If Napolean had an armchair…
There really is only one way to play this game, total darkness, wearing a beret and trench coat featuring many toy medals. Creative Assembly since 2000 have brought out the arm chair general in all of us, countless hours are swept away in dust as I plot against rival nations, my people may demand peace but I am baying for blood and do you know what? The French are going to get it. Just as soon as three turns go by.
Unless you have been leading normality and a social life you will know that Empire Total War steps into another branch of history, so far we have been given Feudal Japan, The Roman Conquest, Medieval (Twice) and now Creative Assembly have lovingly crafting the 17th century, a time of empires (durr) the industrial revolution and more tension between nations than you can shake a tension between nations stick at.
Like with all sequels, at first glance Empire is feels strange and alien, the xenophobic player of the predecessor looks at the game and lets out a resigning sigh, vision pointing out what has changed and the mind asking the almost philosophical question why. Given an hour and you are finally grappling with what has gone before, learning at a meteoric rate and committing genocide to a nation. Unlike previous games, for instance, Medieval 2, Empire is a lot easier to become accustomed too, with a few play sessions you are back in your stride, almost like there has been no change in campaign at all.
Now I am not saying that Creative Assembly have dumbed down the series in any way, if anything this game is a little more involved at times, however, at times Empire just feels a little easier, seemingly lacking little in the way of strategy at times. I am not sure if this an entirely subjective feeling of mine and that everyone else would believe me to be somewhat of a crazy man, I just feel that Medieval 2 gave us more in the way of challenge and tactics. The interface and overall presentation of Empire feel a little more simplified. This however is not all bad, not only does it add more of an ease of playing but it does open it up unto a wider market, people may not think I’m entirely strange for enthusing about this game now.
Empire really offers the best package to date of Total War game, however problems do remain
Visually the game impresses, all previous games have offered something in the way of the ‘wow’ factor, but Empire excels in this area, the campaign map is vibrant and colourful, refreshing and a stark contrast to the previous game Medieval 2, the battle’s too are brilliantly realised, individual gun blasts shown in great detail, smoke wisps from barrels and the ground shudders at cannon blasts. The game is very impressive indeed, battles can be lost by just marvelling at the individual effects and graphical enhancements. The three year development cycle has definitely not been wasted in the graphical department, attention to detail is the keyword here. It is simply amazing at times.
Additional content and gameplay aspects added to the game are surprisingly and disappointingly thin on the ground however, I am not saying that the game is similar in conception to The Sims 3, but Creative Assembly haven’t really added much that would really tempt someone bored with the series back. The biggest addition to this game is the Maritime Combat. I have mixed feelings about this addition, yes it is beautifully and lovingly crafted, and yes it adds that all important immersion into the Total War experience, but to myself personally, it lacks in the excitement factor, do not get me wrong, I am the mouse and keyboard equivalent to Napoleon when I get going but the maritime elements just feel a little redundant and easy to skip completely.
Another new feature is a Civilization style technology tree. Unlocking new units, buildings and various upgrades is now sought through a tech race. This allows the player to specialise in certain aspects, the more combat minded player can go for the best units but neglect economy, the sea fairing trader can ignore internal infrastructure, the choice is yours, it is tailored to fit your play style perfectly and it adds a new layer of gameplay, nobody is really on the same level of upgrades, everyone differentiates in their tech strength’s and weaknesses, it adds new strategy to the game. The militant fuelled nation can simply bully others into giving up their advancements while the economic nation can buy military might. It is a very clever addition and adds to diplomacy in a surprising and succinct way.
Talking of diplomacy this has received somewhat of an overhaul since previous games and for the most part works very well. Your staples of Trade Rights and Military Access is here, but there is a little more in the way of gameplay to be found, technology trading plays a big part, alliances are more carefully sought after and relations have to be managed if you want to get anywhere with your rival nations. Diplomacy at times however can be very hit and miss, it is possible to play devil’s advocate within this game, you can create tensions between nations without raising so much as a threatening eyebrow, it is very clever and intuitive that a player can rule through fear and diplomacy and this is what previous titles have been missing. However at times offers are just refused simply without reason, technology will not be traded even though not needed. It can be a little annoying as the system seems somewhat broken.
Obviously a big selling point to the Total War series is the combat. For those that expect quick and easy skirmishes, this is not the game nor the series for you, for those of tactical and strategic mind, Empire rules the market. The game offers great leaps in terms of gameplay in this aspect, even the simple addition of cover systems completely revolutionise the experience, holding a small collection of buildings now becomes something worthy of Hollywood, during one such battle I almost became Bromhead, digging in and getting dirty with the troops, trying to keep those damn Zulu’s away. OK it wasn’t Zulu’s it was the French, but the feelings was there.
Every movement and volley is important within the battles, especially in higher difficulties, if you have the patient to stick through the sometimes slow pace of Empire, you will be rewarding with a rich tapestry of gameplay and excitement. Never ending enemies come at you, with well placed flanks and holding positions the tide of the battle can be turned and your enemy will flee. My only major ‘beef’ with the combat is that offensive battles are still quite difficult to approach, the enemy AI seems like a sentie
nt Wellington when it comes to flanks, feints and any other tactical flourish your mind can muster.
Empire really offers the best package to date of Total War game, however problems do remain. Creative Assembly have tried their utmost in recent instalments to involve the player more in terms of economy and overall management of their nation, they have succeeded, to a point. your town is not just a small grid that expands, now it is spread about the region, requiring various techs to upgrade, for instance a cotton farmer will have around four upgrades each which yield happiness and wealth boosts, it works a little like a Sid Meier game and it adds a little more depth, however, ultimately the player still feels a little cut off and out in the cold from a management perspective.
Trade too isn’t overly complex, trade rights are gotten and so long as an enemy boat doesn’t camp your route you will enjoy the wealth it floods into your state. It works but it feels a little simple, you choose the materials that you wish, manage the exact amount of income you would receive from nations. A simple supply and demand feature to trade would be greatly appreciated. A feature in which importing a certain material would add a bonus stat to certain infantry type and so on would be a great addition.
Another criticism to level at the game is the AI. A seasoned player like myself will find that the hardest difficulty will just about suffice, however, playing as England you will find yourself rarely challenged as Britain for all intents and purposes might as well be an invisible fort as no nation will ever decide to attack you by sea. For veterans, the challenge of world domination can be a little easy and will rarely see you displaced from your home nation.
All complaints are fairly minor however, I will be playing this game for the next three years until the game comes along, it truly brings out the virtual leader within me, campaigns pass into hours which pass into days and so on.
The Bad: * Maritime aspects updated but still not quite right; * AI lacks in aggression; * Trading could be refined and built upon