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.