January 30, 2009 – Remember all those boring history lessons from high school? Do you ever consider the hours of class lectures about colonialism and the advent of naval superiority and wonder if you wasted your time? Of course you have, fellow History channel fan, and SEGA has the game we’ve been searching for since the days when your parents first told you History class was a good thing. (By the way, they’re still wrong about Calculus.)
Empire: Total War is the fourth game in the Total War series, excluding expansion packs, and will add a whole new dimension to the franchise’s historical, military, strategy gameplay. Empire will capitalize on its faithful niche RTS fanatics while adding brand new naval combat, Road to Independence an all-new campaign mode based on the American settlement at Jamestown, and an emphasis on ranged combat and cover.
Developer Creative Assembly has taken some time off from the series since its purchase by SEGA a few years back. During the interim, the UK game company has made a few forays into the console market, in spite of its consistent PC track record. The result was the critically/commercially acclaimed last-gen action release Spartan: Total Warrior, and the lesser Viking: Battle for Asgard. Expanding on their epic visuals and spinning brand new tales rooted in Greek and Norse mythology, respectively, Creative Assembly crafted two brand-new IPs.
Fresh from their Xbox 360 excursion, CA looks to bring the same visual flair and epic battles back to the PC gamers who made Total War a hit. Empire: Total War is set in the 18th century. For those who missed that week of class, the game is set against the backdrop of revolution, brutal expansion, and the relentless rise of empires.
As fans of the series will attest, gamers will spend most of their time managing units on and off the battlefield. Aside from bureaucrats who will keep your empire running efficiently, players have a number of types of soldiers with which to expand their regimes. Ranging from typical infantry and cavalry to artillery, each of these classes has strengths and weaknesses. Artillery, for example, can attack from long range with devastating explosive volleys, but may destroy nearby troops if their cannons misfire. It’s a balanced system that prevents any particular type from dominating the field.
In addition to these troop classes, players will have three types of “agents” available as well. These special combatants – Generals, Gentlemen, and Rakes – all have specific abilities and bonuses they offer, such as assassinating key enemy figures or infiltrating enemy ranks to provide troop movement and formation intel. Troop formations determine attack capabilities for the most part (e.g. close ranks will concentrate your fire), though special troops like artillery also possess abilities specific to their class. There is a definite emphasis on the balance between ranged and close attacks, and players will constantly have to adjust troops to take advantage of cover on the field and enemy troop positions.
Advancing through enemy towns is the key to expanding your territory; players must force enemy troops protecting areas to defend them by attacking a town until its protectors fight back. As your domain grows, you can spend money to develop your empire in various ways, each providing special bonuses. If you focus on increasing technologically, your armies grow larger and more powerful. There is some Civilization/Sim City-type community management (make your empire angry enough and they can overthrow the government, for instance), but most of these features only serve as side dishes to the meat of the game, its robust military strategy.
Naval battles are ambitious and impressive. Ships take real-time damage, up to 20 ships can battle at once, and though there is a decidedly slower pace to the skirmishes, sea battles are supposedly exciting in their own right. Factoring movement speed, wind directions, firing patterns and rates and special tactics, players will weaken enemy ships with cannons and board them to take their vessels. In addition, there are several ship classes and upgrades available to keep combat fresh.
The Total War franchise is strictly turn-based, but battlefield animations take place in real-time, so once you’ve ordered individual troops or groups to attack, move into different formations, etc., your enforcers will shift accordingly. When engaging enemies, sabers, bayonets, and hatchets will swat the air and musket fire will pepper the battlefield. Empire: Total War looks better than all the other entries in the series, and naval combat is especially striking. Watching cannonballs shred through masts and hulls as crews are tossed overboard looks phenomenal.
Creative Assembly’s newest project, Empire: Total War, will be sacking a town near you in March.