Republished with permission of gamepeople.co.uk game reviews.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t overwhelmed with Empire: Total War. The depth of its campaign and strategic range is immense and I found myself both enthralled and beleaguered as I poured hours into this game. It improves upon the series in so many ways with the inclusion of a new Americas campaign. Its friendly attitude meant easing into the game was far less hostile than I feared. The new naval battle system and improved strategic map gave me memorable experiences and showed that the Total War games are still the highest class of strategy titles.
It takes all of my hardcore gaming experience not to be weighed down by Empire: Total War. Its vast size and extraordinary depth are frightening even for a Total War fan like me. Whilst the previous games in the franchise were excellent representations of the Medieval, Roman or Japanese periods of time; Empire takes in the huge scale and technology of 18th Century Colonialism.
Usually when I play this type of game I dispense with any tutorial and launch right into the main campaign. Total War games have never been strong on narrative and part of the fun of playing comes from creating your own story as you take a nation through the time period. This time however I started with ‘The Road to Independence’. Total War’s huge campaign/tutorial that teaches you everything you need to start playing the game properly.
With some impressive cut-scenes, this mode is a blessing for anyone new picking up the game. As a tutorial it does exactly want you’d want from it; taking you through the various aspects of the campaign map and into the real time battle modes. The overwhelming depth to the game is cunningly hidden as the Road to Independence slowly pulls back the campaign map after each chapter. By the end I was starting to master the art of land and sea battles as well as the new technology tree that can bring financial and military rewards.
This new approach goes hand in hand with the strategic map. Instead of having all resources and buildings housed under one catch-all city; the province has individual farms, docks, etc. to capture or build. These were also upgradable and I found myself systematically upgraded them to bring in more resources or knowledge – something my small treasury wasn’t happy about.
The turn-based strategic map is only half the game. My most memorable experiences always came from the battles and Empire’s advance into the musket age changes tactics dramatically. If I’m honest I’ve always hankered for the rank and file, British Colonial style of combat. It’s immensely satisfying watching a line of well-ordered troops unleash a volley into the enemies flank and watch them all keel over.
What I noticed with this change to ranged attacks is that the battles I fought veered erratically in pace. For long stretches of time it resembled more of a chess match with banks of units acting as pieces in a larger conflict. Then, all of a sudden, the situation would change and the slow deliberate pace would descend into the typical Total War mash up of hacking and slashing. It’s a problem that the series has always suffered from. Although Empire reduces this with the change to muskets and cannon it still falls into the same bar brawling nightmare on occasion.
That’s not to say it can’t produce some spectacular battles. The exchange of gunfire between two, musket-heavy armies is epic in presentation and detail. The individual animation of each soldier is amazing and the little touches in the game are astounding.
The big addition to the game is the Naval combat. This was brushed over in previous games with an instant computer-simulated screen. Now in Empire I had the chance to be my very own Admiral Nelson and learn the ways of grape shot and broadsides.
For the most part this new battle engine worked well. It took quite a while to get my head round the way ships manoeuvred as the prevailing wind always meant thinking about directing my ships. This meant they could suddenly veer off into an unwanted area and several times this led to frustration. Teething problems aside the combat was awesome. Just as in the land battles the animations of the crew were individual and amazing. Slowly turning and giving an enemy ship a full broadside of cannon proved to be the most satisfying part of the game.
The epic nature of Empire didn’t reveal itself to me until after the tutorial/campaign. Once I hit the real campaign option and had the choice of 22 nations to lead, the weight of the game suddenly hit home. Each of these nations has specific win conditions so I found myself overwhelmed with the possibilities in front of me. The content on offer defies any logical way of explaining it all. With hundreds of hours of play possible the scope for strategy and individual stories is immense.
If you have the time to devote to it, then Empire is the definitive version of the series so far. Even newcomers can find something to get their teeth into with the new Independence tutorial/campaign. The detail and realistic depth make this an essential game for anyone who loves their strategy.