines the turn based strategy of 4x titles with the adrenaline fueled intensity of real time tactical combat. The players swap between the roles of national leader and battlefield commander to achieve their goals of victory. So not only is there plenty of combat but you are also responsible for configuring tax policies, negotiating alliances and paying for the construction of docks to further your expansion. Empire focuses on Europe and the escapes of North American and India in the 18th Century.

Total War fanatics will immediately feel comfortable with the games methodology and structure and the plethora of tool tips and tutorial messages will detail the new facets of Empire which slot into the previous system. The new Road to independence campaign starts off with a series of scripted objectives to guide players through the basic concepts. Fighting raiding parties and waging battles on the campaign map are the order of the day as well as using ships to move land units around obstacles. Once the first few missions are completed in the new campaign the player is then dropped into an American conflict where you begin to learn the finer points of the combat mechanics and empire management.

The presentation and storyline are much stronger than previous outings within the Road To Independence campaign and I am confident this will attract a new set of strategic gamers who found the previous titles a little underwhelming. The cutscenes tightly focus the player on the battle objectives and reasoning which makes them more a flowing story rather than a jumbled independent series of missions without a directive.

The Grand Campaign isn’t so story driven but it opens the game play up for wider strategic implementations both in terms of the time scales and the geographic limitations. Gamers have the ability to lead one of the main powers of Europe through the entire 18th Century and leaders of all nations have to consider the ramifications of both war and peaceful decisions. Infrastructure and government as well as alliances and expansion all have to be balanced with technological progress to ensure a balanced and effective expansion across the globe. Obviously with all the other powers implementing a similar gameplan confrontation is inevitable.

Every nation has a unique starting situation and the game judges the requirements for victory based on the challenges and resources made available initially. England for example has to strengthen her navy to protect the shores from invaders and uses the Navy to counterattack and drive into other parts of Europe by dominating the oceans.

All nations have a specific number of territories they need to capture in order to claim victory conditions which focuses the game in a certain direction. All the victory conditions can be scaled down for a shorter game but this will last 100 turns anyway so it likely to take several days in the shortest of game terms, a considerable length of time.

The games complexity is somewhat higher than before, for example Medieval 2 required that players shifted each province towards support of the military or economy but Empire expands upon this basic conception. Each territory is dominated by a sole regional capital that you can upgrade with stronger barracks, government houses or theaters but there are also a plethora of outlying resources you need to enhance. For instance, you might have an area that contains a port or iron mine and you need to spend resources to develop them in specific ways. As these regions develop new towns emerge in adjoining areas which can be upgraded with tech researching colleges. Every region therefore will have a number of smaller towns and farms inside it which are open for hostile attack.

While this sounds elaborate and overly complex, in practice it is a well balanced system which doesn’t ruin management throughout the various sections. The game certainly demands absolute mental concentration and attention to detail but many of the tedious and time consuming tasks have been streamlined considerably. When one of your areas can be improved for example the game points it out with a small golden hammer spinning above it. Furthermore, when you select a regional improvement you can scroll through all the nearby locations in the empire and upgrade them together, saving time.

Trade is also simplified so you aren’t mindlessly moving merchants throughout the map. Trade is handled through the development of trading posts which let you buy improved facilities to produce the goods you need. Trading is handled by the diplomacy screen to open a general agreement, after you do this the Artificial Intelligence steps in and handles the rest, making you a profit.

While the thought of this might annoy people reading this, bear in mind that there are some other ways to interact with the trading mechanic. Because goods are transported along specific routes you can see where the goods are flowing. Move your mouse pointer over a trading line and you even see how much cash it is generating for the respective nation who are using it. Drop your fleets on a trade route to get the benefits, or you can even blockade an enemy port to stop them receiving the income. It is a much more active and exciting trading system that is more focused on direct competition with the other players.

Diplomats are also removed from the game and diplomacy is controlled through a single interface that lets you negotiate with other nations any time you wish. You no longer need to dispatch a diplomat in order to open up communication with another country, this is a very good change as I disliked the old system intensely. When you are doing well it is hard to inspire other nations to be favourable and it certainly seems as if the game balancing is focused on other nations supporting an underdog. Additionally, the AI never returns with a counterproposal when other nations refuse a friendship offer so players are always guessing as to what is going to be required to make progress diplomatically.

Taxes are controlled across the entire empire by a pair of sliders, one for commoners and the other for nobility so you don’t need to go through all the provinces setting up individual taxes. The tax screen also shows the level of happiness amongst your people so you can tell if you need to lower them to keep people loyal to your cause.

Other changes include armies and fleets sharing the same listing mechanism and you can check that all your armies have been given orders. The list also includes an option for jumping directly to specific units and this means you don’t waste time searching for province names. You can also recruit units at the armies themselves and if you order reinforcements at an army then those orders are sent to nearby towns and the newly created units will head in the direction of the army automatically. Once again this has been fine tuned because in the past all of this needed to be handled manually and was time consuming.

Rome: Total War was the first in the series to open up the provinces to allow gamers the option to move armies through a territory and to take control of passes and skipping irrelevant fortifications to get to the real objectives. Empire introduces structures outside the regional capital area so there is more of a choice now to raid an enemy province without ever going near the capital. You can just march the army in, burn down whatever you need and get out before the enemy has time to react.

Obviously because these battles aren’t so tightly focused on main strongholds you find that Empire offers a lot more out in the open that we have seen in the franchise to date. This will appeal to many strategic gamers because the whole concept of combat is now firmly in your hands … you make the calls, where and when to suit you. This also means there is a greater variety in the graphical environments with battles being held in all manner of locations. If you couple this with real time weather effects and lighting then it really is a hugely incredible game to view as well as play.


The battlefield action is even more exciting that before because the variety of combat is incredible. Rangers can hide in the forests waiting to launch a surprise attack while your cavalry lie in wait to launch a flanking attack. Cannons meanwhile could be pounding an enemy location from a hill, making them hard to reach and counter attack. The combination of positioning and tactical flanking maneuvers is realistically handled by the game developers and there is a massive amount of cinematic value from watching your commands take place. Smoke from artillery, and marks on the terrain are all faithfully reproduced and the fine level of detail from the engine is one of the most impressive aspects of this formidable title. Animation quality is also superlative and the variety of motions from all the units give a clear indication of the developers attention to detail right across the board.

Formation controls also deserve a mention because thanks to the addition of locked groupings you can maintain the relative positions of various units when you move them or change their facing to deal with another foe. The interface has been improved to allow easier on the fly changes to be made.

The interface has also been fine tuned to make it less obtrusive than before but it still offers access to all the same commands for movements, attacks and formation changes which will appease the veterans. There are also new commands in place such as ordering your artillery to fire at the terrain itself so you can take out unoccupied buildings and even fire in front of a formation to stop it advancing. I am not sure how realistic this is mind you, but it works great in the game ! Military upgrades are enhanced via research that allow you to build trenches and fire with bayonets attached and even build protective walls around artillery set pieces. The combat AI has been improved to accommodate all these new features and keeps the player thinking ahead.

One of the biggest additions are the new naval battles which has been a main talking point before the games release. Many fans wanted this and I am pleased to say that they look amazing in action, you can even see the individual men on the decks performing their routine tasks, such as altering the sails and rigging. The water effects are impressive as they not only detail the wake of the boats passing through but they have natural movement depending on the position you are passing. When the ships are damaged, the wood splinters and dislodges realistically so the inclusion of a full damage model for the boats is another welcome addition. Not only do the battles look great, but the importance of a naval force is not one to be dismissed lightly. Losing the protection of your fleet makes everything that much more difficult.

While the controls of the fleet are easy with options for set sail, lock into formations and shot type available … the pathfinding is a little lacking. Sometimes it seems to have a life of its own and ships will head in the opposition direction to that requested. This, coupled with the issues of setting individual targets sometimes means that things will go horribly wrong in battle and not only is it hard to recover, it takes some time to work out exactly what the fleet is actually trying to do. This is one of the few negative aspects I can mention, but unfortunately its quite a large one which I hope will be rectified sooner rather than later via a patch.

Empire: Total War requires a substantial machine to get the most from it and while an older card such as a 8800 GT handles it admirably, a quad core processor is recommended as I noticed some shuddering with a dual core at 2.8ghz. Memory is also an issue and if you are running Vista then I noticed some performance gains with 4GB of ram when compared against 2GB. This also helps the game to load a lot faster as it requires less paging.

The audio side is impressive, with a plethora of ambient sound effects, explosions and unit taunting, as well as clashes and musket fire. All the armies even speak in their native tongue which is something I found incredible when I first noticed. The musical score is great as it suits the nature of the game perfectly.

Empire: Total War is almost a perfect strategy game for those of you who like something meaty to get your teeth stuck into. The tactics are deep, the setting is appealing and the engine is extremely capable. The naval aspect is for the most part impressive, and with some pathfinding fine tuning from the developers will prove a fantastic addition to the series. The game is however not for those of you who like a Command and Conquer style strategy game because the battles go on for days and the most reward is gained from dedicating a huge portion of your life to the title. Highly recommended and possibly one of the games of the year for 2009.


Massive options for tactical combat. Long term gameplay rewards.
Huge epic battles galore.
Great variety and attention to detail.
Huge options for re-playability
Great fun for all strategists

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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