rj's Empire: Total War (PC) review

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  • rj has written a total of 4 reviews. The last one was for Shogun 2: Total War

Can't keep a Good Game down!

Empire: Total War is a great game hidden under a pile of gamebreaking bugs, AI issues, and sketchy pathfinding. If you're able to dig through all of that however, you'll find an exceptional grand strategy game waiting for you on the other side.

Adding a little gunpowder makes anything more exciting!
Empire brings the Total War series headfirst into the 18th century of muskets and canons. The overhead campaign map also introduces 18th century Europe, the "New World" of North America, and Africa. Battle environments have been slightly improved as well, adding simple forms of cover to hide behind and also giving you the ability to garrison forces inside of buildings (which are completely destructable). Perhaps the biggest addition to the franchise is the ability to play through the Naval battles, giving you complete command of your fleet. Suprisingly, the Naval battles feel very solid and not just some tacked on feature, giving you just about the same amount of depth and high quality visuals as a regular land battle.

View of the Campaign Map, zoomed in.
With the new Grand Campaign singleplayer mode comes another singleplayer campaign called "Road to Independence" in which you'll play out the birth of the Thirteen Colonies from when Britain first colonized North America to the final stages of the Revolutionary War and foundation of the United States of America. This campaign focuses solely on North America and introduces the game mechanics to anyone who is new to the Total War series, offering a more direct and restrictive experience than veterans of the series have grown accustomed to. The Road to Indepenedence campaign is seperated into four chapters and upon completing the first three, the fourth chapter unlocks offering a play through the Grand Campaign mode as the U.S. 

Trade routes also play a more pivotal role than in the previous games. North America offers substantial resources for trading and acts as an incentive to colonize the "New World". Trade routes are then setup between different nations and are affected by a global market where you can check the value of your resources being traded. Resources that are properly maintained can bring in a large amount of income, however, if Pirates or an an enemy nation blocks the trade routes, they prevent any income from that route being received.

Specialized campaign units such as the Rakes (spies), Gentlemen (researchers), and Missionaries are pretty self explanatory. Gentlemen are a newer concept which help improve the rate at which you tech up the newly added research and development tree, further enhancing your nations. They can also chase off or kill other Gentlemen from other nations. It should be noted that these types of units cannot be mass produced like regular military units, and are spawned at a determined rate connected to their particular type of building (theatres for Rakes and Schools for Gentlemen).


Poor Indians, they look so cold.
The gameplay found in Empire stays true to the Total War formula. You start off in a turn-based campaign system where diplomacy, economic affairs, and military/unit movements are held on an overhead map.  Sieges and battles between warring factions are fought in a lush 3D environment in real-time, although you always have the opportunity to "Auto-Resolve" the battle. This type of gameplay offers a deep and engaging experience since you're essentially playing two very different games rolled into one.

The Grand Campaign mode offers a little more in the way of dealing with your nation. Rebellions are no longer just armies that can annoy you but represent a changing of government systems. This is a welcomed new addition since the Thirteen Colonies are not the only ones that may break from their Protectorate's grasp, you'll also have to pay closer attention to your own cities. If a Revolutionary War does break out within your Nation, you'll get to choose on which side of the rebellion will you continue the game as, the Rebels or the existing Government. Be careful making this decision however, if you lose it's game over for you (I invested about 70 turns into a nation only to have them rebel against me and sack my Capitol, ending my Campaign).

AI Issues

The AI (or lack thereof) has a handful of issues that usually result in you winning too easily or winning when you should have definitely lost the battle. The AI seems to be very confused or even broken at times, examples include the AI attacking my battle line in small waves resulting in mass routing, exposing flanks to the main battle line as I approach from a different direction, standing idly in one area waiting to be attacked and other quirky actions like firing at my inner city walls just to shoot an enemy running around outside. There are also issues with the AI on the Campaign Map as they don't really make amphibious assaults on other continents/nations, spend alot of time sending small raiding units into my territory instead of massing a large attack, and diplomacy also feels a little broken as nations tend to refuse extremely tempting offers, trade for the same territory over and over again, etc. Sieging cities is probably the worst example of the AI as it not only shows the weakness of the AI but there are many pathfinding issues fighting along the tops of the walls, around buildings, and moving from one side of a fort to another.

Yup, boats.
With that said, the AI does mount attacks fairly well on occassion. They'll form up with your battle line, try and pin you down and send in some cavalry on your flanks in rapid succession. Unfortunately, awesome stuff like that rarely happens. Naval battles have also been a hassle for me. When I right click to attack an enemy ship, I expect my ship to close within range, turn broadside and fire for maximum effect, continuing to do so until she is sunk or sinks the enemy ship. Instead, my ship will head straight towards the enemy ship, fire off a few front mounted guns, fire an ineffective broadside shot, and chase after the ship in an ineffective firing position. This means I have to continually click where my ship is heading, 
Yeah, those aren't just body parts, oh wait, I mean wood
reposition to fire, fire, reload, reposition my ship, wait, fire again, etc..all the while I'm being fired at by the rest of the enemy ships AND I have to control my other ships in the same manner. This results in too much micro management for me to actually enjoy the sea battles. The tools are there to make for a fun experience but I feel that the constant managing of your ships is poor implementation.


Operation blow the crap out of the other dude!
Since Empire is tied with steam (a first for the series), Multiplayer matches have been given a massive upgrade as far as matchmaking goes. Players can now search and join games with relative ease. You can play up to a maximum of 8 players (1v1, 2v2, and 4v4). There are a limited amount of maps available to play on but they seem varied enough to offer different strategies, however the larger battles such as 4v4s have few maps to choose from. Friends lists and even Voip through steam are welcome additions as well. There is also a leaderboard and ranking system if you are into the competitive side of gameplay. Empire online can be a fun and refreshing experience, especially since you're normally pitted against the sketchy AI. Also, the varied units can be fun to see pitted against one another like Indian elephant charges against Colonial Line Inf and so on. The only unit that seems to be fairly strong is the mortar unit as it can easily reach your own units at the very start of the battle, however there are ways to approach this. I imagine as more patches roll out, balance changes might occur, keeping the multiplayer experience fresh and updated.


Some good lookin water, DX9 is still alive baby!
The main graphics in Empire are very detailed and, on the highest of settings, look spectacular. If you're able to run all of your settings on Ultra with everything turned on, you'll witness some of the finest looking massed battles to this date. Watching huge lines of Line Infantry fire volley after volley at eachother has never looked so good, and the naval battles are very top notch as well. Although some units lack the historical accucary of their representation, the game overall looks very good and the animations fit in nicely. The actual battlefields might look a little too much like Medieval 2's but an increase in foliage and objects help hide the relatively bland ground unerneath. Smoke and particle effects are definitely a wow along with the HDR lighting. The only effect I found to look kind of weird/bad is the 
Dudes firing muskets never looked so good
optional Heat Haze option where after every canon fire, a distortion effect happens around the barrel of the gun. This looks kinda cool when you first see it but it felt kinda fake afterwards and on ships the effect looks downright cheesy as the distortion effect ripples through the ships hulls.


The sounds in this game sound fairly authentic (like I would know) with a loud and satisfying pop sound from the musket fire. Canons let off huge explosions and the sound of melee battles are top notch. The same goes for the naval battles. The only audio I miss is the speeches the Generals used to make before each battle, even if they were canned and repetitive. It helps adds to the setting for me.


Empire offers a great experience if you're able to actually play the game. The launch has been mildly stable at best since alot of users are complaining of numerous game breaking bugs, corrupted game saves, and a whole mess of crash to desktops. If you ask me, it seems like they didn't have enough time to polish off the game, especially since CA has reported that they will be working on a SERIES of new patches for the game delivered on a weekly basis or so. It is good to see a dev team stand behind their game and support it with patches but doing so right after a release is generally a bad sign. I can only hope that most issues will eventually get fixed and that more people can enjoy this great game, it definitely deserves the chance to be played.

This game is just as awesome as a roundhouse kick from Davey Jones, nuff said.

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