The Games Of Christmas: December 19th

By RPS on December 19th, 2009 at 12:26 pm.

It's a hand me down
We all want to rule the world. Occasionally, we get to, assuming we have enough spare time. We celebrate this fact via a precious window of the seasonally festive advent-o-calendar. But of which game do we speak? Follow the a-pointy appointed hand of the one true leader of the Autobots to discover…

Empire: Total War!

Jim: The big strategy franchises all seem to be undergoing difficult changes. Creative Assembly’s attempt to bring Total War into a slightly-more-modern era has been one of the most interesting to watch, not least because of the sheer scale of the game. Of all the strictly-PC games out there, the Total War games remain the most impressive in terms of ambition, and in terms of the intensity of feeling that it inspires in its community.

I’m aware that I’m one of the most keen Total War fanboys in the games press. When things come to shouting, such as previous years of the PC Gamer top 100, I’ve always been keen to argue up the placing of Creative Assembly’s efforts, because there’s hardly another game that better characterises what the PC can do. The same was true of Empire. At the strategic, campaign-map level Empire was largely what I wanted from the next Total War game. It was magnificently detailed, absolutely enormous, and drew me into trade wars, colonial imperialism, and made my games truly international. Previous Total War games had been both without decent diplomacy, and largely relied – in my hands at least – on complete land war dominance. So it was refreshing to be forced to deal with the high-seas, and to have to think about naval dominance. I was utterly engrossed.

On the tactical battlefield maps things were equally shiny, but perhaps a little less nuanced. I don’t think the Total War way of doing things has translated brilliantly into the era of firearms, even though the line infantry were as well handled as I could imagine them being. That said, I ended up playing less of these in single player, and more of them multiplayer, precisely because the AI didn’t seem happy with its new role as a rifleman. The naval battles too were unwieldy, and have been patched into something far less interesting than what we had at the outset.

Nevertheless this is clearly one of the most important games of the year. It was a game that I felt both thrilled and disappointed by. Like much of our Christmas list, I feel that it was a flawed classic: a great work of game-design hamstrung by production problems and design failures. The enormity and richness of it made it impossible not to be positive and excited about it, but there were numerous reasons to be unhappy with the state it finally arrived in. It is now, thanks to the most recent patch, close to the condition it probably should have been on launch, and with the co-op campaign turning up, it finally has all the functionality we wanted from it all along. 2009 has been the year of Empire, but only just.

Kieron: I had a lot to say about Total War this year, and never really got around to saying any of it. I was thinking of the idea of tradition of strategy games, and the maxilimalist part of it which Total War belongs. It’s not about strategy in the chess way. It’s about something else – the illusion and fantasy of command, the filigree of detail in a Total War game more like the city-scape of GTA4 than Civ. Point being: not all strategy games are the same. I suspect I’d have argued its corner far stronger if it hadn’t been released in such a buggy state. After all, fighting something’s corner only really works when you feel they’re fighting for you too.

The buggy thing was an interesting one. I was chatting with an editor around release, and he noted that it was the sort of thing which shows how the reviewing game has changed in the modern world. The reviewers went in and, to a man, didn’t notice the fact the AI didn’t do any naval invasions. The game’s released. And then all it takes is one person to notice it, post about it and then it’s out there and the whole world is screaming. And rightly so.

You think you’d have spotted the AI doesn’t invade by sea by yourself? I suspect you’re fooling yourself, at least in the first thirty-to-forty hours with it. Anyone playing Germany wouldn’t. That’s that much time without even sight of the sea. But once you’ve noticed it – or had it pointed out for you – you can never un-notice it. It’s there. Total War has always a game which has embraced smoke-and-mirrors – as said earlier, it’s a game which likes illusion – but to have such a great gaping hole in its simulation brought it down. It’s a game which requires you to take it seriously. After that, you couldn’t.

It’s in a better state now, of course, but you know that Creative Assembly – more than any major PC Developer this year – has burned the last of their goodwill with Empire. They have everything to prove now.

, .

64 Comments »

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  1. bill says:

    Haven’t played this. But while I applaud their ambition, from previews I wonder if they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew. Or at least expanded it to the point of obscure complexity.

    For some reason, of the ones I’ve played, my favorite has always been Shogun. I liked the board-game like simplicity, and then simple interaction between the units. Almost more like a real-time risk (with morale and fatigue, etc.. moddled) than their later games. I felt it allowed more focus on HOW you played, and less focus on the gameplay elements.

    But i’m simple.

    • Sobric says:

      I agree completely, I really like Shogun. There was a Rock-Paper-Scissors model with the basic units (to be blown out of the water by the Mongolian Invasion expansion, which made Mongolian horsemen greater than anything on the battlefield) that appealed to me, and also made the AI surprisingly challenging.

      I also fondly remember the Ninja videos and voice-acting of your advisor (“My lord! We have killred the enemy Generarl!)

    • CMaster says:

      Yes, there was a lot to like about Shogun.
      But I went back to it not long ago, and have to say it hasn’t aged very well.
      No option to end the battle when either side retreats. You have to watch as every last soldier is chased off the field, with no speed-up.
      Unit control is rather clunky all around.
      Etc

    • Senethro says:

      There most certainly is speed-up. Watching all your little horsey men go crazy and turn all the fleeing black dots into red splats in 2 seconds was one of the rewards of winning.

      Shogun best in the series. It didn’t overreach itself.

    • Wooly says:

      I want a Shotgun Total War.

    • Collic says:

      I’m not surprised to see this on the list, but I’m glad you’ve also taken pains to point out some of the games shortcomings. I am certainly among the established fan base that feels cruelly let down by empire (been playing them since the first medieval).

      The state the game was released in was appalling; it simply didn’t work. At the time I found myself cursing the mainstream press for not noticing any of these glaring technical problems, but in retrospect, it’s hard to recognize major problems with a game of this size. Once you notice the little, ever so slightly retarded man behind the curtain, it ‘s impossible not to, though.

      I’ve posted here before that I’ve given up on the game and that much is true. I’m not sure if it’s improved substantially yet (I did wait a LONG time for that, but the improvements never seemed to make enough of a dent), and the multi-player campaign seems cool, but I’m just fed up of being disappointed, so uninstalled it stays.

      Will I ever buy another CA game, or give this one another shot ? I honestly don’t know, but they have a hell of a lot of work to do if I’m ever going to be convinced buying another is a good idea.

  2. AsubstanceD says:

    Hundred hours of gameplay or so can’t lie. I love this game, just don’t look for the flaws and enjoy!

  3. Heliosicle says:

    I would agree with Kierons last part – I will never pre order a CA game again, and I will wait a few months before I get it. I’m not even thinking about getting Napoleon..

    On another note, STALKER benchmark is out, seems pretty well optimised!

    • bookwormat says:

      @Heliosicle I would say that this is a good advice for any kind of product. Not just videogames from Creative Assembly. Buying at release has next to no advantages, but lots of disadvantages.

  4. Hmm says:

    Oh, it’s not the developers that burned their goodwill with this one. It’s the reviewers.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Hmm: Oh, we lost that a long time ago.

      KG

    • Hmm says:

      Is this a royal “we”?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Hmm: I think you’ll find I lost it when I didn’t big up Spelunky enough for Quinns liking. Do keep up.

      KG

    • Hmm says:

      Oh, I wasn’t doubting you had, Kieron. I just wasn’t sure about other reviewers.
      (secretly though, Spelunky is overrated)

    • Ozzie says:

      It isn’t, since it’s a unique game. I never like roguelikes because they’re so unintuitive to play. And you have to remember so many keyboard shortcuts.
      But Spelunky takes the randomization and permanence of a roguelike and makes it easy to play. It’s genius for the concept, but it also plays incredibly well. And it can be quite addictive…

    • Ozzie says:

      So, what is actually the best game in the series? Medieval? Rome?

    • Collic says:

      The first medieval game has the best atmosphere of any of them. I still love it. The campaign AI was a lot better too, probably because it had so much less to deal with. Of course it looks pretty aged these days, but if you can put up with that, check it out.

      The other one of note is Rome, of course. It’s a toss up between that and medieval between which is better imo. If you want one which stands up graphically, go for that one. I hear a lot of good things about kingdoms, as well (didn’t grab that expansion, so I can’t say).

    • jalf says:

      Hum, tough one. MTW was my favorite in its time. It’s a bit dated now, especially in terms of graphics, but fundamentally, I think it’s the best game in the series. Fun battles and a campaign map that worked far better than the ones in RTW/MTW2. ETW makes some improvements to the campaign map again, but I still prefer the simplicity and elegance of the MTW one. When I play a Total War game, I don’t really want to be bogged down in a Civ-clone.

      Also, MTW had some fun features that really brought out the “total war” aspect. Letting you take prisoners during battle, and either kill them immediately during the battle, or ransom them (or kill them after the battle), and the ability to assassinate your own generals and kings was just brilliant.

      The fact that your generals can start a civil war, effectively tearing your nation in two, or that you get to **choose** whether to continue playing as the royalists or rebels just added a lot to the atmosphere of brutality and cynicism.

      And battles just worked pretty well. Lots of widely different unit types, and terrain (both elevation and vegetation) had a big effect on tactics.

      But as I said, it’s a bit dated today, so I’m not sure if it’s my favorite to play today. But in term of its design philosophy, it’s my favorite in the series.

      Today, I prefer either ETW (despite its bugs, it’s a good, fun game) or MTW2.

    • Ozzie says:

      Oops, sorry for the replay failure. :-/ Shouldn’t have been nested…
      …anyway, thanks for the answers! So I guess Medieval is still worth a look then…

  5. bookwormat says:

    http://blogs.sega.com/totalwar/2009/11/10/battle-ai-by-mike-simpson/

    Just before the end of Empire the lead Battle AI programmer left CA to return to his family up north. Unfortunately, thanks to Mr Wilberforce’s efforts 200 years ago we couldn’t stop him. It left us with a battle AI, which at that stage, struggled to beat good players in a fair fight, and was pretty much at the mercy of great players, even with a level of handicap (I call it cheating) that is all too obvious.

    Since then we’ve had our most talented programmers pick up where he left off, but becoming the master of a chunk of code that took almost three years to write is not an instant thing. In the updates so far we’ve got rid of some of the worst behaviours that are close to the surface, and have started to tackle deeper issues like unstable decision loops that cause the AI to mill around rather than hold its line and fire. We’re also starting to add new behaviours, for example taking better advantage of hilly terrain. These improvements take the code further than we’ve been able before and will be there for Napoleon but we’re not sure yet whether we’ll be able to reverse them back in to Empire in a future update – the code has moved on. If we can we will.

    • Pod says:

      ONE GUY wrote the entire AI for this game?
      Did they not think that was over ambitious?

    • Taillefer says:

      That is pretty shocking. It said on aigamedev that Assassin’s Creed had 15-20 AI programmers, which lead to a poll on AI team size. Unfortunately the poll results won’t load for me, which is a shame. Anybody care to share any insights on the typical number?

    • Bhazor says:

      Well it worked out fine with Gal Civ 2.

    • MrMud says:

      While I understand how hard battle AI must be to code the sad fact of the matter is that if your AI cannot play the game you are making then you need to change the game until it can.

  6. Pidesco says:

    The really unforgivable thing about the no naval invasions bug is that this was a bug that existed in previous iterations of Total War and was fixed in a patch. For it to come back again is just incredible

    Also regarding reviewers not noticing the bug, I’d imagine that many English and American reviewers would start off playing England. And how the hell do you not notice the bug when playing on an island?

    Oh, and another thing that annoyed me immensely and significantly reduced the games appeal was the removal of one of the best features introduced in Rome: The battle map no longer reflects the campaign map location. Not only does it remove one of better strategic aspects of Total War, but also means that you end up playing the same battles over and over again.

    All in all this was probably the worst purchase I’ve made this year.

    • luminosity says:

      After a few false starts I ended up playing as England. I didn’t notice the lack of naval invasions, possibly because me, Spain and France were busy tussling over America. I kinda figured it was concentrating its forces there. Everyone else was too afraid to declare war on me. I can see how reviewers could miss it.

  7. Dominic White says:

    Empire is the Bioshock of the series.

    It’s the best-selling, best-reviewed game in the series by far. And then you look at the internet, and apparently CA are worse than Hitler, and rectal cancer is preferable to playing the game.

    I’ve seen maybe a couple of paragraphs TOTAL written positively about the game, across the entire internet. It’s amazing.

    • Collic says:

      I agree, but I think Bioshock has a lot more going for it than empire. It worked on release, for one thing.

      If you’re a long-standing fan of the series there’s a lot to be disappointed about. CA also hyped up quite a few aspects of the game that never transpired. A lot of people do like it, but many of us were very disappointed, and the first impressions are very important when it comes to games.

      It’s hard to undo the damage a broken title causes; as a buyer it’s harder still to enjoy a game after the bugs and technical problems have driven you to putting it back on the shelf out of frustration. You just reach a point were you say screw it, and move on to something that’s more rewarding.

      The people CA really alienated were those of us who have bought many of the previous titles. We spent a long time waiting and when we realised what we got wasn’t actually very good… well, it’s not hard to see how they’ve lost their goodwill among their old fan base.

    • jalf says:

      You mean that Bioshock worked *for you* at release. Certainly not for everyone.
      It had, and still has, mouse issues that makes it virtually unplayable on some systems.

      It crashed on my computer when it was released.

      ETW worked when I bought it at release. It was fun to play, despite its flaws.

    • Collic says:

      My experience with Empire was the opposite of yours. On release I couldn’t actually play it all. It would lock up my computer on the logo intros requiring hard restarts.

      My essential problem with Empire is that it didn’t deliver what *I* expected of a total war game, having been a long-standing fan of the series. In contrast, Bioshock (I did love system shock 2, and no, nothing can match up to it) was pretty much as advertised – although the whole ‘moral choices’ aspect turned out to be pretty inconsequential.

      I shouldn’t generalise by saying one game was broken and not another, since all games have problems, but my experience with Empire was the worst I’d had with any game for a long time, and my issues with it went deeper than 0-day technical issues.

  8. autogunner says:

    didnt love this game as much as I should have – I felt the complexity of juggling 3 strategic maps, a navy and at least 5 armies AND a more complex domestic system was too much for me to handle. Add to that the battles just not being as fun as the previous games, I felt I wasnt getting enough out as I was putting in compared to the kingdoms add on – defending jerusalem from 10,000 jihadists including generals with a combined comamnd values of 25+ stars – EPIC.

  9. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    AI’s still broken (among other things) and CA is blaming the fanbase for any and all negative criticism of the game. And they’re selling us DLC instead of the modding tools they *promised* us. Go get stuffed CA. And release a patch that makes MTW compatible with modern graphics cards so that I can play something worthwhile.

  10. Pod says:

    I think E:TW is compelte horse-poop. I played one full campaign, but by the end of it the RT battles were soo boring that I was just auto turning those, and it’s at this point that you realise you’re playing a crap 4X game, so I just game up.

    Yesterday I was challenged to an online game, so I was reminded of why is disliked the real time battles so much — there’s just no information about what’s going on. My cannons were turned sideways for half the game because I hadn’t noticed they’d aimed at a lone horse that was galloping away, so they were completely useless. I had no way to know this was going on other than the lack of long ranged death on my enemy. Similiarily, units would just flee when I wasn’t looking at them, but I wasn’t told about this, or even told _why_. They were just running away, that’s all I knew.

    The same happened to my opponenet. He seemed to have overwhelming forces at one point, but when I look at that part of the battle again, he had almost as many men as I did — where did they all go? Why wasn’t I told I had the upper hand, etc?

    At least my opponenet attacked me all at once, etc, rather than sending a squad at a time to it’s death as the AI did.

    • sinister agent says:

      The very firt battle I had sank it for me. I was Turkey, with two basic melee units and one ranged. The enemy was Russia, with two ranged units and one set of cannon. Could go either way, really, depending on the terrain. I was attacking, so the Russians were able to set up.

      The map loaded, and they were on a hill. At that point I realised I was pretty much screwed, but started the battle anyway…. and both enemy rifle units walked off. They just walked off halfway across the map to sit in some trees, leaving the cannon alone. So, I casually walked up the hill and took the cannon. Then they sent one unit out after me, up the hill. With them obliterated, the units in the woods (not even obscured – I could see them from well out of range) sat there and waited for me to walk down the hill and finish them. I know that some generals etc. are supposed to make tactical errors, but seriously? I basically won by just clicking once on each enemy and sitting back with a cup of tea.

    • Bhazor says:

      1) Well you hadn’t told your cannon not to fire there. No AI is psychic, tell them what you want.
      2) Holding your mouse over a units flag will tell you their morale state and what is having the greatest effect on this (Confident: feel secure on hill, Wavering: in melee with cavalry)
      3) The bar to the left of the map shows who has he most manpower on the field.
      4) In my experience only uses single unit attacks if I’m in a very secure position, and they’re trying to draw me out into the plains.

      So essentially it’s your fault.

    • Fumarole says:

      Ahem, disabling automatic targeting for artillery and looking at the unit markers every so often solves these problems.

  11. archonsod says:

    It’s the only Total War I’ve really been able to love. Rome had a wonderful atmosphere, but the battles pretty much boiled down to sending more men with pointy sticks than the other guy. That and the hilarious lemming tendencies of troops on walls. Shogun again nice atmosphere, but the AI was comically bad and the sieges laughable. Never thought much of either of the medieval games, in fact the best I could say about the second was the pre-battle speeches were amusing.

    • Funky Badger says:

      Military tactics boils down to having miore, harder bastards than the other guy. Its very simple, Guderian’s treatise on armoured warfare boils down to “Tanks are cool. More tanks are cooler.”

      The tank rush works, in fact, its doctrine…

  12. Nimic says:

    Bought it on release, played it for a couple of days, and haven’t touched it since. It had nothing on Rome, or even Medieval 2, in my opinion. The fancy shooty battles just didn’t appeal to me, and the multitude of bugs got very annoying very fast.

  13. Serenegoose says:

    I only have one problem with the current state of Empire: Everyone hates you and goes to war with you – no matter who you play as, within a few turns, it’s world war, 1 and 2, and you’re germany both times. Your navy gets hounded interminably, all your ports end up shut, and you go bankrupt in a minute. I know it’s a total war game. I don’t -want- to win a diplomatic victory. But if it’s going to be like that… it -really- needs a reasonable diplomatic AI.

  14. Pijama says:

    Jim has to play Paradox games.

    Europa Universalis + Victoria convey a much greater feeling of “empire” than E:TW. Sadly, it only has the virtue of it’s graphics on their side when compared to them… I was genuinely interested and antecipating it only to find a mess on release (way to go Sega) and the silly DLC units.

  15. Ozzie says:

    So, what is actually the best game in the series?? Medieval? Rome?

    • Lilliput King says:

      Are you looking for someone to tell you which one to like more?

      Rome, ‘cos of spartans ‘n that.

    • Ozzie says:

      No, not really. I played Rome: Total War, but I thought it wasn’t…my game.
      …I have the Total War: Eras collection, but I’m hesitant to try another of these. But if anyone says “Medieval is the much better game” (which I thought was the case before I read the PC Gamer Top 100 anyway), then….well I don’t think I will try it anyway, but who knows. ;-)

  16. Will Tomas says:

    Well, according to PC Gamer’s thing, Rome is. Personally I had the most fun with Medieval 1 – I think Medieval 2 is a poorer version of Rome, Shogun was amazing, and the game that got me into strategy games full stop, but the first medieval just beats it out. I actually like Empire, and let’s not forget the AI in all total war games has been rather suspect. That it was in Empire too is sadly just a continuation – but it has never been a game-breaker for me.

  17. Andrew Dunn says:

    For all its flaws, many of which are now fixed, Empire is the strongest of the ‘second generation’ Total War games. Rome had a troubled birth and was great despite this, but is still far buggier than Empire, and Medieval 2 was a better game than Rome but a bit unwieldy. Empire is a better game than the two previous ones, easily, in my opinion. However, if you prefer your Total War to be based around a campaign map with defined provinces and a chess-board mentality to the map of Europe, then Medieval: Total War still reigns supreme and it does have aspects that were unfortunately dropped in later releases, such as every single unit having a named commander who could gain traits, and – until Empire – the dismountable units were unique to Medieval 1.

    Many people dislike Empire more for the periphery of the game – the difficulty in modding it, the bugs on release, the DLC controversy – than for the gameplay itself. Which is fair enough I guess, but for my part the bugs that I encountered – and they were many – didn’t stop me wanting to play more, which is the mark of a great game for me. And the crashing stopped with the first patch and subsequent patches have substantially improved the game, and the DLC – though disquieting in principle like most DLC – is cheap and of high quality, so I have no problem with splashing out on it occasionally. Price of a pint and all that.

    • Bhazor says:

      There are cavalry gunners who can dismount. Forget their name but their essentially just linesmen who ride horses to where you need them.

      Also I do agree with pretty much everything you said, especially the bit about Rome being broken on release, but the best game in the series is definitely Medieval Total War 2: Kingdoms.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      Aye, like I said – until Empire. Medieval 2 was very good but its silliness over training separate mounted and dismounted versions of the same unit was, well, silly.

    • Fumarole says:

      Medieval 2 has knights that can opt to fight mounted or on foot.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      No, it doesn’t! It has entirely separate units called things like Feudal Knights and Dismounted Feudal Knights.

  18. Mark-P says:

    CA burned the last of my goodwill with Medieval 2. I still feel silly for buying Kingdoms. I desperately want the Total War games to be as great as their potential suggests. But it’s not happening. A strategy game needs competant, believable AI, and CA can’t or won’t provide it.

    • Dominic White says:

      Keep in mind that they’ve only relatively recently come up with a human-grade Chess AI. They’re still nowhere near that with Go, which is a game with only one type of piece and a very small ruleset.

      Your average Total War game has thousands of pieces in play, each of which with highly variable stats further altered by altitude, stamina, morale and more, and the ‘board’ is a massively complex 3D environment. It’s a herculean task, bordering on the impossible.

      The few games I can think of where the AI is on a level playing field and genuinely praised are shooters like Half-Life, which actually make heavy use of mapper-set nodegraphs and semi-scripted encounters.

    • Funky Badger says:

      AI is hard, lots of players don’t realise that. So much whining about L4D(2) AI for example, just getting a human to process all the variables then make the correct decision in a split second can take years f practise…

    • Vinraith says:

      @Funky Badger: Actually the problems with the friendly AI in L4D could have been easily remedied by providing players the ability to give instructions to their AI allies, even if they were just pretty basic. All I really wanted was “stand there” and “follow me closely,” anything else would be icing.

    • Collic says:

      Compare Empire’s AI to Gal Civ 2’s. It doesn’t have to be Deep Blue, it just has to be competent. If there are too many features available to the player (and AI) to enable it to be competent, dial some of them back.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Collic

      Or, alternatively, make the AI somewhat asymetric. There’s no reason the AI should have to play like a human player would, indeed it should be far easier to make an interesting and challenging AI opponent if they aren’t trying to do so.

  19. Zwebbie says:

    Empire is an odd one. On paper, it’s the best Total War game out there by far – being able to raid buildings, no more clumsy diplomates, more regions than ever, factions populating the entire world (as opposed to Rebels), naval battles, you name it.
    In reality, it doesn’t have much soul. Kings are reduced to diplomacy modifiers, all the European factions are pretty much the same and generals are all the same 3-star bland bastards who have been ‘mentioned in the dispatches’.
    I’ve only played the games from Rome onward, and I like that one best. There’s a huge difference between playing the Romans, with their well-trained heavy infantry, the Greeks, who are invincible from the front, the Gauls, who overwhelm their enemies, the Carthaginians, who rely on their Elephants, and the Germans, who try to smash the enemy’s morale. In Empire, it’s Line Infantry for everyone. Some are a tad better than others, but I believe 10 units of Prussian Line equal 11 units of Russian Line, so that’s negligible.
    I thought Kingdoms was a step forward in the series again, in the sense that its scripting allowed for more personality than M2 had. Factions had unique situations, like the Lithuanians having to choose a faith, the English having to cope with that nasty Baron’s Alliance, the Spanish having to recruit mercenaries to complement their small team of crack units, and so forth. Empire? Yeah, not so much.

    Well, I don’t want to list everything I like about previous Total War games, so I’ll just summarise and say that while Empire technically sounds like the most impressive game, it lacks soul and atmosphere, which, IMO, is more important than strategy in a TW game.

  20. Vinraith says:

    Empire is the second game I’ve purchased at full price in the digital distribution era that I wished I could return (the first was Sins of a Solar Empire). It seems like about once a year I get really excited about a game (usually a strategy game) only to find that the picture of the game I got from the press and the developers was quite simply a picture of a totally different game. In the case of the Total War games, my interest is more in the modding than the vanilla game. Rome: TW was good, the mods made it great. The same goes for Medieval 2. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the vanilla titles, per se, I just like a bit more history and a bit more strategy in my historical strategy than your average TW buyer.

    In the past, Sega/CA has created a game well catered to their audience, then left the games open to modding so the more gorgnardish among us could turn them into something more to our tastes. Empire was the first case where this didn’t happen, and we weren’t exactly warned in advance. I clearly should have waited, which is ironic since I preordered the game after having waited on Medieval 2 and Rome until they were cheap. I thought I’d been overly cautious with those, and that CA deserved some trust and the full price of a game after their marvelous work on those titles. Oi.

    I still have some small hope that they might get around to unlocking the files once they’re done selling substandard unit packs. I say “substandard” not because I know they are, but because CA must think they are if they’re afraid of competition from amateurs. Still, even if they do open the game up down the road, I suspect any chance of great things has passed for the game. It’s a pity, the thing had real potential.

  21. Eschatos says:

    Why the fuck can’t they do hotseat campaign multiplayer? The only thing they’d need to do different from what it is now is make battles only auto-resolve. Not even remotely difficult.

  22. Ziv says:

    “a great work of game-design hamstrung by production problems and design failures”
    ho is that possible? can you elaborate? how can a game be well designed and has design failures?

    • bookwormat says:

      @Ziv ‘Design’ is a very generic word, and it is used in many different aspects of software development. You need to design the Game, the software architecture, the APIs, the User Interface, your work processes etc..

      It seems to me that Empire has a badly designed AI architecture, as well as very bad designed process management. The game design in Empire I like a lot, except that they somehow thought the community does not play an important part in it.

  23. The Sombrero Kid says:

    the total war games get worse (i still thouroughly enjoy them) with every installment, shogun was totally focused, with every installment games take longer and battles become harder to understand, this coming from someone whose played them all, can you imagine what a new comer thinks.

    Trying to introduce my girlfriend to medieval 2 was a disaster, so much goes unexplained and all the units seem to do the same thing, they should drill right down to focus on a few locales and a small set of clearly defined varied units.

  24. Tim Ward says:

    The lack of invasions was far from the only AI problem reviewers should have spotted. The major one was that in the first iteration of the game, the AI controlled Empires literally didn’t do anything. They declare war on you, then they just sat there. My first campaign as Great Britain, I don’t think my cities were attacked even once or if they were attacked you could count the number of times on one hand.

  25. luminosity says:

    I loved the new strategy map in E:TW. Research, towns, more provinces, trading ports, gentlemen, diplomacy, all seemed massively more complicated, but in a manageable way, and it was really fun getting a working empire up from the first stages, till you’re a massive world power with a huge economy chruning out armies every turn.

    But the battles. Naval battles were almost impossible to understand. Sometimes you’d board a ship, and 100 invaders would be slaughtered by 20 defenders. Or ships would take one shot, no damage but their morale would go. And I never really did understand how I was supposed to use them to attack. It felt too hard to make an impact, and far to hard to learn what to do.

    And the land battles were worse. Super over powered native american units? Or having a few thousand gunman line up in two lines and fire at each other, random chance deciding whose morale broke first and fled? Any time I tried to do something remotely different or interesting it would make me lose. I managed to smash even massive armies in M2, on hardest, so I don’t think it’s my command chops but.. maybe? But even if I suck, there’s no excuse for battles being so damn boring. I ended up just auto resolving everything and sticking to strategic planning.

    Ick.