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Empire: Total War hands-on preview

Empire: Total War hands-on preview

Publisher: SEGA
Platform: PC Exclusive
Release Date: 6th February 2009

If somehow you’ve not yet heard of the Total War games, you couldn’t be coming in at a better time. The time in question is the 18th Century, which sees the Industrial Revolution, George Washington’s American War of Independence and the French Revolution; it’s the time of Napoleon’s European conquest and the rise of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.

We’re talking about tall ships laden with cannon fighting for naval supremacy, fields fogged with the smoke of thousands of muskets, and the fanatical endeavour to forge a global empire. The 18th Century was a time of near-constant strife, and Empire: Total War aims to give you full control over every aspect of command for the 12 playable factions.

Empire: Total War hands-on preview
Click to enlarge

As we’re talking about global expansion, naval might is more important than ever, so for the first time in a Total War game you’re given direct command over naval battles rather than having to auto-resolve. The scope of Empire reaches from North America to Europe and the Middle East, and all the way to India.

The different environments and inhabitants of these continents will all play differently and pose different challenges too. A European army fighting another European army might be a straightforward affair, but native North American tribes will use guerilla warfare due to the large swathes of forest. Similarly, Indian armies will field rockets, imported European artillery and elephants for you to deal with.

Empire: Total War hands-on preview
Click to enlarge

As gunpowder is the weapon of choice, land battles play very differently to the mostly melee combat of previous Total War games. In the ancient world ranged units rarely won you a battle – notable exceptions to this include the English longbowmen of Agincourt who slaughtered most of the suicidally arrogant French nobility, or the infamous unit of archers in the Shogun: Total War tutorial.

In Empire, the power of gunpowder means that almost every effective unit is a ranged one. Fields of fire need to be considered, cover should be hid behind, and buildings can even be garrisoned and fired from. And while bayonets may have been standard issue for most soldiers, committing troops to melee combat isn’t a decision to take lightly as it’ll bog troops down.

The developer, Creative Assembly, promises that the Grand Campaign victory conditions for Empire will be tighter and more relevant to the faction you’re playing. This will be especially true of the smaller factions which will have more manageable goals than having to conquer half of the known world as was the case in so many previous Total War games.

Empire: Total War hands-on preview
Click to enlarge

For a more narrative campaign, there’s the new Road to Independence mode, which chronicles the founding of the British colony in Jamestown through to the French-Indian war and finally the American War of Independence.

CA wouldn’t say much about this beyond it not being a cynical inclusion to boost US sales, but the campaign will ‘introduce newcomers to the series to the incredible size of the Total War experience, as well as give Total War veterans a new way to experience the game.’ Yep, it sounds like an extended tutorial mission to us too.

The developer has also introduced the notion of a Prestige win, where a faction wins because it’s just too awesome for any other to compete, much like the mechanism in Civ. CA has also teamed up with Valve to distribute Empire via Steam as well in the shops. This has the knock-on bonus of letting Steam handle multiplayer matches - a much better system than Total War games had previously - while freeing up CA’s time to actually develop the game.