The next game in the Empire series from Creative Assembly has definitely kicked up the bar from the previous titles. Gone is the Medieval era and we're now in the Early Modern, a time where gunpowder and cavalry swords settled scores.
Empire: Total War is broken up into two game modes, there's turn-based strategy where you can manage your economy, make strategic decisions and send out your armies to do battle with the various factions or try your hand at the noble art of diplomacy. Once you get into a fight though it switches the tried and tested RTS style gameplay, there's no base building to annoy here though, it's hundreds and hundreds of men all ready to die for your armchair general.
Both modes are packed with a fair amount of detail, how you decide to make treaties and alliances, what technology you want to pick up next and how to manage your territories can all end up with you making bitter enemies or a long-lasting friendship with your neighbour countries. Play it diplomatically and you can end up on the winning path pretty quickly. A novice player is well advised to take on the game's short American Independence campaign first, this also serves as the game's tutorial and covers the basics.
Compared to the previous game the main campaign map is massive, it's split into three main chunks: India, the Americas and then Europe. There are also some minor trade areas which are mostly at sea, though we'll come to that in a bit. You choose one of the 11 main nations: Great Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, Russia, 13 Colonies, the Ottoman Empire, and the Maratha Confederacy. There are about 40 minor nations that fill in the rest of the world map...
So as you can see there's a lot of scope. Add to this naval battles as well as the detailed land battles and there's a lot of gameplay to cover, the novice player is quickly left behind too since the information on many of the screens is sketchy at best and it's not presented very well. That's one of my main gripes with the game as it stands; the lack of direction in the available tactical information sucks a lot.
They did streamline a lot of what you have to do though, making it easier to get into. Things like Diplomacy are easier to understand and implement, the tech-tree is pretty expansive and fairly easy to use and setting taxes is a lot easier than previous Total War games. The biggest star of all of this though are the tactical battles, with the inclusion of real time naval battles with a variety of ship controls and cannon shot to play with.
The strategic section is troubled by some very inconsistent 'under the bonnet' AI choices and marred by an instruction manual that's as helpful as a book printed on black paper with black text. Trying to find what you're looking for on the game's info screens might as well be you shooting glow in the dark chickens with a pea shooter whilst wearing a blind fold in a dark room. The elements are there, but they don't quite just add up to success.
It's all very confusing and enough to really annoy me.
I found I used Diplomacy a lot and just let the game handle a lot of it, since it seems uber-retarded when it wants to actually move enemy troops between theatres of war and you can get anything you want for very little in exchange thanks to the seemingly-broken Diplomacy.
In strategy mode the enemy AI is weak, it's not very good at making decisions and it seems just as confused as the player at times. You're never really going to be attacked by naval armadas either, because again, as mentioned before it's stupid when it comes to moving troops between theatres of war.
In tactical mode the AI fares much better apart from the DURRR pathfinding. It can get stuck a lot near buildings and gates. The good news is that apart from this, the AI does a good job. It can flank and rush you; it can leap fences and take shortcuts, climbing walls and so on. Ranged units are good, they'll use cover, they'll use higher ground and they'll try to get an advantage. You'll need to manage your troops too since they'll get tired, perhaps even break their morale. Keep an eye on unit formation and facing, since they won't adjust those for you.
Artillery is good, unless you're in a keep or fort and then it's bloody hard to set them up. Path finding problems and dumb firing solutions keep it from being the supportive option it should be.
The ship to ship AI fares a lot better and the ship battles are great fun, watching the mighty galleons collide in a volley of cannon fire never gets old for me. Keeping track of multiple ships could have been made easier by a better GUI but it's not bad.
Empire: Total War wins high on the graphics front; it's a good looking game with a nice level of detail both on the strategic map, tactical land battles and the naval engagements. It has nice texturing, good lighting and looks great with the special effects and various elements like smoke from the rifle muzzles.
I love the level of animation in the game; it's deep and cinematic quality. The combat is incredibly visceral and great fun to watch, zoom right in and see cavalry charge down a line of infantry or a cannon ball decimate a group of cavalry as they try to ride down your riflemen.
Excellent sounds, the cries of battle, the crack of a rifle and the thunder of hooves as you charge are all recreated to a good quality here. I have no complaints.
A superb soundtrack, sticking with the quality we'd expect from the series. The music amps up when you're in battle and goes low key when you're doing other things. It's good quality and great to listen to.
Dialogue and Voice
The voice work isn't bad at all, the script is decent enough and that's all I can say about it.
Tactical battles are the only thing on offer and it's pretty generic, I didn't really dive into it because I expected a better amount of depth. Hopefully a facelift can be applied in a patch and a few new mp modes added. It's fun, but that's about it.
So there you have it, it's one of the better Total War game. It has new features and a new time period. It also has some annoying elements and some bugs; I had a couple of freezes and CTDs that annoyed me. A lack of a deeper mp mode put me off a little but the sp game is fun and there's a lot of potential here.