Empire: Total War

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a game by Creative Assembly International Limited
Platform: PC (2009)
User Rating: 6.8/10 - 10 votes
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See also: Strategy Games, Top 10 Total War Games

It May Have taken eight years, but it looks like the wait may have been worth it. Just shy of its 10th anniversary, the Total War series has finally added naval battles to its real time combat arsenal, an inclusion that, if executed with Creative Assembly's usual aplomb and eye for detail, could finally stop the mewling of tens of thousands of fans hankering for a galleon gangbang. Including this one.

This isn't a responsibility that CA has taken lightly. Acutely aware of the importance of nailing sea warfare, the team has resisted the temptation to inject past games with substandard naval battles, preferring to take its timeoi in order to create sea skirmishes that are every bit as breathtaking as the series' land-based warfare.

If you want proof, just take a look at that sea. Go ahead. Looks realistic enough to take a piss in, doesn't it? That's because one member of the team spent an entire year working on it. A year! Just on the sea! And as for the naval combat...

Watery Graves

It's a calm summer afternoon. Waves lap gently against a fleet of ships as it races towards an approaching armada. Wooden masts creak at the behest of straining sails as the two fleets close in on each other. A mighty 120-gun behemoth leads the charge, its deck abuzz as scores of men prepare for war, while below deck, cannon crews shift nervously, awaiting the onslaught. (I'm a Horatio Hornblower fan, can you tell?)

The enemy ships are now in range and suddenly the serene sea is transformed into a watery warzone. Cannons light up. A barrage cripples an enemy vessel, devastating its main sail, leaving it to the mercy of the sea. As the burning sail plummets it ignites the deck and in moments the vessel is ablaze, spreading flames forcing countless men overboard. The remnants of the crew battle to contain the fire, but their struggle proves futile as the blaze finds an ammunition stockpile, the ensuing explosion severing the galleon in two. But no, this isn't a naval drama starring loan Gryfydd and Robert Lindsay that was never quite as popular as Sharpe -all this is happening in-game.

Ship Shape

Based on a similar control system used for the series' land battles, Empire's naval combat will feature around 20 ships per side, (the exact amount is yet to be confirmed due to ongoing balancing) a number that CA believes will be the optimum amount to ensure peak playability while still providing a grand sense of scale.

"Ships are more complicated than land units," explains lead designer James Russell. "There's more you can do with them. Ships have hulls, crews, different kinds of shot, sails and masts. You need to pay attention to wind direction and they're constantly moving and firing from all sorts of angles and directions. We're looking to get the best spectacle while keeping things manageable for the player."

As well as long-range cannon battles you'll also be able to engage in close-quarters combat during these sea-based encounters, by boarding. By navigating your ship parallel to an enemy vessel, your onboard contingent of soldiers will be able to snare an opposition boat with grappling hooks and pull it close enough to board. Should your troops win the ensuing battle, the ship will come under your control and if it contains technology that your faction has yet to research, you'll gain access to it on the revamped campaign map.

Capturing enemy vessels will be made easier by strategically targeting a ship's masts to cripple it. With every cannon ball and musket shot calculated as a physical property (rather than a mathematical damage calculation as was the case in previous Total War games), every shot will be subject to real-life physics and trajectories, promising an even more authentic combat experience on sea and land.

Spanning the entire 18th century, Empire's gaming world will be larger than ever before, stretching from India to America and focussing heavily on exploration, conguest and colony building, with naval combat and trade routes playing a big role in proceedings.

"It was a time when trade on a global scale was becoming very important for big imperial countries, meaning that good trade routes were essential," explains Russell. A major new tactic in your empire building arsenal will be to disrupt enemy trade routes by attacking their ships. Trade ships will also be at risk from pirate attacks if they lack the adequate military protection to ensure safe passage from far off lands.

While CA has yet to decide on an exact number, it's likely that Empire will feature between 20 and 40 ship types, ranging from sloops (small, single mast ships) to hulking 120 gun admiral ships. Towards the campaign's latter stages, you'll be able to research some deadly vessels including rocket ships; water-based artillery launchers that fling fireworks onto the decks of far-off enemies to set fire to them. Research diligently enough and you'll even be able to construct a steam-powered ship (a rare case of CA employing creative license to include a ship type not of the time period). Free from the restrictions imposed by sails, these battleships will possess a huge advantage by being able to turn on the spot, enabling them to bring their guns in line with enemies far more quickly than conventional vessels.

Land Ahoy

While CA may have spent vast amounts of time working on naval combat (and ultra-realistic sea, don't forget the sea), it clearly hasn't been neglecting Empire's land-based battles. Subject to the same graphical makeover that's making the sea battles so visually spectacular, the team has put a great deal of effort into improving the variety of units seen in Medieval II.

"We wanted to try and create a sense of differentiation between the armies so that they don't look like groups of clones," explains CA's communications manager, Kieran Brigden. "We've added different breeds of horses and more facial and uniform differences. We've also tried to add more variety to the vegetation."

The result is a far more eclectic mix of units, each imbued with the ability to identify an opponent on the battlefield and engage him in brutal motion-captured mortal combat.

With Empire set during the technologically rich 18th century, it'll come as no surprise that firearms play a far greater role in battles than in any previous Total War game. Troops will be Jable to learn special drills from generals, including barrages that will see well-marshalled regiments letting off salvos a line at a time then dropping to their knees to let the line behind them have a crack, before advancing on the enemy and engaging them with bayonets and blades.

Garrisoning is another new feature. While I didn't get to see it in action, CA feel confident that they can seamlessly incorporate this tactic into land battles, which will once again feature up to 10,000 combatants slugging it out on 3D real-time battlefields. Placing your men inside buildings will give them a huge defensive advantage against advancing foes. However, this won't be without its risks, as your men will be far more likely to come under artillery fire as the enemy attempts to flush them out into the open. Garrisoning will be particularly effective when defending a city from an enemy attack (city defences will constitute the majority of the game's siege battles). By ensconcing your men within buildings, hostile armies will be forced to take your town building by building and street by street running the risk of suffering major losses against your well-protected and elevated units.

Weather With You

Empire's weather system has also received some loving attention, and will play a far more influential and dynamic role in determining the outcomes of land and sea battles.

Troops battling in downpours will have to contend with quagmires created by a combination of increasingly saturated soil and schlepping booted feet. As the rain continues, the ground will slowly degenerate from firm soil to sticky mud, slowing troop movement and ensnaring horse-drawn artillery in an inescapable bog. The dangers of hostile weather conditions will be even greater at sea where bucking waves and swirling winds will make navigating your fleet during combat infinitely harder.

With its revamped visuals and spectacular looking naval battles, Empire is shaping up to be the most ambitious real time strategy game of all time. But with the era's propensity for ranged combat, CA faces a whole new host of challenges as it seeks to maintain Total War's dominance over the RTS genre.

Battlefield smarts

Get ready for some seriously smart AI

After the criticisms levelled at some of Medieval ITs overly predictable AI, Creative Assembly are determined to exponentially raise the intelligence of Empire's computer-controlled generals and units. In previous Total War games, each faction followed a tactical template. However, Empire will feature an AI template for each battle type and goal-based planning for armies, which will hopefully ensure that enemy AIs will employ unique tactics based far more on what's happening around them rather than on preset variables. If CA can puli this off, it could be immensely brilliant.

Bigger, better, more productive

Empire's campaign map to be larger but more streamlined

While CA is presently holding off the full unveil of Empire's revamped turn-based campaign map, the developer did reveal some other details.

Diplomacy has received a makeover, with negotiations now taking place on a diplomacy screen, meaning no more traipsing around with a diplomat. Allied nations will no longer break allegiances without warning and will give out subtle clues before attacking, such as hijacking a trade route.

Religion's influence has been reduced, but social classes (the rich and the poor) will have greater sway over your decisions. Thanks to a universal taxation system, you'll be spared micromanaging taxation, while the amount you tax each class and your decisions will determine whether each group supports you or rises up against you. If one class becomes too disillusioned they'll start a revolution, which you'll be able to support or attempt to quell. Though if the latter fails, you may find your head being used as a urinal by stray dogs outside your capital's gates.

Download Empire: Total War


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Party Like Its 1699

"When considering a setting for Total War, there are several features present in any area of history that you're thinking of using.

"There have to be a number of factions that could've come to power at any one time. Basically, you've got to have a competing set of nations, families or clans or, as in Empire's case, established nations that could've come and dominated at that time. There had to be a time where there was a competition element between these people.

"It also has to be a time of technological and military change. It has to be a period in which the sort of battles you're fighting at the outset aren't the sort of battles you're fighting at the end. In Empire's case, the way we did it with that was the technology, obviously with the use of gunpowder and artillery advancing all the way through the game, so by the time you get to the end your single-shot flintlocks and cannons have been replaced by rapid-fire mechanisms and long-range mortar bombs."

Fixing History

"Where there's a toss up between something being historically accurate versus being fun, fun wins. For example, Empire's time period runs from 1700 to 1800, but we probably go 15 to 20 years beyond that end point as far as technology and philosophical advances are concerned, so in that sense we bend the rules a little bit.

"When it comes to the actual strategies and tactics, there's a slight element of tweaking history. There were a lot of manoeuvres you could perform at sea which were historically accurate but not particularly fun to do in the game. A good example is 'tacking' - this is when a sailed ship zig-zagged along with the wind to go faster. We tried this out, but it became too fussy and we decided to drop it, even though it was a very well recognised and practised tactic of the period."

Road To Independence

"People often think, 'Oh you chose the American period to open up to the American market,' and that's partly true. You tend to find that ancient European history, like the Greeks and Romans, doesn't have much traction in the United States.

"Imagine the Grand Campaign as the story of Imperialism and Colonialism. The European powers moving out into the wider world and conquering and commanding all that they saw. "Road to Independence is almost that same story, except it's told from the opposite viewpoint. You take a smaller, less established nation and you literally birth it, grow it and defend it in those series of episodes.

"It's also a period which is actually pretty cool. You've got huge cannons billowing smoke across the battlefield. You've got the Battle of Bunker Hill and George Washington holding the Declaration of Independence. All these things are what we associate with what we'd call the birth of modern democracy. It was a fascinating period and it sits within Empire's remit anyway. It was a very good first effort in doing narrative-driven campaigning."

Researching The Aces

"We licensed all the ship plans from the Royal Martine Museum in Greenwich and were able to scan in the blueprints for the ships and carve in polygons exactly how they'd be carved in wood. So we know we have created accurate representations of the ships. Having access to that level of detail is really a great boon when designing.

"It's a double-edged sword as we have the most fanatical fans who will come back and contest our designs. There's a lot of competing evidence and one-off examples of certain guns. There is a wealth of information available. This was the age that Britain established itself as a worldwide superpower, so we have plenty of domestic records of battle mechanics and ship designs."

Campaign In The Arse

"Is it disheartening when players only use the campaign map? Well, a third of the team only work on the campaign and find that really heartening! When players skip battles as they don't get the complete Total War experience, but you have to appreciate that players play how they want to play. The good thing about not forcing players into naval and land battles is you have variety.

"There's also a percentage of players who do the bare minimum of management. They auto tax, auto govern and auto build everything and just dive in and do all the fights themselves. They want to be an Alexander, who carves an empire and isn't concerned with administration. It's interesting to see how different people approach the game in different ways.

"One thing I will say: it's always better to fight your own battles, because you may just be able to pull something off that the auto management system wouldn't have thought of doing."


"There's a system we incorporated into Empire called 'matched combat'. Basically we took loads of motion captures of stunt actors fighting with rifles and mapped them onto characters. So in a battle, 20-30% of your troops will pick one another and fight it out instead of doing the usual 'I attack, you fall back, you attack, I fall back' scrap. The idea behind it was to bring the battlefield to life.

"There are a couple of rare ones. For example admirals on ships may duel with each other when you board one flagship with another flagship. My favourite is where one guy chokes the another with the musket and kicks him to the floor. He goes to stab him and the guy rolls over, in proper B-movie style, avoiding the stab while stabbing his would-be killer in the gut.


"Empire is our first truly global game, but there are several reasons why we didn't include the entire world. One is just sheer size and practicality. If you bring it out to include all of China, Korea, Australia, etc. you end up with a massive amount of potential regions to conquer, and as far as accessibility and micromanagement are concerned it can be a headache.

"Second, and this might sound weird, but you risk diluting the premise. Take China - they were a trading nation and powerful, but they had their own regional conflicts and wars which didn't flow into the international fights that the Europeans colonies were going through. And it was much later that Australia and South Africa were discovered."

To Many People-myself included - Total War is a solitary affair. It's a time-bath with both taps running and the plug pulled out It's a slow wrestling match, where you fight against invisible Al routines and your own stupidity, gently prodding at new possibilities, exploring your own understanding of military strategy, and how it fits into thousands of algorithms that've been refined to best simulate how wars would probably go, if they were fun.

When Empire was released, CA confirmed that it was working on a multiplayer campaign. And as the Total War series has found an online home on Steam, it's only natural that you'll be able to play through the Steam community - or by a LAN. Whatever Blizzard say as they herd the last straggling Diablo players with cattle prods onto Battle.net, playing by LAN isn't dead yet.

Why The Wait

What's hard to believe is that multiplayer Total War hasn't been done already: all the mechanics seem to be in place. Surely, to this simpleton writer's mind, all you have to do is just let one of those other countries be controlled by a human, instead of the Al, right? Well, not quite, according to the patient explanation of Kieron Bridger, Creative Assembly's communication manager. "The infrastructure had to be put in place in order to implement a multiplayer campaign. It's not just a case of switching out the Al with a human, we had to ensure that the game was properly balanced to support two players and that neither has an advantage over the other." As it turns out, it's only the advances made, and changes in the underlying code, in Empire that have made such a play mode possible.

It's impossible for an outsider to guess the work involved in balancing an innately unbalanced world - and the more human elements added, the more confoundingly unpredictable it gets. My strategic choices are reigned in, however, with a strict time limit - two minutes. You can change this time, but it does feel perfect for the game - the pressure's always on, but there's time to tend to your settlements, armies and agents.

Having another human on the map changes the game in a fundamental way. It's like photography - your eyes are naturally drawn to the human, not the machine. So, your relationship might fail immediately if you think your opponent is the greatest challenge to your eventual rule. This could escalate into a blinkered war, while the Al looks on, baffled by your disregard for emotionless to-do lists. If it were a movie, this would be the first time the Al decides that humanity should really be wiped out. That's not what CA are hoping for, though, as Bridgen explains: "I believe that players will be a little more cautious when dealing with human-controlled factions, that they may otherwise have been with a distant faction. Some players may forge an alliance and work together towards a goal, even sharing tech and money. However as they become more powerful they will have to resist the urge to stab the other in the back, either directly, or indirectly by giving money and tech to their enemies.

If you've got victory conditions that aren't in conflict between yourself and your allies, bully for you, but sometimes a gumdrops and rainbow ending won't be possible.

Whatever the tinkering that's gone in the background with Empire: Total War, it's all designed to make the multiplayer campaign play as fair and true to the single-player campaign as possible. The slightly simplistic upshot is it's the same game, but with more of a reason to care. After all, when did computer Al phone you up to call you a prick for sabotaging his cities?

Nobody Knows Exactly what happened between the years 1700 and 1800, as all documents from that era have been smudged to the brink of readability.

In fact, the only surviving specimen is a crude drawing of a musket from which we've extrapolated all modern knowledge of the era. And look where it's gotten us, right to the doorstep of what looks set to be Creative Assembly's finest moment yet.

Empire: Total War previously impressed us with its beautiful naval battles, but now our focus turns to the land-based warfare, and its shapely, historically accurate muskets.

Whites Of Their Eyes

Your soldiers' 18th century weapons have limited effective ranges. So skirmishes will happen in relatively close quarters.

On Yer 'Orse

While horses were falling out of fashion on the battlefields of the 18th century, they were still widely used to flank slower moving infantry and to carry serious firepower.

Hide And Seek

Take a look at the landscape and you'll notice a lot more crap lying about Walls and hedges can now be used as cover and buildings can be entered and garrisoned, acting as focal points on the map.

We Are Scientists

You'll have to reform your government to keep it effective - but the results are clear improved troops and weapons, such as Britain's favourite stabbing tool, the bayonet.


Positioning cannons correctly is vital to success, but badly maintained weaponry might blow up in your face, scaring horses.

Conquer? I Hardly Knew Her!

Battles are determined by your actions on the almighty campaign map. Several aspects of campaign micromanagement will be streamlined though, such as the chore of sending diplomats about the place.

And It's Pretty

Empire is resoundingly the most beautiful RTS yet with water and light effects to die for. Don't underestimate the amount of historical research that's gone into it either.

People Have Been whining about Empire: Total War's AI, in particular its inability to launch naval invasions. Put a good 10 hours into Creative Assembly's bar-height-maintaining RTS and you might just notice that your island nation is invulnerable to attack. I never noticed this, mind you, because I'm rubbish at Empire. I was rubbish at Rome, and at Medieval, and now in the spirit of unshakable tradition I am great big hairy balls at Empire.

It's the same old problem. I know perfectly well that the guys who can shoot the farthest should go at the back, and running around the side of the enemy is called "flanking" and that it's good, know about square formations, having read the incredible World War Z (sure they were fighting zombies and not people on horseback, but the principle is the same - if not more pronounced - when facing millions of relentless, unfaltering corpses). But it comes to naught when I sit in front of a keyboard and mouse.

Who's fault is that? Most people would say, "you, Steve," but I'm inclined to disagree. Creative Assembly have been running with the same RTS formula for a long time now, and for years I've tried to get into Total War games without success. Everybody I know who's enjoying the game found their entry point some years back. I've yet to meet somebody who, coming from a non-RTS background, has picked up Empire: Total War and found it anything but hideously inaccessible.

But would I rather they drag Empire down to a point where the masses "get it"? Not at all. I love that there are still games around that confound me. I can only hope to ever love this game enough to even recognise that there are problems with it, but until then I'll simply enjoy being treated rough.

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