Games for 2008: Empire: Total War

Creative Assembly’s Total War strategy series seemed like an anomaly when Shogun turned up in the summer of 2000, but now it seems like one of the defining PC games. While the previous generations have focused on ancient or Medieval battlefield combat, with a touch of castle-cribbing, Empire is set to deliver something a little more modern: the European Wars that centered on Imperial France and the adventures of hyper-aggressive pipsqueak Napoleon Blownapart.

That means there are some pretty crucial differences in how those massed brawls play out – there’s a world of muskets out there. But there;s something even more impressive to consider in your Empire building: ships. The Battle Of Trafalgar (which was basically the Britain’s finest hour pre-World War II) is just around the corner…

This is the point at which the Total War series begins to be truly global. It’s going to be working hard to deliver a game that gets some of the historical context of the period right: much of the conflict will be in colonialism, and the map will span Europe, North Africa, America, India and South East Asia. Yep, it’s going to truly epic in scope. It still focuses on the European powers, of course, with Ottoman’s and the early Americas as the Thirteen Colonies playing their role on the early modern globe. Political events from the period are going to have some major effects on the way the game plays out – with the United States able to wrest itself from British influence, and the French able to overthrow their sovereign and kick up a Republican stink.

This most important aspect of the game, the campaign map, is going to be far more detailed than we’ve seen in previous games, with dozens of characters and far more detail on the cities, fortresses and docks that make up the strategic locations on the map. Making other areas than the cities vulnerable to attack should draw fights away from cities, and so cut down on the number of tedious sieges. Needless to say, there’s going to be a good deal more in the way of options embedded in there too, allowing you to deal with more diplomatic and economic tasks. There’s also far more scope for exploration – you’re going to want to send people off into the East if you want be successful. Riches won’t just turn up on your doorstep.

Combat has changed too. On the field you’re going to be relying on musket formations to bring to bear the best of your firepower, and there’s ragdoll physics in there too, making the whole flesh-versus-speeding metal object equation all the more graphic. On the all-new waves you’re going to manoeuvring your ships into that optimal broadside position to blow your rivals out of the water. The ships themselves are going to face both realistically modeled seas, and highly complex damage models: the cannons are going to deplete more than hit-points.

Few games have encompassed what we want from our desktop strategems with quite such ambition, and Empire seems to intend to take it a few leagues beyond what we had previously imagined. The reaction to this from players, however, should be the most interesting element of its arrival: will they actually take to both sea battles /and/ new battlefield combat dynamics? Are they going to miss the old fashioned archery-and-horses systems that have made Total War games so successful and so comprehensible? Possible. Probably. I can’t wait to find out.

We should have some more detail on this for you in a couple of months.


  1. Ben Hazell says:

    Woo, hussars!
    They better get Sean Bean on voice work…

  2. Nallen says:

    This is the unreleased game currently making the most disturbance in the force. And by ‘the force’ I mean ‘my trousers’. More informations please :)

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’m excited by this too. It seems the next real step forward in the series, after Medieval’s relative treading water. I do wonder how it’s going to do in terms of sales though. I’m not sure that Napoleonics are quite as POP!!!! as the Medieval or Rome-era settings.


  4. Dude says:

    Looks promising, I just hope the problem of “critical mass” won’t be present. In RTW and MTW2 once you secured a good base of operation you can steam roll the campaign without to much problem.
    Also please please make the AI to the level of shogun or MTW, both last game were really disapointing from this point of view, siege were just awful, once a breach was open the AI was throwing all her troups in it, easy slaugther….

  5. davidAlpha says:

    finally something to replace Cossacks at the annual xmas lan party. Huzzah!

  6. Mark-P says:

    I agree with all of Dude’s points. Like many strategy and management games, the Total War series suffers from a positive feedback loop, and once you’re past a certain point, winning a game becomes a tedious mop-up exercise.

    The AI in Medieval 2 was also poor, and that in the campaign map was bordering on broken. It was also very easy, with the game offering little challenge to a mediocre player like myself on Very Hard/Very Hard, since it did little to stack the deck numerically in favour of the sloppy AI in battle.

    ‘Put men with sticks in the middle, archers behind and flank with horsies.’ You’ll win nearly every battle in a slaughter on the highest difficulty. Rinse and repeat with virtually every battle. It’s getting pretty old, and since they don’t seem to be able to write an AI up to the task, perhaps it is a blessing that they’re moving into a new era with a new type of warfare.

    Combined with the now commonplace lack of post-release support by way of patches, I am personally very cautious about Empire. Modders can only do so much to fix a rushed and abandoned game, pretty as it is.

  7. Optimaximal says:

    As expansive as the Total War games are getting, I still don’t think they will ever square up to the majesty of…


  8. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    @ Ben: After his abysmal phoned-in performance in Oblivion, I’d rather they didn’t use him to be honest. It’d be a nice touch to have Richard Sharpe as one of the random General names though.

    Really looking forward to the game, although I’m somewhat more interested in the evolution of the land battles than the inclusion of naval battles. I’m just hoping CA haven’t bitten off more than they can chew with this one.

  9. realmenhuntinpacks says:


    medieval II was probably the last up-to-date game that worked on my aging pc, and barely at that.

    There’s no chance it’ll handle this. Stalker popped its tiny head. Although this will probably be the last straw, being unhealthily keen on TW and ships and that. Anyone email me a few grand, please?

  10. Sucram says:

    The issues I’ve had with the game since M:TW.

    1) The endgame campaign is just a management nightmare, (Shogun benefited from being on a small scale in this regard). They say they’ve improved the UI, we shall see. Oddly,I’d quite like more stat screens and overlays and the like, just so it’s easier to get an overview of your empire.

    2) Battles in the campaign just are not as interesting as the historical battles. Wouldn’t mind the campaign cheating a bit to generate interesting battles during the campaign.

    3) Bloooood, limbs, brains.

  11. cliffski says:

    I thought I was the only person left who still enjoyed cossacks?

    I think that the Napoleonic era is VASTLY underused in gaming myself. It had the brightest coloured armies of any conflict, so what’s not to love? plus people saying “jolly good show!” when the vanquish the enemy, and more diplomatic backstabbery than you can imagine.
    I liked Shogun and the first medieval, but I’m not sure that he real time battles ever progress too far beyond a massive pub fight tbh.

  12. Jim Rossignol says:

    Hmm, well you don’t need a few grand to get a beefy games PC these days. I keep saying Alec should knock up one of his cheap gaming PC specs for a post on here, just to show how cheap it can be done.

  13. dartt says:

    I cannot wait.

    The Napoleonic era is a particular favourite of mine. It’s a period full of colourful characters and from a gameplay standpoint it has a solid rock, paper, shotgun scissors relationship between unit types while also allowing you to subvert the formula with clever tactics (cavalry beat infantry except when infantry form a square…).

    The switch to a new engine(?) and a new setting gives the Creative Assembly an oppurtunity to implement new ideas and fix the issues that have meant the previous Total War games have been flawed diamonds rather than pure gold.

    It’s all very, very exciting.

  14. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    that would be nice

    I’m building up quite a backlog…

  15. dartt says:


    I want to see a General Harry Flashman

  16. Muscrat says:

    You mean:

    “The Force is strong….. IN MY PANTS” ;)

  17. Fumarole says:

    I’ve loved all of the Total War games so far, and I so no reason why this one will buck the trend. Grapeshot + massed lines of infantry + ragdoll physics? Yes please.

  18. Nallen says:

    Hmm, well you don’t need a few grand to get a beefy games PC these days. I keep saying Alec should knock up one of his cheap gaming PC specs for a post on here, just to show how cheap it can be done.

    I’d be very interested in that, I spent about £600 on mine over a year ago and it’s still playing everything fine, rare for a year old PC to be honest. That said it was an upgrade not a total build from scratch.

    Although now I think about that pretty much all that survived was the hard drives and monitors.

  19. Willem says:

    Alec should make a cheap PC post

  20. phuzz says:

    I’ve been planning a new PC, and I reckon I can knock up something pretty good for around £6-700, and that’s replacing everything inside the case, if only I had £600 to spend.

    Basic recipe would be:
    Core 2 Duo E8400 ~ £130
    Asus P5KR Mobo ~ £75
    Geforce 8800GT graphics ~ £180
    2Gb DDR2 Memory ~ £40
    Case ~ £40
    Power supply ~ £50
    Hard drive ~ £50
    [Windows ~ £70] (pretty essential for gaming I’m afraid)

    which works out at about £600…

    (not that I’ve spent long working out what I’d like to buy or anything)

  21. Phil says:

    Small point, but Napoleon wasn’t actually that much of a ‘pipsqueak’. At about 5.5 we was merely average for the age, though he did have a fondness from strapping six footer personal guards – hence the myths he was a dwarf.

    He did, however, have a tiny, tiny cock – a fact varified when it was pickled after his death and sold at auction.

  22. davidAlpha says:


    thats EXACTLY the pc i just ordered. gotta love that low prized 8800GT. If 600 pounds is still too much, you could also consider a E6600 or E6650.

  23. Okami says:

    Even despite all it’s obvious flaws (suicidal moronic AI, tedious end game) the Total War series is still one of my favorite game franchises ever. Maybe even evar!

    I don’t really care if Empire will adress these issues or not. Any game that allows me to crush the whole world under the iron heel of Habsburgian rule is great in my book.

    As for the whole Napoleonic Era beeing underutilized in games: A friend of mine and me still want to create “Battlefield: Tyrol”, an online multiplayer FPS recreating the guerilla war of a bunch of tyrolean farmers against the evil bavarians and their french masters.

    The best weapon is going to have a range of 100 metres and you’ll need at least 30 seconds to reload after every shot. The game’s gonna be soooo awesome!

    Ok, we really don’t have any ideas apart from bearded tyroleans in lederhosen fighting against bavarians in era style uniforms. We thought about including special units like Mecha Napoleon for the bavarians and Jesus Christ for the tyroleans (they are very religious after all) but we’re not decided on the subject yet.

    Anyway, I think we’re on to something here…

  24. Junior says:

    I agree with a lot that has been said, and i’m going to miss my very heavy general’s cavalry unit…

    But, I’m still SOOOOOOO Exited about a Total war that FINALLY Has ship battles!

    One man! Just doing the waves! Can you imagine how beautiful it will be!?


  25. Phil says:

    @Okami – I think a veteran Mecha Napoleon versus a fully tooled up Iron Duke would make for a kick ass end game.

  26. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    I can’t wait! I’ll play as the Americans and do what I always did when playing Sid Meier’s Colonisation – lose on purpose! That’ll teach them!

    This was in no way an attempt to make up for the fact i was shit at said game – it was pure patriotism.

  27. Turin Turambar says:

    I have a little problem with the Total War saga. I loved the first game, Shogun, becuase their realistic and very tactical battles, but all the sequels have focused more and more in the strategic side.

    So 4 games later, the combat is still the same, good but i would like CA spend more resources in upgrading and perfecting the battle system, instead of making the jump from Risk style strategic part to Civ style s.p.

  28. Andrew says:

    Looks interesting, I’ve got Medieval 2 which I’m starting to play, I might grab the expansion at some point too. Kind of “personal civilization” with RTS battles on a TBS campaign, which is neat.

    One thing I’d not mind knowing about is how good the AI is, especially since singleplayer is how I’ll be playing it. If the game has a single campaign and predicable AI, it might get a bit tiresome even if you can play as one of a dozen countries to start with. :)

    But it’s the nature of the game I suppose. I hope it can be modded to get Sharpe in though :D (nice Sean Bean comment Ben!)

  29. Mike says:

    I loved the name of the first image, ‘pewpew!’ :)

  30. Andrew says:

    Ah, this comments thread is hitting all the usual Total War discussion buttons already. :D The fallacy that M:TW and Shogun had better AI than Rome and Medieval 2, for one.


    Can’t wait for Empire. Going to be bloody epic.

    Also, even though the period is wrong (too early) I would damn well love to see a General Sir Harry Flashman. :D

  31. Sum0 says:


    That’s my planned PC too! Except I’m going for quad-core with the Q6600 or whatever it is.

    More to the point, I am actually more excited about Empire than I have been about any game in a looong time. It’s Total War, with proper guns and battleships. There is literally nothing to dislike.

  32. Reiver says:

    Better is rather subjective as while obviously not as complex i’d say the Ai was more competent on Shogun especially. The risk style map and the limited interaction with other factions meant the AI was put under less scrutiny, no retarded backstabbing or 1 turn sieging flip-flopping. On the strategy map it had to provide a constant challenge and I think it did that effectively. I never lost a game of RTW or M2 but the original games occasionally saw me beaten completely or at least suffering significant setbacks. The other thing they did was have rivals match pace with you. Quite often the end game would involve 2 or 3 mighty empires duking it out rather than the sweeping up of weak factions to get the requisite number of regions that Rome and M2 saw. So if better means effective at providing an enjoyable playing experience then I don’t think people have been fallacious .

  33. Garth says:

    “Hmm, well you don’t need a few grand to get a beefy games PC these days. I keep saying Alec should knock up one of his cheap gaming PC specs for a post on here, just to show how cheap it can be done.”

    I just built a computer for my girlfriend for 600 bucks, including in-store building, installing, GST, etc. It surpasses all of the Bioshock requirements, and can run TF2/Portal pretty much maxed.

    People say PC gaming is dying because you need to spend thousands to run new games, but that really isn’t true. I’ve had the same computer for two years and I ran Crysis with no problems.

    “‘Put men with sticks in the middle, archers behind and flank with horsies.’ You’ll win nearly every battle in a slaughter on the highest difficulty. Rinse and repeat with virtually every battle.”

    One battle I recall (vaguely) from Shogun I had was the ‘toughest’ quickplay or whatever it’s called game. You have your honour guard, pikemen, and archers, and you face a dozen or more peasant pikemen, archers, etc. It described it as an impossible to win situation, and mentioned standing on the hill and funneling the enemy to you.

    What I did, was charge straight through the green pikemen, scattering them, and then kill the enemy commander with my honour guard/pikemen, and archer anything trying to flank me. I ended up winning with very very few casualties.

    I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I’m still kinda proud of that.

  34. Vinícius says:

    So basically Empire: Total War will be Victoria – An Empire Under The Sun with kickass graphics and much easier interface. Hopefully.

    Also, it will have a good AI and the old depth found in Shogun and Medieval Total War. Hopefully.

    Annnnd, it will have historical events and a lot of detail which was forsaken in Rome (Flaming PIGS anyone? xD). Hopefully.

    Can’t bloody wait. :D

  35. Okami says:

    I never understood why the battlefield AI of Rome and M2 doesn’t match that of the 2D games. The RTS battles themselves haven’t changed that much in terms of mechanics, it’s just the presentation that changed.

  36. bbigs868 says:

    In terms of the AI being worse in MTW2 and Rome, this is certainly true. But there are a wealth of mods for these games compared to shogun and MTW that more than fix the AI: they make it better, while also in most cases adding more historical detail

  37. Will Tomas says:

    I’m a huge fan of the Total War series, it’s the only series I’ve played which gets so much so right, and appeals to me in a way that most strategy games simply don’t. I heart Total War, whatever the flaws (and there are some).

    But I know my PC can’t cope with what Empire wants it to do. If Alec could post a cheap gaming PC part list, that would be fantastic! [hint, hint…]

  38. Nobby says:

    I’m excited by this too. It seems the next real step forward in the series, after Medieval’s relative treading water. I do wonder how it’s going to do in terms of sales though. I’m not sure that Napoleonics are quite as POP!!!! as the Medieval or Rome-era settings.


    I think the Napolenic era might be good for the series. My dad’s into the table top games and this is the first non turn based war game he’s ever looked at and wanted to play without fear of it being ‘too fast’ for him.

    First this, then I’ll have him playing Sup Comm by the end of the year. :-D

  39. malkav11 says:

    I’m all about the deeper strategic map. Shogun’s strategic map was so anemic that it wasn’t any fun. But then, I’m a turn-based strategy gamer, and accept the real time tactical battling only because nobody else is really doing this style of game with the settings that the Total War series offers. (Except, to some extent, Paradox, and I find their games to be extremely intimidating.)

  40. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    I’ve been drooling over this ever since it was announced. The Total War series is the only strategy I even bother playing these last few years.

    Now I just have to Decide if i want to play as the Redcoats or the Spainards…. Shit..

  41. Kommissar Nicko says:

    At last, a Total War series where the firearms are practical; no longer will I have to create random battles in M2 consisting of all janissaries and fantasize.

  42. Willem says:

    Look guys, if you think that the AI was better in Medieval or in Shogun, you’re just plain wrong. I’ve played all the games (Except Shogun. Well, I played it a bit but it kept crashing) and can safely say that the AI has improved over time.

    In the first two games, the AI basically formed a line and walked towards you. Sure, it still does that, but it has plenty of neat tricks up its sleeve. The reason it looks like the AI is worse is that the game isn’t as simple as the first two games were. There’s far more details to take into account. And of course, sometimes, things go wrong and it shows. But all in all, the AI is far more challenging in the last two games. (It’s still very, very easy though)

  43. Mark-P says:

    Making the AI more complicated does not necessarily make it more effective. Very often in Rome and Medieval 2 it will dither hopelessly whilst you shoot it up with archers and artillery. In so many cases it would be better served by simply attack-moving all of its troops against yours once it enters range. Occasionally it will actually do this, and combined with the real combat bonuses the units get in Rome ( but not it seems in the M2 campgain mode ) can actually be a threat.

    The rest of the time it feels like playing a toddler at chess, and that’s neither enjoyable nor rewarding, no matter how shiny the pieces are.

    The battle AI is a difficult problem I know. I haven’t seen any significant improvements on it by modders ( unlike the campaign AI )
    I dislike this trend of leaving unfinished games for modders to complete. Firaxis were smart enough to actually employ one of these bright sparks for Civ 4 : Beyond the Sword, with great results. But now the cycle is complete, and they have abandoned that expansion with one slightly broken patch ( fixed by another modder ¬_¬ ) and moved on to focus on the console market with Revolutions. PC gamers are being taken for granted and now ignored and abandoned.

    It’s the publisher’s fault, and the result of money talking and there is probably nothing we can do to stop it as customers. I see no reason to expect that Creative Assembly will reverse a trend they have been leading for pretty graphics, broken fundamentals and lousy patch support.

  44. Matt says:

    Looking forward to this, the naval battles on MTW2 that took place on the campaign map were pretty pointless, real time naval battles could add a lot. Also I think it will be refreshing to have a new setting and new tactics to learn.

  45. Seth Tipps says:

    I am looking forward to this, but I’m less exited about the naval battles than most. It can be very difficult to get the controls workable for naval battles, and they are not nearly as fast-paced as land engagements. That being said, Age of Sail 2 was a marvelous game, extremely pretty for it’s time, and had a somewhat similar interface to the total war games. In many ways it foreshadowed them, being a three dimensional RTT (real time tactical, because the only strategic element in Total War is turn-based). Hell, even just updating the Imperial Glory system to include all the features of Total War (I really loved that IG let me annex enemy nations instead of just conquering them) would make a pretty good game, and a beautiful one at that.

  46. masterandcommander says:

    RTW and MTW2 were good, but far too easy, and i found the choices of regiments to be too few. I think that it would be cool if you could have all the different regiments in the British army, such as the Yorkshire Light Infantry and Coldstream guards. Generals should not all be from a family either, there should be more promotions from the ranks. Trafalgar and Waterloo should feature as well and you should choose whether to deploy generals on foot or horseback. The idea of revolutions sounds brilliant, as do naval battles and historic generals, far too many times have I played Rome and wished I could play as Julius Caesar.
    And could you PLEASE, PLEASE release it just 57 days early!

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  49. adamsleath says:

    i have high hopes for empire:total war; it is exactly the game ive been waiting for. french hussars and musket squares; woot.
    plus a bit of naval stuff thrown in; rag dolls and controlled firing from infantry, i’m very excited.
    i hope they’ve done a good job on the uniforms, as that’s what this era is all about, in my opinion.
    should look very cool. i believe it is quite a refresh/departure from the previous total wars with many improvements and a new engine…