Empire: Total War
Empire is vast: humongous to the point of an awesome illogicality. Its scope and magnitude is immense, and the in-game world feels gargantuan. It’s impossible to compress the overwhelming swathes of content into a single review because we’re dealing with a game that’s entirely feasible to experience without having visited over a third of the geography. It’s mind-bogglingly big.
At heart you’ve got what the PC was made for, a 4X strategy game with a tricorn hat, epaulettes and breeches. It’s about recreating history alongside embellishing it, granting you the ability to peer into an instance when George Washington can get struck down by his own artillery after forgetting to turn the cannon’s fire-at-will option off during a cavalry charge. The fifth in the Total War series (after Shogun, the two Medieval games and Rome), Empire immerses itself in the eighteenth century and somewhat accurately draws upon the historical occupations of the British, French, Spanish, Prussian and Americans, amongst others, without ever getting bogged down in the finite realism of the situation. Land enclosures, philosophy, industry and revolution are plucked and thrown into the cacophony, creating a historically-aware campaign that grants the player ultimate freedom at the cost of absolute confusion to someone not already well versed in the series.
To their credit, Creative Assembly have tried to combat the daunting nature of the game by creating the aptly titled Road to Independence mode, a tutorial-meets-campaign that has you initially play through the British colonisation of America in 1700 and then command the American War of Independence in 1775. It’s hand-holding at its very finest, encouraging you to try out new things and flinging you in the deep end ever so slightly before you feel ready. It’s a particularly stunning moment for new players to see the camera pan out and reveal, for the first time, the mass of the continent you’re fighting for.
And when you’re done with orchestrating the downfall of Britain’s First Empire, there’s its Second Empire to contend with, too, allowing you to set-up trade routes and anticipate the meteoric rise of the East India Company at the end of the century. But it’s also entirely possible to ignore all that and focus on eliminating the European competition, or to set about grabbing as much of America as you can get your domineering hands on. It’s your choice. The Grand Campaign mode is when the stabilisers come off, and you’re given your chosen nation and a set of victory conditions.
The symbiotic gameplay of the series remains virtually unchanged. You’ll spend half your time in the strategy mode, and the rest in luscious battle sequences. Combat is the visual spectacle of the game, a fair and realistic attempt to accurately scale military conflict into entertaining armchair-general form. Armies can be composed of up to twenty units, each of them potentially containing hundreds of soldiers. This feels epic on the battlefield. Movement is slow, so positioning is crucial, and being caught off-guard can irrevocably shatter morale. Thankfully there’s a pause button, so you can occasionally take a breather and plan strategies in dire moments. Useful, that, because the AI has been rejigged, meaning the computer is a little less ridiculously suicidal than it was in Roman and Medieval times.
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