I was first introduced to the Total War series completely on accident via HMV in Nottingham. I had just picked up my first gaming PC with a copy of Command & Conquer: Generals and, having defeated the campaigns and struggling to play online via my sweet 56k modem, I went hunting for the fresh challenge. I was looking for something on a grander scale than Generals and Medieval: Total War caught my attention. I paid for it, rushed home, and never looked back. In those first weeks I focused on building an Iberian Empire and had a huge amount of fun doing it. The sheer size, scope and scale of the game impressed me and I loved every minute of it. It was the first grand strategy game I played. The first time I had to *think* about what I was doing, making plans that would take years to come to fruition, deciding what would be sacrificed to protect the Empire, gambling on what my opponents might do in retaliation for my pre-emptive strike against an outlying province. M:TW kept me up all night developing complex strategies to take and hold just one more province.
When I heard the announcement that Rome: Total War would be released in 2004 and would feature true 3D units I was in Total War heaven. Rome: Total War held my attention for many, many months. I didn’t bother with any other games. It was all about Rome. Nearly five years after it’s release, Rome: Total War still ranks in my top two games of all time. Never played it? Stop reading, go buy it and play (that’s an order).
Rome had many improvements over it’s earlier counterpart. The world map was rendered in 3D and you could use mountain passes, river crossings and other terrain objects to your advantage. The use of different types of battlefield terrain was a feature of M:TW, but it was not used to the same stunning effect as it was in Rome.
The sense of scale which one would associate with a WORLD MAP was apparent in Rome. As your units could only travel a set distance each day, crossing deserts and oceans became a long term commitment. In Medieval, your units would ‘jump’ from one province to the next.
The next installment was a remake of the earlier Medieval: Total War and it never really bit me the same way that Rome did. I guess the game just lacked the same ‘polish’ that Rome did, marred as it was by some early bugs [one of the highlights of Rome was the crushing effectiveness of a massed cavalry charge. In M:TW2 the cavalry lost a huge amount of it’s effectiveness by pulling up at the moment before impact]. I never got into Medieval 2 the same way I did Rome. I sit here in hope that Empire will renew my love of the series.
Empire: Total War is new territory for Creative Assembly (developer’s of the series) based, as it is, in the early modern period (Colonial era). Three major distinctions set the gameplay apart from the previous installments. Firstly, this is the era of gunpowder. In Empire: Total War, muskets, rifles and field guns replace swords, shields and spears as the weapons of choice. No longer will the longbow be the dominant weapon on the battlefield, replaced instead by firearms.
This is going to be a total change of pace from previous games where the aim was to get your heavy infantry and swift cavalry into combat with the enemy as soon as possible and chop them to bits. Melee will still play a large role, as damp gunpowder is useless gunpowder. Your troops will need to fix bayonets and charge into hand-to-hand combat when their rifles and muskets fail them. Cavalry will still be an effective tool for breaking up formations, so melee is still guaranteed a place in proceedings.
The other major departure in Empire, is the inclusion of naval warfare. This is something that fans of the series have been calling for for a long time, but CA have always maintained they will only ever add it when they can do it right.
Having played the naval battle in the demo; they certainly got it right. Real-time naval battles are a new and incredibly welcome addition to the Total War series. Tall ship combat throws up it’s own set of tactical challenges to overcome. Personally I’m eager to get involved in a huge fleet action. The demo as sufficient to whet my appetite for more.
The final major inclusion in Empire is the campaign mode, The Road to Independence. Total War games have always been open world ‘sand-box’ games, The Road to Independence lends some structure to your games, allowing you to take part in a series of battles in a campaign to either free America (or crush the rebels under heel). It will certainly open up the game to those who might not have the stomach or patience for the grand campaign. Personally, I can’t wait to smash the pesky colonists with a mighty force of red coats.
Below is the trailer for The Road to Independence. Look out for much more Total War news and opinion coming soon, featuring (next) a report from the Battle of Brandywine Creek.