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How many people in the world can say they helped George Washington fend off the British, and rode throughout the night with Paul Revere screaming, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”  I’ll bet my knickerbockers no one alive today can bear witness to that.  Empire: Total War is one of the most compelling historical games ever released in PC gaming history.  I have been playing the retail version for a couple of months now and can honestly say there are still elements to be learned and discovered.

Although Empire: Total War has successfully packed the grandeur of 18th century warfare into 15 gigabytes of programming, it does have its share of bugs and glitches.  Aside from its rough spots, Creative Assembly has successfully depicted the brutality and prestige of 18th century combat through its game play and cut scenes.  What had started out as a simple real time strategy (RTS) series has evolved into one of the most engaging experiences any PC game can offer.

Players will immediately notice the game combines two distinct styles of play into one.  One moment you’ll be building towns, constructing armies, negotiating trade and raising taxes, and then the next, you’ll be ordering a firing squad to march straight into a pit of chaos while you command your cavalry to flank from the right and order your artillery to constantly bombard the enemy from atop.  If that wasn’t enough, Empire: Total War has introduced a whole new combat system through its naval warfare.  Although the sea combat is a bit clunky, having a strong navy will connect you to some of the wealthier resources.

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There are many elements, and it can sound intimidating to many new gamers, but Creative Assembly did a great job of introducing new players to the game, and reacquainting old players with its polished game play.  Total War provides a quick tutorial that introduces the mechanics of both land and sea battles.  You’ll find basic 18th century strategy is not too cumbersome, and it’ll also build your confidence seeing enemy battalions and ships flee in distress.  Alternatively, developers created a story mode called “The Road to Independence”.  Basically, you begin at the James Town Settlement trying to establish a post while fending off Native American raids.

As you progress, it’ll take you through early American history where you’ll end up having to kick the British out of the 13 colonies.  The story mode is designed to familiarize players with the basic mechanics of the game and gradually introduce more advanced styles of play.  For example, early game will teach basic construction while the end game will force naval transportation, tax control and show you the value of Agents.  Not to mention, The Road to Independence recreates a handful of famous American history battles, and it delivers appropriate cut scenes that emotionally immerse players into the sentiment of the time period.

After you soil your hands with the Road to Independence, the real fun begins with the Grand Campaign.  The Grand Campaign gives players the chance to play as one of the main powers in Europe and India. There is much more freedom in respect to trade and negotiation, war and peace, government and technology and a whole other onslaught of national priorities.  Initially, the vast freedom generally overwhelms many new players, but through time, many will begin to enjoy the openness.

It is the player’s objective to control and maintain a country’s goals during the 18th century.  For example, if you choose to play as Great Britain then it is your duty to protect your home borders from the French and Spanish using a robust navy.  Simultaneously, you must control the eastern coastal territories of the United States while expanding your empire through India.  The historical set ups are quite accurate, and it is your duty to see that your country of choice completes its goals whether history says it succeeded or not.  Each main power will take anywhere from five to ten hours to complete with over ten different countries to pick.  Essentially, you will be playing this game for a while.

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While the graphics are right on par with every other RTS PC game, the real wow factor lies in the camera angles and character animations.  The developers have done an excellent job of portraying land and sea battles.  After playing for a few months, it still amazes me watching the tiny little regiments engage in combat.  If you ever get the chance, zoom in real close to the combat and watch your units duke it out hand to hand.  You’ll notice your units and enemies actually fight with one another. Also, while watching the sea battles, you’ll notice your sailors trying to take over enemy vessels when order to do so.  I love watching them throw lines from one ship to the other, pummel the enemy with rifles, stand toe to toe with swashbuckling pirates, and the ultimate satisfaction: watching the enemy jump into the ocean out of sheer terror.

Although the animations are stupendous, there are a handful of glitches.  During one of my largest land battles, I had to march a massive army up a steep cliff side, but because of a bug, each soldier had to be funneled into a single file line on the open mountain side.  After about 20 minutes of positioning, it took about five minutes to over run the enemy.  It’s glitches like these that really take away from the mood of combat.  Aside from its random rough spots, the landscape beauty is amazing, and the movement of each soldier is marvelous.

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For a game of this magnitude, you can’t help but appreciate the sound and music.  The battle cries of men, the clanging of swords and the popping sound from a volley of rifles really help emerge the player into the environment.  Aside from that, the triumphant music of victory and the low tones of defeat create a strong urgency.  You’ll feel confident with each success, but feel the need for improvement with each loss.  The musical score is entirely appropriate, which encourages players to think like an 18th century tactician.

This game requires a fairly robust PC for a smooth experience.  Many will find 2.4 GHz and 15 GB of memory a large requirement to fulfill, but in respect to the magnitude of the game, I find this quite reasonable.  And although this game takes you through the proper steps, many will find Empire: Total War quite complex.  If you do buy it then take the time to really learn the mechanics.  You’ll find that this is a masterful combination of everything great about a thrilling RTS.  It fuses the strength of turn-based dramatics with a flare for real time strategy, which achieves new heights within the genre.  Essentially, if you love RTS titles, then this is a must have in your collection.

Rating Category
7.5 Presentation
The art is beautiful and the quotes are tasteful. Option menu provide a vast amount of settings. Long loading periods and a handful glitches and bugs.
How does our scoring system work?
9.0 Gameplay
Land and sea battles are full of tactical variety. Empire management is very innovating with a wide variety of options. Battle can draw out for long periods of time.
9.5 Sound
The sounds of combat are immersive and the musical scores adds a lot of bravado.
9.5 Longevity
There are a handful of nations with unique starting situations. The Road to Independence is fun to play over and over in of itself.
8.6 Overall
This game is by far one of the most impressive strategy games on the market.
  1. avatar SA Simpson

    Great Review!! Clear, Comprehensive and Very Professional~
    Thanks.

  2. I’m extremely excited to try this game out. Road to Independence sounds incredible.

  3. Never been an RTS fan.

  4. I really want to play this, i’m a massive fan of the series, and while i’ve enjoyed Rome the most (i’m still playing the TOTAL REALSIM MOD) the whole series is top draw. Just need a little PC upgrade first….

  5. I can’t wait not that this game is finally out.

  6. I have Shogun and medieval, but I skipped Rome. Maybe its time to get back into the series.

  7. I found it to be a bit disappointing. The tactical battles are a MAJOR improvement, but the campaign map is the worst it’s ever been–and that’s where I like to spend most of my time.

    I think I went back to M2TW after four or five hours.

  8. avatar Thozz

    Played ETW for 1.6 hours, uninstalled it and threw it in the trash.
    Now I’m playing M2TW again.

  9. avatar Jimmy

    I was a big fan of the series and i bought ETW when it came out.

    This game has major crash to desktop problems for a lot of people, including people with top rigs like me.
    This game has proven to be unplayable and has been sitting on a shelf for months.
    The most recent patches (as of august 2009, 6 months after release) still have not fixed the problem and there is a boycott thread against SEGA on the Gamespot forums as well as many player reviews that give it 1 out of 10.
    The steam forums also address this issue.
    I have 3 Ghz CPU, 4 Gig RAM, asus 9800GTX+ card and all the other recent games run just fine.

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