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Creative Assembly



T (Teen)



March 3, 2009



- Top flight visuals

- Exquisite attention to detail on factions

- Great large scale RTS action

- Best naval combat in an RTS ever



- Occasionally retarded AI

- Long load times for battles

- Sprawling "Grand Campaign" overreaches

- No map/mission editor



Review: Red Alert 3: Uprising (PC)

Review: Red Alert 3 (360)

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Empire: Total War

Score: 8.0 / 10


empire total war          empire total war


There is something of a division in the subgenre of war games.  There are gamers who play war games, usually real time strategy, and then there are hardcore gamers who play war games, usually playing professionally in South Korea.  And then there are grognards.  These are the gamers who not only play war games, most often turn based affairs, but who know the time periods involved in intimate detail, from the order of battle for both sides of a certain engagement right down to the weather conditions during the battle.  For them, history isn't just facts and figures.  It's a narrative of the facts as they are and a laboratory for how things might have gone.  It is a story of blood and thunder, of glory and disgrace, of great heroes and tragic figures.  They're harder than hardcore, and their games are played out at an operational level, abstractions from which they can read the past.  For them, Empire: Total War is precisely the sort of RTS that they can really sink their teeth into.


The latest iteration of the "Total War" series takes place during the 18th Century, the Age of Enlightenment, the Revolutionary Period of American history, the Age of




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Sail, a time when cannons roared across Europe, a time of iron men and wooden ships.  Yeah, one of my favorite time periods in history.  The gameplay of Empire is broken down into two sections.  The first is the strategic map.  From here, players move their armies around, build up new armies, improve towns and other territorial fixtures like mines and plantations, and generally get the big


picture view of how their campaigns are progressing.  In this, Empire does a decent enough job, though it's not going to be giving games like Civilization any sort of challenge anytime soon.  The bread and butter of the game is getting down into the mud and blood, directing the battle on the battlefield, pre-positioning units, setting up artillery barrages, leading charges and holding down forts, and getting your warships into a line of a battle for a firing pass at an enemy flotilla.  While you can auto-resolve big battles, or even small battles, from the campaign map, those who are looking for fine control of the battle and think they can do a better job than the computer and calculating battle losses can jump right into the thick of it and slug it out with the enemy.  Naval combat is the newest feature which hadn't previously appeared in a Total War game.  It's got a finer degree of control than the one-on-one ship duels of Sid Meier's Pirates, though it stays away from the swashbuckling heroics and makes boarding actions the endgame of a naval battle. For a more casual gamer, the amount of detail and choices available might seem intimidating, but it's well worth learning.


One of the big selling points of the Total War series has been the ability to scale your view down to the individual soldiers in your army.  And those looking for some eye candy would do well to do so every now and again, just to oogle the fine details.  Yes, a lot of the troops look alike standing side by side, but you just can't help enjoying the little touches.  Sails billow, the wakes of ships ripple across the ocean, clouds of smoke from volleys of muskets float along the battlefield, and corpses litter the ground.  At no time does the game look anything less than exceptional.  If you've ever gone to a museum and seen dioramas of pitched battles spread out over a large scale, Empire not only recreates that feel but goes it one better by bringing the soldiers to life.  Since the History Channel used Rome: Total War to help illustrate battles and events for a series on the Roman Empire, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if we see a series on the Age of Enlightenment or the American Revolution illustrated in the same fashion.  It's just that good.


empire total war          empire total war


Audio is something of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, the fine details like musket fire, clashing sabers, roaring cannons, and rolling waves are all done beautifully.  On the other hand, the music is quite forgettable and the voices for units seems a bit lackluster.  Having different musical themes for the various factions during the campaigns might have been an option that the Creative Assembly could have explored.  Whether it could have been done without hampering other aspects of the game is a matter of conjecture.  Still, the developers are to be commended for what they got right in such detail.


There are two major issues which, to my mind, keep this game from the realm of "instant classic."  The first is the matter of the Grand Campaign.  It's a vast, world spanning, oh-my-God-that's-huge single player campaign that puts the player in charge of one of a number of factions, and have to face off against easily twice that number.  Even the "short" campaign is still sprawling and while I'm the first to ask for more out of my games, this is one instance where I think less might have been a bit better, at least from the outset.  The Grand Campaign is just that, but when it's that or the four chapter skimming of colonial American history, I kinda feel like there could have been a broader array of options presented.  This leads into my second complaint: the lack of a map and mission editor.  While I appreciate that the developers took the time to create some scenarios based off historical events like the Battle of Trafalgar, the Battle of Porto Novo, and the Battle of Brandywine Creek, I think I would like to have had the option to create more focused campaigns, such as a more detailed campaign based off the War of Austrian Succession, the French and Indian War and the Seven Years War (two halves of the same conflict), the American Revolution, or even the French Revolution.  No doubt there are grognards who are licking their chops at the thought of creating such campaigns, as well as more literary minded folks who'd like to bring heroes such as Horatio Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, and Richard Sharpe to life (albeit slightly anachronistically).  A minor complaint comes up with AI during the Grand Campaign.  On occasion, an AI general will essentially commit suicide, sending a unit that's totally ill equipped to execute a siege against a city, with predictable results.  I like that my defenders get experience and veterancy from that attack, but it's a battle that doesn't need to be fought and draws out the already lengthy turns of the Grand Campaign even further.  As a final and less pressing issue, the load times for the realtime battles are tortuously long, enough that it's possible to go make a sandwich and come back before the map finishes loading, and that's with a fast processor.


Empire: Total War is not for the historically faint of heart.  It's a sumptuous feast that has a lot of meat to it, though the meat could use a good carving knife to go with it.  If you've never felt the desire to give the enemy a whiff of grapeshot or can't tell a ship of the line from a bomb ketch, this game might not be for you.  Then again, it might be a perfect introduction to a more disciplined style of war, where actual cunning and tactics are required instead of a Zerg rush.  As for the grognards and other would-be armchair admirals and field marshals, this game should already be on your hard drives by now.


- Axel Cushing

(May 4, 2009)


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