Empire: Total War Review for PC

On: PC
Naval battles are the big new addition, but Empire is a step up in all areas.
Naval battles are the big new addition, but Empire is a step up in all areas.

Naval battles are the big new addition, but Empire is a step up in all areas.

Preconception is probably the greatest enemy a game designer has to defeat. When a game series becomes a 'franchise' and has reached its third or fourth iteration, people's expectations and preconceptions are always going to edge towards the principle of diminishing returns. So when Empire Total War was announced, I was gripped by the ambivalence of both hope and cynicism. Hope that somehow Empire could live up to the hype, yet cynicism that Total War was now beyond its peak and descending into the grassy paddock to join other cash cow franchises. As we all know, when it comes to psychology mathematics, cynicism trumps hope every time. So my expectations for Empire, along with its much-vaunted naval combat, were not actually that great. Initial impressions were likewise "so far, so familiar", but I was reassured that once I had actually got stuck into a campaign, Empire is not content to rest on the laurels of its illustrious predecessors and is instead intent on treading new ground for the series.

The basic structure of the game remains as before, with the metronomic, gently-paced heart of the game on the strategic campaign map being pierced by the sharp stabs of frantic (and often spectacular) action as tactical battles are played out on land or sea in real-time. Small but significant changes have been made in every aspect of the game, so while Total War veterans may initially get a feeling of deja vu, the alterations do make themselves more obvious in the long term. The most striking difference is obviously the revamped graphics engine. Empire is without doubt the best looking Total War game yet, with an impressive amount of detail on the wonderfully animated campaign map. Given that here is where you're most likely to spend the majority of your time during a campaign, it was wise of Creative Assembly to put as much time into polishing this part of the game as they did. Units and cities are exquisitely detailed, with wisps of smoke rising from industrial chimneys and the reflections of ships shimmering in the water as fleets glide along coastlines. The game interface has also been refined, allowing easy access to the government, research and diplomacy screens, along with the very handy lists menu, that enables you to hunt down armies or agents with spare movement points with the absolute minimum of fuss. At the tactical level, there are also numerous improvements to the 3D engine, meaning that units are better animated and more detailed than ever before. This all has a cost, however: namely some slothful loading times and a fairly colossal install around the 15GB mark.

That hard drive footprint should give you an idea of just how big the game is. Empire is boldly epic in scale, reflecting the broadening of horizons as the expansionist powers of the 18th Century - such as Great Britain, France and Spain - travelled beyond Europe to colonise the new world. There are three theatres of war, Europe (including parts of North Africa and the Middle East), North America (including Mexico and parts of Central America) and the Indian sub-continent. With over 100 regions and over two dozen nation states (twelve of which are playable), there is not only a huge amount of diversity in military units, but also in the terrain to be fought over, taking in deserts, forests and everything in between.

The battles are intense and highly strategic

The battles are intense and highly strategic

All new for Empire is naval combat. This has a very different character from the land-based battles, as unit speed and effectiveness are no longer based on tiredness and morale, but damage levels to the hull and sails. Unit morale is still a factor in naval battles, however, as ships may surrender if too many casualties are taken, or may try to flee the action if they catch fire. Theoretically, fleet engagements are relatively simple affairs. Ships may fire three different types of cannon shot: the classic, large round shot used to damage the hulls of ships; chain shot, which can shred sails to reduce a ship's mobility; and grapeshot, which is best employed at close range to kill enemy crewmen in preparation for boarding and capture. Specialised ships, such as carronade frigates and bomb ketches that carry mortars or other indirect fire weapons, may also be researched and built, adding a further tactical dimension, but on the whole, the key to victory in naval combat is making best use of the prevailing wind and using the correct type of cannon shot as the opportunity presents itself. For example, rather than using a simple exchange of broadsides with round shot until one of the ships sinks, employing chain or grapeshot at an enemy's bow or stern can cripple a ship's ability to manoeuvre, without risking a counter-strike.

Naval battles are perhaps not quite as thrilling as those on land, mainly because the terrain is not as varied or interesting, but it certainly has its moments. The first time you see the gunpowder stores catch fire on a bomb ketch, causing the vessel to disintegrate in a huge fireball igniting any ships unfortunate enough to be nearby, will probably make you leap out of your seat. The naval combat is not without problems, however, as despite the intricate detail of the units, which goes right down to the uniforms on the marines scurrying around the decks, unless you assign units to groups and formations properly, you will end up having to intensively micromanage the battle in order to prevent your units ending up in a scruffy melee, unable to manoeuvre. There is also a fairly comical issue with some of the animation. For example, when a crew abandons ship, the seamen and marines can be seen treading water in perfect unison, like an Olympic synchronised swimming team. So while the naval battles are a welcome change of pace from the strategic map and the land-based battles, they're not exactly an unqualified success.

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Iain_McC's Avatar

Iain_McC@ willuk1987

It will depend mostly on whether the native resolution of your TV is better than your monitor or not. A 37" TV ought to be running in 1080i or 1080p, so will probably be a bit of a step up (in resolution terms) from a 17" monitor, which I would imagine would be running at around 1280x1024 resolution, assuming it's not a widescreen monitor.

If you can get the game to output to your monitor in 720p (which is around 1280x720 pixels) you shouldn't notice any performance hit. If you can only get it to output in 1080p (1920x1080), however, you may get a bit of slowdown.

I'd give it a try and see what it's like. I like to hook up my gaming laptop to the TV on an HDMI cable to have big screen World of Warcraft. Even at only 720p resolutions, it does look fantastic.
Posted 15:42 on 18 June 2009
willuk1987's Avatar

willuk1987@ Iain_McC

I have to say your right on the fact that XP manages memory better i have basically the same spec pc as you but 3gig of ram and a 1535mb graphics card and i have to have all the settings on ETW pritty low so i dont get any lag zoomed in during fights.
But 1 question if any 1 can answer im playing the game on my 37" LCD tv will that slow the game down rather than having it on my 17" LCD monitor?
Posted 19:35 on 14 May 2009
Iain_McC's Avatar

Iain_McC@ cenn

Cenn, I suggest you learn how to maintain your PC properly. Because my PC is over two years old, and I didn't have too many performance problems at all, other than the odd bug and graphical glitch.

It's more than playable on at 1680x1050 resolution on an AMD 64 X2 5200+ running on XP Pro with 2GB of RAM, a Soundblaster X-Fi and a 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS (which is my current spec), provided you don't push the anti-aliasing and other whizzy graphical effects too hard.

To call the game unplayable on 90% of machines out there is just plain wrong. Just because you didn't have the same experience as I did doesn't make the rating "rigged" - that's about as offensive as you can be to a games writer.

Defrag your hard drive, uninstall your graphics and sound drivers, reboot and reinstall the latest ones from scratch and make sure your machine is fully scanned for viruses and adware (and other nasties that might be hogging your system performance) and make sure you're not running loads of programs in the background, and if your PC is of a spec anything approaching mine, Empire should give you a more than playable frame rate.

If, by chance, you're running Vista, I'd also recommend that you think about putting in some extra RAM - you want at least 4GB if you're running Vista, because the operating system is terrible in the way it manages memory (the main reason I'm sticking with XP Pro for now). If you've already got 4GB of RAM and the game's still "unplayable", then the problem isn't with the game...
Posted 23:49 on 02 May 2009
thpcplayer's Avatar

thpcplayer

Sorry but i cant help you then did you ever go to systemreqslab.com to check whether you can run it secondly do you have an intel gpu what r ur specs?
Posted 07:29 on 14 April 2009
cenn's Avatar

cenn@ thpcplayer

tried on lowest settings possible...still plays like crap.
Posted 05:23 on 14 April 2009
thpcplayer's Avatar

thpcplayer

WEll, you have 1 and half year old computer that doesnt mean you can run all the games. Game is awesome!wonderful!
Go upgrade your pc and after that you will love that also, if you cant play it then try to decrease detail , play it on low settings you'll love this epic adventure called"empire total war"
Posted 07:32 on 12 April 2009
cenn's Avatar

cenn

Most of these ratings are rigged. This game either isn't playable or plays like crap on 90% of the computers out there. I got a computer that's 1 1/2 years old and it's unplayable. Everyone else that has this game says the same thing. This really needs to be taken into account when it comes to ratings.
Posted 06:36 on 12 April 2009
K3RT's Avatar

K3RT

Nice review might get this.
Posted 18:11 on 20 March 2009
thpcplayer's Avatar

thpcplayer

Awesome game is awesome gets a 9 from me. Unllike u tom, i didnot encounter any glitches game was awesome one of the best in year so far.
Gameplay-10
graphics-8
sound- 9
thats what i think. It could have easily got a 10 provided the already great graphics were a bit better. No worries the best startegy game in a long time even better than wic and company of heroes
Posted 07:30 on 16 March 2009

Game Stats

System Requirements
Empire: Total War
9
Out of 10
Empire: Total War
  • A huge amount of depth and replayability
  • Fantastic unit detail
  • The biggest, grandest Total War yet
  • A few bugs and glitches
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 04/03/2009
Platform: PC
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Real-time strategy
No. Players: 1 + Online
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 65
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