Harry asked me to try and start this review with a joke about Sean Bean’s Sharpe, because he’s a big fan of that vaguely relevant TV series. I told him no, as I’ve no love for a man who can’t be consistent with his own name – Shaun Baun or Sheen Been; pick a pronunciation, Boromir!
There. I hope you enjoyed that opening joke because it’s probably the last joke that you’re going to see in this entire review. This is total war, dammit – serious business!
That's definitely the impression that Creative Assembly has given with the latest instalment in the much-heralded Total War series anyway. Starting the game up it’s immediately apparent that you’re about to get the most dry and deeply tactical strategy game you’ve ever played.
That sounds like a negative, but it’s actually not. It’s that very serious and strategic approach that’s made Total War such a well-known and much-loved series anyway. Witty space marine banter has no place here. This is the stuff of history class lectures, not exaggerated legend. It’s also bloody brilliant.
The setting for the latest game in the long running series is the so-called early modern era of history, which confusingly covers the 1700s to 1800s of world-wide history. Starkly different from previous Total War games, this era sees the use of cannons and heavy artillery on the battlefield – muskets and bayonets replacing longbows and short swords.
The early modern era is a great fit for Total War in theory too, as it was around this time that the world was undergoing a huge political upheaval. Not only were minor squabbles in Europe snowballing into much bigger things, but America was starting to be properly colonised and exploited. The printing press was invented (which was very important, apparently), the Thirty Years War started and finished and hunting witches became a global past time.
In what Mark would call a singularity, a whole host of important technologies were rapidly uncovered and the world was thrown into turmoil. Advances in ranged warfare and transportation meant that colonisation of far-off lands was suddenly possible and naval combat became more complex than ever before.
It’s this latter point which is one of the new focuses of Empire: Total War as, for the first time in the history of the series, players get a chance to do battle on more than just land. Pirate wannabes can (assuming they pass the three trials) take to the high seas and command galleons of their own. Warring with the French has never held so many possibilities!
Nor are the French the only people for you to go tête-à-tête with either; the campaign map for Empire: Total War has been massively expanded since the likes of Shogun or Rome. Your domination plans are no longer focused down onto small sections of the world, but can be spread out across all of Europe, India and America – provided you can stave off the rival factions.
Empire: Total War could be serious and realisitic to a fault in the eyes of some though, so consider this a warning; if you aren’t interested in losing dozens of hours to a slow-burning turn-based strategy epic of overwhelming detail...then it’s best to stop reading now.