Flash of Steel header image 2

Empire: Total War

August 22nd, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Creative Assembly, Napoleonics, Preview

Announcement and screens here.

Now for the fisking.

Empire: Total War is set in the 18th century, a turbulent era that is the most requested by Total War’s loyal fan base and a period alive with global conflict, revolutionary fervour and technological advances. With themes such as the Industrial Revolution, America’s struggle for independence, the race to control Eastern trade routes and the globalisation of war on land and sea, Empire: Total War promises to be amongst the richest and most dynamic PC RTS games of all time.

The 18th century is almost the perfect hundred years for this sort of game because this was when Europe started going nuts on the rest of the world. Colonies in the Americas were on a firm foundation by 1700, India was slowly brought under British suzerainty, England had its Industrial Revolution (the rest of the world waited) and Europe itself had lots of wars.

Great Northern War
War of the Spanish Succession
Russo-Persian War
War of the Polish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years War
Russo-Turkish Wars
French Revolutionary Wars

Plus lots of little ones not really worth mentioning. Plus the American Revolution.

Empire: Total War will see the debut of 3D naval combat within the Total War franchise. PC Gamers will be able to intuitively command vast fleets or single ships upon seascapes rich with extraordinary water and weather effects that play a huge role in your eventual glorious success or ignominious defeat. After pummelling your enemy with cannon fire, close in to grapple their ship and prepare to board taking control your men as they fight hand to hand on the decks.


Look, I understand the desire of Total War players to have Total Control and naval warfare was always just out of your reach. But I am very, very pessimistic that they can make real time sailing combat both as convincing as the land battles and as easy to manage. Will I have to deal with the wind? If not, then it’s even more arcade stuff in a series that occasionally teeters on the brink of madness. If so, then the interface better be freaking amazing. Because a “vast fleet” could be problematic.

A caveat applies here, of course. I don’t really like naval wargames all that much.

Real time battles will pose new challenges with the addition of cannon and musket, challenging players to master new formations and tactics as a result of the increasing role of gunpowder within warfare.

Increasing role of gunpowder? In the 18th century? It’s well beyond “increasing” at this point. You’ll have some Scots running around with claymores and the usual sabre/lance cavalry thing. But gunpowder’s role in the 18th century isn’t just “increasing”. The battle’s over. Guns won.

Cannon is another matter altogether. The use of mobile artillery really gets moving in the 18th century. Of course, this isn’t an issue for Total War, since I can shift my trebuchet around like a traffic cone in Medieval 2.

And the Campaign Map – for many the heart of Total War – will see new improved systems for Trade, Diplomacy and Espionage with agents, a refined and streamlined UI, improved Advisors and extended scope taking in the riches of India, the turbulence of Europe and the untapped potential of North America.

Bigger maps are good. How will they handle India and North America, though? Will Mysore and the Shawnee be neutral “rebels” or useable factions? How important will the colonial economy be to strength in Europe? (Gaming convention dictates that power in the New World leads to power in the Old, though, historically speaking, colonies were as often a drain on resources as an asset.)

Empire will try to conquer your heart sometime next year.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Scott R. Krol

    “Increasing role of gunpowder? In the 18th century? It’s well beyond “increasing” at this point.”

    Interestingly enough around the beginning of the 19th century the British commissioned a study on comparing longbows to muskets. It was found that the English longbow had better range, rate of fire, and penetration than the contemporary muskets. So why didn’t the English take on Nappy with bows? The economy had shifted too much to the industrial base to support mass production of old fashioned bows, not to mention the loss of training that was once required for every able bodied English gentlemen older than twelve on the bow.

    Wasn’t there also another Total War-ish game centered around the 18th and 19th centuries? Age of Glory, maybe? I remember it got so-so reviews and was supposedly quite buggy, which drove me away from pursuing it.

  • Troy

    Interesting story. Richard Gabriel halfway argues that ancient bows and slings would have been very serviceable weapons well into the 18th century since there was no real armor to speak of and they tended to be more accurate.

    You’re thinking of Imperial Glory, a bug-ridden game that also minimized the importance of morale in period warfare, so every battle wore down your victorious army since it had to eliminate everything on the field.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Yeah, that sounds rather wonky. More like your typical RTS than a supposed historical title.

  • Krupo

    Well Sid Meier’s… crap, I was going to cite the 5 on 5 fleet battles of Pirates! before I remembered that the best you got was 1 on 3 (IIRC), and you were *always* the “1”. Even if you *did* have 5 ships (the other 4 were just the “Blackhawks” that extracted you after getting blown away, similar to Gunship 2000… what a fun game…)

    Still, if you could get the ships in some sort of formation – perhaps following a lead ship, you could definitely play with the wind and still do something smart.

    I’m thinking AI control of the fleet, with you micromanaging a ship-at-a-time, perhaps your flagship or whatever is most maneuverable.

    It sounds awesome, actually – if they’re up to the challenge, I welcome the advent of full-on control. ;)

    I was thinking about that whole “accuracy of longbows” point… the fact that training got shuttered would no doubt be a good reason to explain the loss – it’d be fun to try the game ahistorically, deploying your triple-gold-chevron archers against Bonie.

    Oh, and I wonder if E:TW will finally allow you to “upgrade” units, so you’re not stuck with an obsolete little “town militia” unit when there are better alternatives? I’m afraid they won’t, but it would be nice if you *could* do that, for a price…

  • Gunner

    The other thing about the use of gunpowder in this era is that pikes were still being used somewhat into the 18th century. The traditional date for adoption of the bayonet by most European armies and subsequent obsoleting of the pike was 1700. However, many more Eastern nations such as Poland, Russia, and Sweden continued using the pike for more than twenty years after that. So I think it would be fair to say that gunpowder based weapons did see an increase in their role over the first half of the 18th century.

    In any case, the reason that the pike became obsolete is not “gunpowder” per se, rather it was the ability to efficiently combine the firepower of muskets with the shock/cavalry stopping power of the pike through the socket bayonet. When looked at that way, you could say that the use of melee weapons wasn’t really decreasing in favor of gunpowder so much as just combining the two roles into one soldier.

  • Michael A.

    The Longbow only had greater range, accuracy and rate of fire in the hands of a trained user, of course. And since “trained user” in this context means “trained since birth”, re-introducing longbows would have been a long-term project.

    Kind of like the Danish king ordering the planting of 90,000 oak trees for future ship-building after the total destruction of the Danish navy in 1807.

    Regarding E:TW, I have to admit that I have had a hard time getting excited about any of the titles since Shogun. In this case, the things you mention (naval battles as well as the peculiarities of 18th century warfare) leaves me rather … meh. Hope springs eternal, though…