Empire Total War: The Most Epic Naval Battles in Gaming History
Like diving into a murky lake from the rocky cliffs looming above, plunging into Empire: Total War is an intimidating prospect but an exhilarating experience. As with previous games in this strategy franchise, there's an overwhelming amount of content to unearth, though now the clock has been spun forward hundreds of years. Technological advances have made bows and arrows weapons obsolete, the British colonies strive for independence, and major empires approach their inevitable collapse. These historical waters are deep, but also a bit turbulent. Empire is the biggest and broadest Total War yet, and like an aging historical parchment, it's brilliantly ambitious in scope but somewhat tattered at the edges. Nevertheless, the game's historical breadth, turn-based tugs-of-war, and enjoyable real-time battles (both on land and at sea) will transfix series fans and newcomers alike.
The grand campaign is the meat of Empire: Total War, and it's there where you're likely to spend the most amount of time. The game stretches across the 18th century and lets you choose from a number of world powers, from Great Britain and Russia to fallen domains such as the Maratha Confederacy and the Ottoman Empire. Once you choose an empire, you can select from a few different campaign types that determine victory conditions and campaign length. Whichever you decide, be prepared: Even a short, 50-year campaign can take a good amount of time to complete, given that each turn requires strategic thinking on multiple fronts. Battles usually determine how regions are won and lost, but diplomatic relations, economic strangleholds, assassinations, and many other subtleties must be tweaked and considered at each turn, and they have noticeable impact as the years progress. If this sounds overwhelming, or if you're an American history buff, you'll want to check out the Road to Independence campaign before jumping into the grand one. This is essentially a long American tutorial that slowly introduces you to the basics and culminates in a grand campaign of its own.
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The factors you must consider run the gamut, starting with an important new feature: the technology tree. Three areas of research and multiple subtrees let you improve your military, industry, and philosophy; in turn, your choices may benefit your economy or your success in battle. The benefits may seem minor at first, but as the campaign wears on, their effects are more noticeable, and your choices within these trees must be informed by the strengths and weaknesses of your particular empire. Do you concentrate on industry and use sheer numbers of troops to overwhelm your enemies, or do you focus on naval improvements and reap the ensuing benefits of successful trade-route blockades? As your campaign wears on, your needs may shift, whether because enemy blockades require a stronger navy, because you are spreading quickly across land, or because your economy is unable to sustain your growing army. Technology is also a limited diplomatic option, given that it's a commodity that you can not only trade during negotiations but also steal from foes. Additionally, it's not easy to convince a friendly nation to offer technology. Even when offered multiple technologies or monetary compensation, your closest allies rarely accept a request to share even a single technology, which makes it a limited political tool. In Empire: Total War, knowledge is more easily stolen than shared.
It's impossible to condense an experience as broad and as rich as Empire: Total War to a few thousand words. Its complex amalgam of turn-based empire building and real-time skirmishing is exciting and involving, and it's both fuller and more streamlined than its predecessors. But like those predecessors, it inspires that compulsion to accomplish just one last turn, even when your eyes are bleary and your body longs for sleep. Although some rough edges are in serious need of sanding, this is a complex and rewarding game that will keep strategy fanatics tied to their keyboards for months at a time.
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.
The good news is that the developers have increased the complexity of the strategic mode without necessarily increasing the management burden. To be sure, the game does require a lot of time and attention of the player, and the later stages of the game still bog down in lots of repetitive administrative tasks, but this time around many of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks have been streamlined tremendously. When one of your regional areas can be improved, you'll see a small golden hammer spinning above it. Better still, when you select a regional improvement, you can scroll through all the corresponding areas in your empire and upgrade them at once. This is a particularly useful feature if you happen to have researched a new farm technology and want to put it into practice throughout your empire.
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Spies, called Rakes here, seem to have managed to stay in the game somehow, despite their limited utility. I like the idea of having distinct spy units on the map to infiltrate enemy cities and assassinate rival generals, but their ability to gather information or to turn the tide of a battle seems a bit too limited. We almost rather would have seen a system like that in Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword where players simply fund an overall espionage effort against a rival and then slowly acquire more intelligence over time. There are plenty of other ways the game has smoothed out the rougher spots of empire management. Taxes are now controlled across the entire empire by a single pair of sliders, one for the nobility and one for the commoners, so you won't need to go through each and every province, setting their tax levels independently. The tax screen even shows you the levels of unrest across your entire empire, so you'll be able to tell if high taxes are a problem. If you require a bit of fine-tuning, then you can go to the most riotous provinces and simply exempt them from taxes altogether until things stabilize. Your fleets and armies and agents are all shown in a single list now that you can check to make sure that each and every element in your military has been given orders. The lists not only shows where the unit is and how much movement it has left, but also gives you a chance to jump straight to that unit. That way you won't waste time searching and searching for a province called Moose Factory. There's less shuffling of troops overall now, thanks to the ability to recruit units at the armies themselves. If you order reinforcements at an army, those orders will be transmitted to nearby towns and the newly created units will march automatically to the recruiting army. It's not a fast process, but it definitely removes a lot of the time the player used to spend doing it all by hand.
A%Kieran Brigden: One of the great thing about the TW series is the modding community. There are some very impressive mods out there, from AI enhancements to full-scale total conversions. We always watch the mod community for ideas and indeed talent. Our very own Jack Lusted was a modder prior to joining CA at it was his modding that brought him to our attention.
A%Kieran Brigden: As far as the battle AI (or battlefield AI) is concerned it is a total change. AI uses a state-based approach in general; this means a kind of 'chess game' to the way it plays. One move, followed by a set of possible next moves and so forth. This can lead AI to being predictable and repeated. With the Battle AI in Empire we use a system called a Goal Oriented Action Planner (GOAP). This means the battle AI is constantly looking at a list of 'objectives' or plans, which it will prioritise according to what is happening. This means as things (like protect the general) go up in priority (because you're flanking his army) it will react more dynamically.
A%Kieran Brigden: This is an interesting question. How much of history should we include and to what degree? The crusades are contentious, especially given the current political climate. Slavery too is a difficult issue and there are reasons for us to avoid it. Empire does not ignore slavery - there is a technology that gives you a public order bonus when you abolish slavery which is the result of socio-philosophical research. There are also downsides in terms of production for plantations and farmers in the colonies etc. So we don't totally dodge it, but we don't actively let players trade in slaves no. How many World War II games are there that simulate the holocaust? And why is that? It's because the added realism is not necessarily good for gameplay. These things are difficult social issues which we treat with care but do not avoid for the sake of being PC.
Q%Sailorboy%313264%"If you have purchased a boxed copy...You will be able to activate your boxed copy of Empire and play on Wednesday 4th March." quote from the totalwar.com. At what time (CET) is the activation to be released on the 4th of March?
Heavy Cavalry: You have a few cavalry options for the empire, but if you want to put the fear of Sigmar into the enemy then Empire Knights, Reiksgaurd, or Knights of the Blazing Sun are what you need. These shock cavalry barrel into enemy lines and can make a sizeable dent against some pretty large creatures. Buffing their charge speed also helps since Total Wars charging is still a bit finicky, but as long as you rotate their hits with good micro you should be fine.