History nerds will love a lot of the tiny attention to detail elements that Creative Assembly’s imbued the fifth Total War game in. If it happened in the Seventeenth century, it happens here, from minor Western European border wars to the American fight for independence.
The scale is gloriously large, and the overall effect of the game is akin to reading through a historical tome, albeit one that’s rather pre-occupied with infantry troop movements and naval combat.
You can wage war pretty much anywhere from the North Americas all the way through to India -- including all those pesky bits of wet stuff that lie in-between. Naval power and sea trade were rather important in the 1700s, and the inclusion of naval combat adds another level of complexity to what was already a pretty daunting series.
The ingame battle tutorials and American “Road To Independence” campaign -- which is in effect an elongated tutorial -- guide you through the basics quite well, and Total War buffs will really only need to get to grips with how naval combat works before setting out to take over the world, one province at a time.
The large scope of Empire is definitely one of the game’s pure strengths, as you’re given the scope to play it the way you see fit, and each nation has its own challenges to face. Take on one of the western European nations, and you’re likely to face a prolonged land battle over multiple fronts, mixed with rather hostile diplomacy. Take on the British, and you’re into almost pure Naval warfare. The Americans have a mix of both.
If you don’t like the overview map’s diplomacy and city building, you can skip those turns and just concentrate on the battles. The reverse is also possible, but if you’re buying Empire for the map strategy, you’re buying the wrong game. It’s useful, however, to be able to resolve horribly one-sided battles quickly rather than having to click through them.
The naval combat sections are an interesting inclusion, but they’re nowhere near as polished as the land battles, and it quickly shows. Where the land battles are well paced, have mostly intelligent AI and work well within the camera and strategic constraints of the territory at hand, the naval battles are flatter (well, they are on water) and less engaging, as you move smaller fleets around in a slightly less organised fashion.
Luck also seems to play a larger factor in sea battles, with some ships just seeming to want to sink. Maybe it’s the way we were building them. Speaking of things that sink, we found Empire to be a touch unstable on our test system, something that a future patch will hopefully fix.
Long term Total War fans are going to be in very familiar – and highly time consuming – territory, and honestly, this is a series that sells itself to a particular gaming niche. The addition of boats and a wider strategic scope make it a good fan’s game, but it’s not likely to be a title that grabs you if previous Total War games have failed to do so.