Empire: Total War, An Interview

Not all empires are built in intergalactic space, you know. Some are built in history, and that’s the subject of this latest interview: matters pertaining to the latest strategic behemoth from the British studio, Creative Assembly. We chart some of the major differences between this and previous games, with particular attention paid to the turn-based campaign map and the radical changes brought about by the new game’s battle engine. Crucially, Empire: Total War drags the Total War series a couple of centuries closer to the modern age. The 18th century setting is one of ranked, musket-heavy land armies, rip-roaring sea battles, complex revolutionary politics, and colonial ambition. It’s these two elements, as well as a desire to reflect some of the social changes (hiring generals rather than relying on hereditary feudal heirs, for example) of the 18th century, that motivate the designs implemented by Creative Assembly’s lead on the project, James Russell. We were lucky enough to be able to put some questions to Russell. You can read his rather detailed responses below.

RPS: How are the political changes of the era (I actually said 17th century, but I meant 18th century. Sigh!) reflected in your gameplay?

Russell: It’s the 18th century: the 1700s. It was a time of tumultuous social change and upheaval, including the American Revolution and the French Revolution. We’ve put a lot of effort into enhancing how public order works, and the game includes unrest due to industrialisation, religious differences and intellectual advances, and different government types which have differing effects on each social class. Each government type has to be played differently if you are to avoid rebellion or revolution and the overthrow of the old order.

RPS: What kind of changes have you made to the campaign map when compared to the previous games?

Russell: The most obvious difference is the sheer scale of the game world. This was the time when Europe was extending its power across the world, and when the first truly global wars were fought. As well as the European theatre, the campaign map stretches west to include the Caribbean and much of North America and east to include the whole of India, as well as special trade areas such as the East Indies and the Ivory Coast.

Another big change is the fact that regions have towns and other resource buildings spread around the landscape, unlike previous Total War titles where all a region’s buildings were contained inside a single settlement. This means you can interact with each region building directly on the map – it also means you can attack enemy towns, farms and other buildings without having to besiege the region capital. Because you can raid and damage a region like this, it becomes more important for defenders to use their armies in defensive manoeuvres rather than just camping inside the city. This also helps improve the variety of battles by reducing the frequency of siege battles.

We’ve also centralised some features at the national rather than regional level, which streamlines management for the player by reducing repetition. This allows us to deepen the gameplay at the same time as reducing the management burden. For example, we’ve added a lot of depth to the trade system, and tax levels can be set separately for the ruling classes or the people, with different consequences – but policy is conducted at a theatre level: the player no longer has to make a decision for every single region.

RPS: What’s so exciting about all this ship-to-ship combat then, eh?

Russell: Naval combat is one of the biggest additions for Empire: Total War. The game is set in the 18th century – the great age of fighting sail, the ideal period in which to introduce naval battles to the series. Battles on the high seas with fleets of ships offers a whole new gameplay experience. Ships play very differently from land units: they have to be manoeuvred with the wind in mind, they fire massive broadsides at right angles to their direction of movement. Ships have hulls, crew, guns, masts and sails, all of which can be damaged separately with different effects, crippling the ship’s ability to move or fire or repel boarders – even sinking the ship, setting it on fire or causing its magazine to explode. We have lots of different types of ships that work in different ways and are suited to different uses. There is a whole set of new tactics to get to grips with to master the naval battles, with lines of battle attempting to ‘cross the T’ and devastate the enemy with raking fire. It all feels very distinct from the land battle gameplay.

RPS: And how has combat on the terrestrial battlefield changed for Empire: Total War?

Russell: The land battles in Empire have moved on a great deal, and they play and feel very different from previous Total War titles. The most obvious development with 18th century warfare is the growing emphasis on ranged gunpowder weapons: cannons and muskets. The player needs to carefully consider fields of fire and cover. Buildings became very tactically significant on the battlefields of the period because of the cover they provide and in Empire, land units can be positioned inside buildings during battle – though you need to take care as these can be destroyed by artillery. Of course, melee remains an important (and visceral!) part of the combat all the same. We have tried to reflect the development of military technology throughout the century, and you will see soldiers improve their firing drills, and artillery able to fire more devastating high-tech ordnance in battle as a result of your research efforts on the campaign map. Units that are dug in on the campaign map will also (if defending against attack) be able to deploy a variety of defensive features that each offer unique tactical advantages.

RPS: When I saw the game in June you mention that the role of generals changed somewhat?

Russell: The most distinct change those familiar with previous Total War titles will notice is the new ability generals have to order recruits to reinforce their armies. Instead of having to build armies at different cities and then manually assemble them, you can now order troops directly at the general and they will automatically be recruited at the optimum nearby city and then sent out to join your army as ordered. Of course, you can still do things manually as well. You can also choose to promote a new general from the ranks.

RPS: It seems like AI was a big issue for players of Medieval II, can you explain how AI changes will improve play Empire: Total War?

Russell: We’ve put a lot of effort into improving how the player’s behaviour impacts diplomatic relations with different AI nations, and into making the AI behave in an intuitive manner. It’s very important for the player’s sense of immersion in a believable world of rival countries that other nations respond in a way that makes sense in terms of how the player has been behaving. For example if you back-stab your allies, the whole world will see you as dishonourable and you will lose friends quickly. Religious and political differences will all impact how the AI views you, as will your alliances and wars with other nations. In addition, different nations will have different personalities with preferences for different kinds of activity – for example a preference for naval power or for research and building up economically.

The battle AI has also been much improved and is aware of the significance of the battle in terms of the campaign map context – is the battle a vital fight to the death? Or might a tactical withdrawal be the best tactic if the battle starts to go the wrong way? Different nations will also use different tactics and strategies, which gives battles more variety and makes the AI less predictable.

RPS: What aspect of Empire: Total War do you think mainstream coverage will miss out on or ignore?

Russell: A lot of coverage is inevitably focused on the graphical advances made by the new engine, and how beautiful the game looks – especially the spectacular naval battles. But in many ways, it’s the multitude of small details that make the game more immersive. Generals developing certain traits as a result of the way you use them. Flag bearers and officers shouting orders on the battlefield. The way your population gets unhappy if you attack a friendly nation but patriotic if you attack a hostile nation. The way a country can become hostile if you’re caught spying, or if you go to war with someone they like; or the way their hostility might soften if you go to war with a country they dislike. These little touches that can really add to the player’s response to playing the game. Even the most cunning player will have lots of interesting new strategies and tactics to explore.

Empire: Total War is set for release in February 2009.


  1. Rogue says:

    I want this game so bad, I can TASTE it.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    An empire? In HISTORY?

  3. Mark-P says:

    Thanks for asking the AI question RPS-gentlemen. The response is encouraging.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    An empire? In HISTORY?

    I know! But it’s true.

  5. Therlun says:

    AI gets improved and will react in a more believable way… Nice, but they said that for every TW game from Medieval over Rome to Medieval 2 and the AI was always the same brain dead piece of crap, declaring war without reason and being completely unable to do anything remotely effective in tactical battles.

  6. Fumarole says:

    One of my Must Haves in 2009 for sure.

  7. unique_identifier says:

    The consolidated empire management controls and automated reinforcements sound nice. Improvements in dealing with the typical repetitive endgame management hell are pretty much #1 on my list for strategy game wants.

  8. Dreamhacker says:

    I would actually like to see the AI cheat during the endgame. Its much to easy in M2TW, even on higher difficulties.

  9. darthpugwash says:

    I wish they would let you dismount your cavalry in these games. All too often in MTW I would end up losing the walls in sieges becuase you couldn’t get the knights off their horses and onto the walls.

  10. Fede says:

    declaring war without reason
    They said they found out what was amiss, so hopefully now the AI will behave in a more consistent way.

    I’m looking forward to the naval battles, I don’t know many games who handle fleet battles well.

  11. dirksauce says:

    I can just imagine him rolling his eyes when you said 17th century.


  12. Aashammer says:

    If they can nail the AI this might just be the game of the year.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yeah, I do hate making stupid mistakes like that. And it’s not like I don’t know either the game or the history itself! I guess I could have just edited it out, but hey, it seemed funnier to explain.

    I actually saw the ship combat demo a few weeks back, and it’s pretty amazing. The detailed damage you can do to the ships, and the interactions of crews etc, is way beyond what I’d expected to be possible. Most looking forward to get my hands on the new campaign map though, I’ve always preferred the grand sweep of Empire building to the battle bits.

  14. Nezz says:

    I wish they would let you dismount your cavalry in these games. All too often in MTW I would end up losing the walls in sieges becuase you couldn’t get the knights off their horses and onto the walls.

    They can dismount in MTW. M2TW was a step back in so many little ways.

  15. darthpugwash says:

    Yeah, I meant M2TW. MTW had quite afew nice little features that were lost when they moved up to RTW, like faction re-emergences, and the titles you could give to the characters.

  16. dartt says:

    I’ve always preferred the grand sweep of Empire building to the battle bits.

    I love them both and the fact they are mixed in to one game is the genius of Total War: The strategy map is very compelling and has that just-one-more-turn effect that games like Civ and, err, Galciv do so well but it breaks up the unblinking turn ticking with a regular cuckoo that pops out with it’s epic tactical battles! cuckoo!

    The new strategy map improvements look fantastic, in previous games the diplomacy and trade felt somewhat clunky but it sounds like a lot more subtle wheeling and dealing will be possible. Also, gentlemen!

  17. Anonymous says:


  18. jarnomiedema says:

    I wish they would let you dismount your cavalry in these games. All too often in MTW I would end up losing the walls in sieges becuase you couldn’t get the knights off their horses and onto the walls.”

    Actually, from what has been said in other interviews, it seems that you will actually be able to dismount your dragoons. Regular cavalry will probably not be dismountable, but dragoons (cavalry armed with muskets) can be moved around the battlefield and dismounted..

    Anyway, great interview! Looking forward to more news and can’t wait to get this game.. Also, when are we going to finally hear the playable factions!?

  19. cHeal says:

    Why couldn’t they have created a full world map like in EUIII?

    I’m a cynic of late so I’m not expecting this to be that great.

  20. darthpugwash says:

    jarnomiedema: That’s cool. Would be nice if *all* cavalry could be dismounted though. It’s just one of those small details that gets annoying after a while.

    It was a good interview. I really hope they are serious about improving the AI this time, though. It’s always been such a weak spot in a series that is so good in most other respects. It was always a bit of a mood-killer in M2TW when you started up a battle only to find yourself facing off against an all-catapult army or something silly like that.

  21. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    I’m still looking forward to it, though not nearly enough of the world is “unlocked” for my liking.

  22. JonFitt says:

    New Total War games are always a treat, despite their flaws.

    Every time I then want them to go back and apply to new engine to the old settings. Shogun 2 in the M2TW/ETW engine please!

    I haven’t looked into this that closely yet and my dates are sketchy, but where does the game start: New Model Army, or earlier/later?

  23. Pijama says:

    @Dorian – Yeah, wtf. South America had the Libertadores fighting against Spain, there is the colonization of the Cape and South Africa…

    Though I can smell “EXPANSION PACK” from here.

  24. uncleb says:

    Ah, a new Total War game. If there’s one thing I look forward to more than waking the neighbours with a prostitute of unknown origin, this is it.

  25. Nimic says:

    Jim, if you really prefer Empire building to the oft tedious battles, you should try out Europa Universalis 3, or any of the other games by Paradox Interactive. Unless you haven’t already, in which case you should either hate it or love it, and the people who hate it are mostly either Total War geeks or Civilization geeks (I’m both, well, all three).

  26. Andrew says:

    I’m a cynic of late so I’m not expecting this to be that great.

    ‘Of late’? cHeal, you’re a great big ball of drunken Irish game-hate. ;)

    This all sounds great. Looking forward to it a lot.

  27. Pijama says:

    Ah, before I forget:

    “Come cheer up my lads, ’tis to glory we steer
    To add something more to this wonderful year!
    To honour we call you as freemen not slaves,
    For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

    Hears of Oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men
    We always are ready; Steady, boys, steady
    We will fight and we’ll conquer again and again!”

    I demand this when I am owning France with Great Britain.

  28. much2much says:

    lol at comments about graphics.

    That is what they have spent all their budget on.
    The “multitude of small details” are so simple and would be easy to do. No mention of vastly improved battlefield AI (probably because it isn’t a rewrite which would be required).

  29. Kieron Gillen says:

    Randomly, last time I talked to the Empire guys, they talked a bit about the AI to me. They said they were reapproaching it – but equally, they said that they didn’t expect people to completely buy into that sort of promise. But the said that on a pure quantitative level that the last Total War this team did – Rome – had a single guy working on all the AI, and it wasn’t even his sole programming responsibility. This time I think they have 3 full time on it, plus another couple of people in a part time basis.

    So while I do understand cynicism, it does appear they are throwing manpower at the problem.


  30. Quine says:

    Sounds great, but I’m hoping the AI will finally be able to break out of those loops of inaction M2TW managed while you dropped mortar shells on their generals at range.

    Is it too much to ask for some local -minima-busting *randomness* in AI behaviours at times to shake things up a bit?

  31. The Hammer says:

    This means you can interact with each region building directly on the map – it also means you can attack enemy towns, farms and other buildings without having to besiege the region capital. Because you can raid and damage a region like this, it becomes more important for defenders to use their armies in defensive manoeuvres rather than just camping inside the city. This also helps improve the variety of battles by reducing the frequency of siege battles.

    This is great!

    Man, I can’t wait to get started on Empire: Total War! My enthusiasm about it has just shot up, so thanks! I’m a long-time Total War fan (have had all the PC games, barring Kingdoms), and from the gameplay trailers and this interview, I think this might just be the best yet.

  32. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    eeesh… I say this every time I see an empire thread… I have learnt to stop yearning as there’s no way in hell this’ll run on my mule. M2TW only just creaked out as it is. I remember someone mentioning a possible feature on how to juice up geriatric ordinateurs? Although I think the only answer is reams of cash.

    Shame, as TW is probably the closest thing I have to a religious belief.

  33. osvaldo00 says:

    i can’t resist to the 6th of february !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. sinister agent says:

    This does sound more promising than I’d previously thought, I admit – it sounded until now like they were just throwing loads of naval battles in and leaving the rest essentially unchanged. It appears I was being excessively cynical. I hope to find out I was wrong in about eleven years when I have a computer that can run it.

  35. Charles XII says:

    Can’t wait for this. Medieval 2 was alomst the perfect game but this will get even better. Finally we can play as Sweden!! Hopfully the will add the rest of the world in expansion…

  36. Graeme says:

    When you say you saw the naval demo was that in anyway a demo that could be released to general public later and do you have any idea of the system spec they were displaying it on?

  37. cody says:

    im so stoked about the release of this game……i wonder if the expansion pack will have the american civil war in it? that would be awesome to beat up on those yankees….

    i wish i had a time machine so i can travel to febuary…..buy the game and travel back and play it….then brag about how i got the game and nobody else has it. :o)

  38. Casey Willison says:

    2 things.
    first, i hope that they will make it so as you can fight with tens of thousands of troops like General Howe and his 32,000 troops marching to fight in Saratoga, NY.
    Finally, I wonder if the total war series might go to modern times (I hope that CoH would go more modern to and go to something like the Iraq war of at least Vietnam)
    P.S. Empire may be exactly like Imperial Glory, but with better graphics.

  39. Kevin Golseen says:

    I am getting a new computer just so I can play this game. I can’t wait.

  40. Kevin Golseen says:

    Whoah, is this website from England? I am all the way in California, USA. It is 9:20pm here.

  41. cody says:


    i know what you mean…..im pouring money into upgradeing mine in time for the release…

  42. Jockie says:

    Has there been any word on the multiplayer modes yet? I was really hoping for a multiplayer version of the campaign mode, though i realise the difficulties of waiting whilst other players are involved in battles.

  43. Catraz says:

    Okay Everyone is happy a new total war game is comming out 6th of february(well me to, I was jumping around the house as it’s my favorite era of history). But they’re some kind of blank spot in this stuff as now. Okay it’s still details but just idea in head. so we will be only able to conquer North america, europe and India? Is they’re a possibility we hit the chinese, head down south america or go again fight in the holy land and deep in the middle-east? Will they’re be kind of real delay when we’ll send military in our colony? Will we be able to do some genocide on american indian tribes(sorry a bit of sadism)? And, my must wished thing, will we be able to make kind of amphibious assault(I wanna sneak behind my enemy)?My last one is if we could seperate unit to only control one shooter that we could hide in kind of sniper troops? Wonder if i’ll ever got feed back for all this. Would be cool if we could suggest some stuff to creative assembly. By the way great interview and awesome jobs as now for creative assembly. By the way for people that wonder who were gonna play it seems there four nation sure by some of the sea and land battles movies wich are British, French, German and American army. As a guy talked about the russian canon fooder charge so I suspect them to and with the war elephant we may see the Ottoman empire for the rest we can only hope and wish.

  44. Paolo says:

    Catraz: you could aways make amphibious assualts: just put your units into a ship and land them on the coast of wherever

  45. miguel fadous says:

    well i gotta say the total war series is just phenomenal its amazing i just cant wait for February six but i can say the biggest error about all the total war series is the stupidity of the A.I if Total War works that issue out they will be the supreme rulers of all strategy Games

  46. Reginald says:

    MTW2 = Australian Creative Assembly. ETW = British Creative Assembly. The guys who made the original MTW.

    To say it will be like Impirial Glory with better graphics is utter balls! Imperial Glory sucked and the Total war series has a phenomenal track record. I am sure there are gonna be niggling issues just as any game, but from what I have seen this looks to be one of the most exciting releases in the near future. Once again shame a lack of MP campaign. But it is understandable since turn times would be epic. Looking forward to it CA.

  47. Catraz says:

    What I was more meaning by an amphibious assault is more like having little rowboat to cross river directly on a battlefield, abit like some panting we get of Georges Washington.

  48. lostinmacys says:

    i havent seen the full interview yet but what i am praying for is a range of native americans to play as. iroquis league etc leading a war party would be fantastic

  49. anthony says:

    i wonder what type of computer requirments it will need someone tel me plz

  50. General Malaise says:

    This gonna be awesome……. If my computer will take it!!! I may have missed something but I can’t find minimum / maximum performance specs. Have these been published?? Someone please advise – I can’t be alone in the angst caused by this – a £30 – £40 game could be alot more expensive – a few months to spread the costs of upgrading would be appreciated…
    Will historical regiments be reflected?
    Aaahh the smell of gunpowder in the morning