Dominate the globe with toy soldiers and model ships
The Total War series of games gives you the opportunity to rewrite a specific age of history and control great armies to conquer territory. Feudal Japan, Medieval Europe and the Roman Empire have been covered by previous games, so this time the setting is empire-building and sabre-rattling between world powers in the eighteenth century.
Empire: Total War presents epic real-time strategy battles involving hundreds of 3D soldiers in rank and formation. You can build armies from a mix of gunpowder units, cavalry, artillery and melee troops. The character models are beautifully detailed, with smooth animation, lighting and shadows. The sheer number of 3D models displayed on the battlefield needs a powerful PC, but with a Radeon HD4870 the game ran fine in maximum detail.
Another major part of Total War games is the micromanagement of your regions via the main map screen. Here, the game plays more like Civilization, where you take turns to manage trade, research, production and set taxes for each area you control. Capital cities in each territory can be upgraded, which gives better trade bonuses, allows recruitment of new units and helps to suppress the population.
Trade is a major aspect of the game, and setting up trade links with friendly nations is key to boosting your finances. Deals can be made via a diplomacy screen, but you also have to produce merchant ships to occupy slots in the game’s trade theatres, which are not directly controlled as the main regions are. These will need defending later on with combat fleets, which can also be used to steal from enemy trade routes.
The naval fighting is an entirely new concept in Empire: Total War, and although Creative Assembly has provided a mini-game that fits the style of the ground battles, it’s much less exciting. You steer the ships with the wind, line up your guns and choose how to rain death on the enemy fleet. Without the same variety as the ground battles, we ended up clicking the ‘autoresolve’ button to avoid what we thought were dreadfully tedious sequences.
Ground battles can also be skipped, but we prefer not to, as they are one of the best parts of the game. If Empire is your first Total War game, it’s best to run through the tutorials to learn how to play. As before, if troops see their general being cut down, or half of their buddies being torn apart by a cannon, they’ll run away. If your entire army flees, (or routs) you lose the battle.
Many battlefield tactics that worked during the era also apply to Empire. Charging your cavalry into the flanks of an enemy unit, leaving your musketeers stationary and bombarding large wedges of troops with your cannon are all valid tactics.
The real skill comes from working out how to best deploy your troops on the battlefield. Each battle begins with a deployment phase, and if your cavalry is badly positioned, or your cannons don’t have line of sight, you could end up losing.
Empire is a game that requires more than a quick half-hour. Campaigns take a long time, especially if you fight each battle manually. If you don’t turn off enemy players’ moves, it takes forever for the next turn to begin while you watch every unit move across the map, so this is something we recommend.
We found Empire: Total War to be a brilliant game, only let down by the monotonous naval sequences. It’s without doubt the best of the Total War series, even though it won’t appeal to everyone.
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Overall An epic title with plenty of combat, city management and historical battles but dull naval combat; recommended for all strategy fans
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