Empire: Total War Review
By Dwayne Baird |
Ever since I first learned about Empire: Total War at the German Games Convention in 2007, it's been at the top of my most-wanted list. Creative Assembly's Total War is one of the most compelling historical strategy series in the PC catalog, so it's fair to say that my expectations were high. We've been playing the final version for over a week now and can say that, with the exception of a few rough spots, this game has succeeded in creating an immensely engaging experience that captures the grand national strategies and battlefield tactics of the 18th century. And though it refines several elements of the Total War formula, it also offers up several new surprises.
If you've been out of the loop altogether on this one, Empire combines the thoughtful turn-based grand strategy of 4X games with the urgent intensity of real time historical tactical games. Players alternate between the roles of national leader and battlefield commander. One moment you'll be setting tax policies, paying for dock construction and negotiating alliances. The next moment, you'll be on the field of battle, maneuvering your infantry lines and ordering massive cavalry charges. Empire focuses that action on Europe and the two colonial theaters of North America and India in the 18th century.
Video Review - Watch or download the video here (HD available).Despite the numerous additions to the series, Total War veterans will feel right at home here, and the numerous tool tips and tutorial messages will explain how the new elements of Empire fit within the existing scheme. The new Road to Independence campaign begins with a series of limited, scripted objectives that will guide you through some of the basic concepts of the game, from fighting off a Native raiding party at the start, to waging battles on the campaign map, to using ships to move your land units around obstacles. After the first handful of missions in the new campaign, you're dropped into the American theater, where you'll learn some of the finer points of empire management.
Though I'm strictly a grand campaign kind of player, I found a lot to love about the more directed experience of the Road to Independence campaign. First, the storytelling and overall presentation is excellent. The cutscenes establish a firm context for the battles, and makes them more than just isolated exercises in strategic thinking. There's a considerable emotional element as well; that first shot of the American flags at Bunker Hill really got to me. Knowing how the battle turns out, it was especially motivating and helped to put me in the right mood when, with only one army and one city, I'm asked to secure the entire seaboard from Georgia to Maine
The Grand Campaign doesn't have as many emotionally effective story elements but it does benefit from a much wider scope, in terms of both time and geographic area. Here players will have the chance to lead one of the main powers of Europe through the entire 18th century. Leaders of each nation will have to consider war and peace, trade and taxation, government and technology, infrastructure and recruitment, alliances and expansion, and a host of other competing national priorities. And with several other major powers (and many more lesser ones) competing for the same resources, armed conflict is inevitable.
Whether you compete in Europe, India or the Americas is up to you.Each playable nation has their own unique starting situation and the game weighs the requirements for victory based on the resources and challenges you have at the start. England, for instance, will need to develop a strong navy to protect her shores. While this might leave her unable to field a large enough army to compete for glory on the European mainland, she have ample opportunity to exploit the uncertain situations in North America and India to create a large overseas empire. Austria's situation in central Europe requires a different approach. With Ottoman invasions threatening the South and Prussian ambitions quickly growing in the North, she needs to field large armies and maintain reliable alliances.
The nations all have a number of specific territories they must capture in order to claim victory, which gives the game a bit of direction. The English, for instance, need to hold Gibraltar, Egypt, Malta, and a couple of other specific territories in order to win when the 200th turn ends in 1799. They also need to obtain a number of extra provinces of their choosing. Even then, there are some short term goals for the English. If they can strike out against the French in Canada and take out the Cherokee in the south, the entire colonial protectorate, from the Carolinas up through Maine, will merge with the British empire. The victory conditions can be scaled back for a shorter game, but even this lasts a full 100 turns, so it's likely to take at least a day or two, and longer if you want to make the most of each of your strategic decisions.