Empire: Total War

The 18th century was one of monumental change. It ushered in an age of sustained European colonialism, revolutions in America and France and ultimately a vast and almost constant amount of warfare.

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Pros

  • Changes in the strategic realm are mostly positive, shift to 18th century done largely well, excellent visuals, good multiplayer.

Cons

  • AI is stupid, buggy and prone to crash, American campaign isn't all that fun

Bottom Line

GamePro's local historical wartime buff Andrew enjoyed this promising, if flawed Total War title, and totes it as the best one in the series, even with its problems.

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The 18th century was one of monumental change. It ushered in an age of sustained European colonialism, revolutions in America and France and ultimately a vast and almost constant amount of warfare. With this knowledge, it's no surprise then that Creative Assembly has selected this time period for their newest Total War game, and in many ways its one of the best decisions they've ever made as a production studio. However not everything with Empire will please fans.

Louis XVI, not Peter the Great

The largest additions to Empire: Total War and one that will be most obvious to fans of the series are the large and very prominent changes in the strategic portions of the game, such as the new dynamics in the games' various provinces. Empire's provinces not only have capitals — areas where you would originally produce units and build military machines - but towns that contribute to your economy and trade. As population increases more towns emerge, which can increase the amount of universities, ports, and manufacturing centres you have. Universities in particular are important, as, in contrast to previous games, all of your upgrades occur through turn-by-turn research — conducted at the universities or by way of gentlemen agents.

This new feature works and flows well, leading to a definite increase in terms of complexity to the game's tactical and strategic aspects. There are other improvements as well, including the diffusion of buildings and resources across provincial boundaries, for instance — but while Empire makes these additions seem important, they really don't affect the campaign that much when it comes to strategic decision making processes. You can't even carve them out of larger provinces, which makes taking them in war rather useless - which brings me to my next point.

In classic Total War fashion, the game's strategic AI is essentially stupid and buggy to boot. It has a host of issues - chief among them is the inability of the computer opponent to stage a naval invasion of islands or colonies. Aside from some points in North America where France and Britain have connecting colonies, the AI just won't go to the trouble of attacking your overseas colonies - which, let's face it, can make for a pretty boring war. It's a glaring omission, especially since the period relies so much of European movement into the Americas and India. Perhaps worse is the fact that in the long run, the AI is unable to give a real challenge to the player.

Once again the enemy leaves its most important cities fairly empty of garrison troops, ripe for attacking. To an extent the design team has attempted to solve this, but only in the shoddiest way such as instantly generated citizen militia. This also extends to the greater strategic map as enemy nations are on the whole unable to mount effective offences or otherwise react to your movements. For instance, you'll find that the enemy will often move two or three infantry units towards your provinces in futile offensive manoeuvres instead of building them up for sustained offensives. Even more infuriating is the amount of crashes I experienced while playing the game.

By no means are the crashes on the same regular basis as early Paradox releases, but for me Empire crashed more than enough to get me out of the mood of playing altogether. To some extent, such problems could be forgiven in earlier releases, but come on — the series has been around for a decade now and still it suffers from many of the same problems that were seen in Shogun or the first Medieval. At some point one has to wonder when such problems will be solved by the development team and not teams of modders (possibly) months later.

War, Totally

While the strategic layer is largely a mess, the tactical section of the Empire: Total War is much better, though it still has its share of problems. As might be expected, the tactical portion of the game has undergone some revisions with the shift to a later time period and the inclusion of new naval battles and fleets. Perhaps most noticeable is the sheer grandiosity of the new tactical battles.

With perspective, this may be the best looking and most realistic portrayal of early modern warfare seen in gaming so far, and it's also the most entertaining of all the Total War games. In Empire, many dynamics are a little more complex than previous games, such as artillery now being a key tactical tool capable of breaking the enemy at the height of battle quite easily. Still, there's no getting around the largely simplistic rock-paper-scissors-esque dynamic: infantry beats cavalry, cavalry beats artillery, artillery beats infantry, etc.

That isn't to say that Empire's tactical combat is boring, as there are many aspects that make it, in many ways, it is the best the series has to offer. The massive new ranged aspect of combat makes the selection of ground more important than in previous games and the inclusion of new features such as garrisoning buildings and putting out field defences allows for more complex battles. The problem is that you just won't get those epic battles in the campaigns all that often, for while the game and its tactical combat shine in single battles and multiplayer, the inability of the strategic AI to form impressive formations largely kills it in the tactical sphere. Moreover, there are some problems with the tactical AI. These are less pronounced than previous games, but players will still notice that the computer will often only send up units in dribs and drabs instead of making general advances and that little notice will be paid towards cavalry units making menacing movements upon the flanks.

Every Total War game is eagerly awaited, and for good reason. Each game in the series has ultimately proven to be an excellent game, usually with at least one good expansion that altogether can provide dozens of hours of good gameplay. Empire proves no different: It's a game that has great potential and with some extra tweaking, could have proven itself an excellent title. For now, Empire: Total War is a fine game, but one that has a heap of problems that need resolving before its worth any more of my time.

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