Just a quick warning: this is a big game. So I gave it a big review.
At first glance all Total war games look unbelievably epic. Much like in Azeroth the sheer scale of things may consume you, and you will probably crave it more and more with each time you play it. But again like World of Warcraft it will not take you long to discover the games disappointing underbelly. I am too harsh: There is still a lot of fun to be found here.
Perhaps the core component of the game is land battles. Its here that you pit armies consisting of up to 20 units each against each other, whether they be bristling lines of musket men, artillery pieces or cavalry. Land battles give you the opportunity to show off your prowess as a General, using the terrain and the individual abilities of your men to outflank, outmanoeuvre and overpower the enemy. In total war your goal has never been to kill every last soldier: It has always been to demoralise the enemy, to force them into a rout. Tired soldiers flee much sooner then fresh soldiers, with the death of your general even your veterans may become nervous, and no one likes to be outflanked: Factors like these and many others must be taken into consideration when leading your army.
I have seen a lot doubt about the era and its weaponry: Many feel that the combat will lack the excitement seen in Rome or Medieval, where barbaric hordes of swordsmen would be replaced by relatively static musket infantry lining up to shoot each other. You needn't worry. Simply put never has Total War's combat been so much fun.
Try and envision one of my battles: I played the uppity Americans, tearfully saluting Old Glory before taking up my rifle against the goddamned Brits and their Injun allies. It was part of the “story” driven single player mode, which is basically a tutorial split up by grating cutscenes about the “courageous” American colonialists fighting the “Tyranny” of the British Empire. But ignore a English cynic. This is a good place to start as any.
Before me a host of Cherokee tribesmen were eager to steal away Old Glory, and our scalps along with it. Their force consisted of mounted gunmen, lancers, archers and a variety of infantry melee units. I was outnumbered by maybe 2 to 1, and my troops were hardly the crème de le crème: A few mediocre infantry accompanied by one unit of artillery and cavalry.
At this point its worth noting that the battle maps are at least somewhat pretty. In this instance the dramatic battle was accompanied by pounding rain falling on a small town and its nearby forest, all realistically rendered into 3D. Some might call it bland, but the level of detail on the units is very good.
Anyways the battle! I formed my army in a line, my right flank defended by a abandoned church. It is here that I used one of Empire's new features: The ability to garrison troops in destructible buildings. I placed my militia in the church, reasoning that in a melee they would flee instantly but from the building they could at least sustain fire on the enemy.
At the centre of my line I positioned my 12 pounder cannon, ready to unleash hell. The beauty of Artillery in Empire is that they can use different types of ammunition, each of which have a dramatic impact on how they can be used. Simple round shot can be whipped into the enemy from long range, but later you can also use ammunition that will explode above the enemy unleashing flames and shrapnel onto the unfortunates below.
Either side of my cannons I positioned the rest of my army. My left flank was defended by my sole unit of cavalry, strengthened at least somewhat by the line infantry nearby. Gritting my teeth I suddenly knew that I should have reinforced this town a long time ago. Too late now: If I was going to lose, I was going to take as many as the Indian's with me. Wait. Should I be calling them Native Americans? Screw it.
The Cherokee advanced their mounted gun men first, opening fire on my sole unit of cavalry as well as the infantry nearby. It as times like this I question the AI of the enemy...Why did they advance their cavalry so far ahead of their main army? Surely a combined assault with its infantry would be more effective? You might find yourself questioning the AI's decisions frequently, even on higher difficulties. And rightly so. There's still a lot of room for improvement, but I can at least say its better then previous instalments. The enemy is less likely to throw their general into a pointless kamikaze charge for a start. It is generally capable of manoeuvring its forces correctly if you try to flank them. But sieges? Don't even go there. I've never seen an AI struggle so badly. Its painful to watch. That said if you can't deal with AI, multiplayer battles are still an option, played through Total War Online. But we are all still waiting on the multiplayer Campaign mode!
After a brief struggle between my own cavalry and the mounted gun men, the enemy charged with their Lance wielding cavalry. I found myself grinning: By jingo, they've fallen for it! Clicking my nearby infantry, I selected the “form square” button. The square walls absorbed the impact of the charge before unleashing volley after volley into the reeling horsemen, obliterating the lancers. At the same time I switched my cannon ammunition to canister, cutting swathes through the infantry who were finally following behind.
Forming a square and canister shot are considered technologies, part of a new scheme which is really a twist on old Total War ideas. As part of a Campaign you now have a tech tree from which to choose general idea's, tactics and industrial improvements (as well of course, technologies!) for your nation to study at its various universities. New technologies can be unlocked by constructing certain buildings, or studying the technology that precede it in the tree. The rate at which your country studies technologies depends on the quality of your universities, the quality of the gentlemen you possess and the type of government you have. Technologies can also be stolen from other nations, by sending your gentlemen to rival universities. I will explain some of these things late, but for now back to the battle!
It did not take long to rout the cavalry, but I was defeated none the less. I barely had time to reform my infantry into a line, when they were charged by the vicious tribal warriors. Zooming the camera in close, I watched my men get cut down one by one. Here is some of the fun of Empire Total war: You can observe your soldiers up close, watching individuals circle and clash with their rivals, performing duels normally seen in Hollywood. Great stuff.
In close combat my men were hopeless outclassed, their muskets and rifles no defence against specialised melee warriors. I was beaten, but damn I had fun.
I have mentioned some features of the campaign gameplay already, and really the technology tree is probably the biggest and best change from previous total war games. If you don't know what I mean by the Campaign map, its where the player moves their armies and other units across the
three theatres of India, Europe and North America, working on a turn by turn basis. You also perform diplomacy here, but I still find it too simplified. For example you can arrange alliances with other nations, but you cant encourage them to attack your enemies or even declare war with those you are already at war with. And once again the AI will make utterly irrational decisions: At one point my British Empire covered all of north America as well as large chunks of Europe, yet tiny nations would declare war on me for no reason at all. If they did it collectively, I might of called it a wise decision to counter my expansionism. But by themselves? It was just stupidity.
Other problems? The variety between the nations is a little disappointing: Many of the units are just other units with slightly different stats and names. You can argue however this comes with the era and the new tech tree. Besides, who cares when the game still has elephants?
Its not even funny how quickly I invaded France in my British Campaign.
There is also a little bit more micro management at an governmental level. You can hire and fire ministers with each minister bringing modifiers to the countries rule i.e. bonuses to tax collection or increases in public disorder. I personally found these changes rather shallow and stilted as you couldn't easily choose your new ministers, instead the potential candidate was chosen randomly by the game. You can also try and start a revolution, from say an absolute monarchy to a republic. But once again the advantages gained through changing government were just further modifiers, and it never felt like ruling as a monarchy was any different to ruling as a republic.
What else? Oh yes I have mentioned Gentlemen already: Not only can you use them to steal research, but they improve research in your own universities when present and you can even use them to initiate duels with gentlemen from other nations. If they are successful and kill the rival gentlemen, you have potentially thrown a spanner in the works of that nations modernisation.
Priests and spies are back, although spies are now called rakes and double as assassins. If you are familiar with Total war you will be comfortable with these campaign units: Rakes can sabotage buildings and kill various individuals (anything from generals to other Rakes), while priests will slowly convert the local population, harmonising its religion with your own and thus making your rule less disruptive on the local populace.
Last of all many elements of your industry take place outside a region's city: Small towns are formed when the regions population reaches a certain point, and you can choose what kind of town forms depending on your countries need: Feeling left behind in the arms race? Build a university. You also get separate options for a town formed on the coast where you have choice to build fisheries, ship yards and trade ports.
Thought I'd forgotten them? Well I'll be honest, sea battles were a little disappointing. They LOOK amazing, again the detail on the ships is brilliant. And if you share my brutal love of destruction, the sight of burning, sinking or EXPLODING ships is a sight to soothe your soul. But the battles just don't feel strategical. Supposedly we are to use the direction of the wind and the various types of ammunition to defeat the enemy: You can choose from standard round shot designed to damage hulls, chain shot designed to destroy the ships rigging and mast (thus slowing or even crippling the ship) or grapeshot to target the ships crews. But really I never felt compelled to use anything else than round shot. Alternatively you can try to board and capture the enemy ships, but why you would risk this is a mystery to me, as it leaves your own ship a sitting duck in the process.
Naval battles: 'Cos chicks love Pirates of the Caribbean
You also have the option to charge up broadsides, perhaps unleashing them at close range. But when dealing with several ships, it was more practical leaving it to the AI, which for the first time actually seemed to do its job well, timing the shots very accurately. I think you are getting my point here:You are given many options, but no real incentive to pursue them. After awhile I just automated all of these battles because they were slow and generally unfun. They certainly had nothing on the land battles.
Is this the best Total War game yet? Yes. Is it the most revolutionary? No. I think that title goes to Rome, and perhaps that was the biggest problem for me. I really wanted to see massive improvements to the AI, I really wanted to be blown away by the naval battles and I really wanted multiplayer Campaigns. At least we can say the latter is coming, along with a few much needed stability patches, but other then that we were only given relatively small improvements to long-time critical issues....But its still a good game. And if you like Total War, or you have never tried Total War but you're looking for somewhere to start, look no further.
75/100 With a possible +10 if Multiplayer Campaigns are good enough. Seriously that shit could be awesome.
Edited by The Colonel, 06 August 2009 - 09:36 PM.