Empire: Total War Exclusive Hands-On - Early Campaign, Naval and Land Battles, Managing a Colony

We get our hands on this highly anticipated strategy game, jump into naval and land battles, and try our hand at governing a colony in the New World.

There have been ambitious grand strategy games in the past that have challenged you to create and maintain an empire by managing both military campaigns and peacetime duties, such as trade, diplomacy, and technological research. But none so far have aspired to paint as epic a picture as Creative Assembly's Empire: Total War, which will challenge you to conquer the New World by way of economic supremacy and political skulduggery, by waging massive land-based wars with hundreds of brave foot soldiers, and by waging equally massive naval wars with an armada of cannon-laden vessels. We got our hands on an early version of the game, and we're here to bring you an exclusive look at what you can expect.

In addition to having the opportunity to try out a limited version of the campaign, we had a chance to hop into a preloaded naval battle scenario in which we took control of a small American colonial fleet to take on an enemy fleet of comparable size. Naval battles, like land battles in the Total War series, begin with a deployment phase in which you can place your ships within a certain deployment range before beginning the real-time battle. Maritime skirmishes will take place between ships of various shapes, sizes, and speeds--the largest and most powerful ships will be decked out with dozens of sails and will also command dozens of devastating cannons, and they can also accommodate sizable crews of able-bodied soldiers who will eagerly cast boarding lines onto enemy ships if you prefer to board an enemy vessel. However, these monstrously powerful ships will also have poor turning speed compared to a smaller ship, such as a sloop. Our own fleet consisted of a massive heavy frigate, two third-rate ships of the line, and two 24-pounder frigates--a well-rounded offensive force with a good mix of speed and power. Our opponents, the hated British (present company excepted, of course), started out several leagues north of our position, though the winds were blowing in an easterly direction, which added an interesting wrinkle to the battle.

Expect massive land battles and equally epic sea battles in the next chapter of the Total War series.

Because none of Empire: Total War's ships will have an outboard motor or a nuclear reactor, all ships will obey the pull of the sea winds, so it's up to you to line up with tailwinds while avoiding a course straight into headwinds where possible. In the early version of the game we played, ship controls appeared in the bottom right corner of the screen (where unit controls usually appear in Total War games), while the bottom left corner and bottom center of the screen featured a minimap and unit information, respectively--again, like in previous games in the series. You give standard orders to your ships as you would in any real-time strategy game by clicking to select them and giving them move or attack orders with a right click of your mouse, but your unit control panel also includes additional commands for all the ambitious admirals out there who want to give individual sail commands, such as rotating sails port or starboard or setting sail or dropping anchor. The control panel also lets you select your cannons' shot (from standard cannonballs, which attack enemy ships' hulls; chainshot, which tears at enemy sails and brings damaged ships to a standstill; and grapeshot, which kills off enemy ship crews), and it gives "fire at will" commands. You can even toggle port and starboard broadsides on or off.

We made good use of the broadside option by eagerly--and rather rashly--pushing our heavy frigate ahead of the pack to deliver satisfying volley after volley of cannon fire into the enemy fleet, sinking one enemy ship in short order and crippling a second. Naturally, our heavy frigate, by virtue of its many sails, was able to outpace the rest of our fleet in a straight shot toward the enemy, but we soon paid the price for our foolhardy gambit when the remainder of the enemy ships came about and flanked our frigate--and one enemy ship-of-the-line, seemingly out of desperation, rammed our heavy frigate head-on, smashing the tip of our vessel's forward hull to splinters. Like in previous Total War games, hovering your mouse cursor over any unit will reveal quick information about it, such as how damaged or fatigued it is, the action it's currently engaged in (such as firing, fleeing, and so on), and its current morale level. A quick mouseover of our ship revealed that although our ship was indeed damaged, and the crew was concerned about the damage, it remained largely confident.

With our heavy frigate flanked by an enemy ship on one side and blocked from the front by another, we decided to board the British ship next to us--a tactic our lusty and cheering crew heartily approved of. Taking care to hurry our remaining ships forward to sweep up the last of the British ships, we then zoomed our view of the game in on the boarding to watch our dozens of tiny crewmen launch multiple boarding ropes and shimmy across them to engage our enemies hand-to-hand. We claimed victory in the battle in an unnecessarily messy brawl that saw our medium vessels chase down the enemy--a battle that probably could have been less messy had we carefully negotiated the seas and the wind direction, because Empire, like other Total War games before it, physically models the ballistics of all missile weapons, so the crafty British ships turned at odd angles, requiring our ships to turn in reaction to lay broadsides, and occasionally landing fire on our own ships. We admit, we were too engrossed in the pitched battle between our determined crew of seadogs who dueled with the crewmen of the boarded ship. Obviously, the game will allow for more-elegant strategies, but we just couldn't resist the temptation to scoot that heavy frigate forward and broadside the living daylights out of our enemy.

It's a sailor's life for you. Empire will let you command an armada of massive battleships.

After jumping out of the naval scenario, we then hunkered down with a brief campaign session to try out Empire's turn-based strategic elements. The scenario put us in command of the fledgling colony of Boston, surrounded on all sides by the warring imperialistic nations of France (holding colonies that would later become Ontario and Quebec) and England (holding colonies like Albany, New York, and their capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and by the as-yet unprovoked Native American Iroquois and Algonquin nations (occupying colonies like Cayuga and Niagara). As the American colonists, we were clearly overmatched, but with the heart of a patriot beating in our chest (and the Escape key at the ready to reload a saved game), we dove into our task of building up our tiny colony to eventually become an emancipated nation.

Like other Total War games, Empire has a turn-based strategic layer that lets you manage your holdings, economy, research, political structure, and armies, and in this case, the turns are biannual, representing the military campaign seasons of summer and winter. Empire's strategic layer seems at once more streamlined and also more in-depth, and it even has a helpful voice-over that plays the first time you open up a new menu. Essentially, you need to manage the economy, government, diplomacy, structural (and infrastructural) development, and technological development--as well as the military development--of your colonies, and you'll do so through a set of nested menus that live in the lower right corner of the screen, just like in other Total War games. However, like in other games in the series, all civic upgrades are tied in to each other, such that investing the time and turns into one development may benefit your nation in other ways--upgrading your roads, for instance, not only will increase your trade revenues from neighboring cities, but will also improve the overland marching speed of your infantry companies.

And from the town of Boston, a nation was born. With the help of a general named Washington.

Economic development takes place in the form of colonial taxation (which you can adjust with a simple slider to increase, bringing more money into your coffers but fomenting more popular dissent, or decrease, making people happier but bringing less money into the treasury) and also in the form of enhanced trade, either with neighboring settlements or with any Old World trading nations with whom you may have an agreement, in the form of crops and other New World commodities, such as sugar, tobacco, ivory, furs, spices, and tea. Economics tie directly in to local government, since the general happiness of the populace directly affects your agricultural output, and the legal and financial policies your governors implement will determine your tax and labor policies. Fortunately, technological research (which occurs along a "technology tree" independently of what's going on in your cities) can introduce better, more-efficient types of labor and business practices to make your nation richer and happier, though because you can research only one item at a time, you'll need to choose wisely from three different research branches of military, economic, and philosophical--which will unlock better tools for the battlefield (more-advanced muskets, bayonets, grenades, and better tactical formations), new structural upgrades for key economic buildings, and new sociopolitical and economic policies that will affect your society as a whole. The coins in your nation's collective pocket will also determine your stature when it comes to diplomacy, since in addition to standard military alliances, you can propose trade alliances, make national gifts, and trade entire regions to your partners, as well as demand protectorate status, which, if accepted, will require the subject nation to forfeit half of its profits to you and preclude it from declaring war (unless the nation decides to rebel and declare war on you). Of course, demanding a protectorate will be more a matter of military might.

What happens when you add cannons and muskets to Total War’s massive battles? Find out in early 2009 when the game ships.

We had a chance to flex our military muscles in our limited campaign time by taking an experienced American general known as George Washington and several companies of light infantry and dragoon cavalry (mounted infantry that can dismount and fight on foot) into battle to capture Albany. We used the deployment phase to line up our troops as close to the fore as possible, putting General Washington and his cavalry honor guard a bit further in the back. When the battle itself started, we brought all our troops forward in lockstep in a single line (perhaps not the smartest tactic, but good for getting into the action quickly) to see what it was like when soldiers collide. Like in all Total War games, Empire's land battles, even the small ones at the start of the game, are massive and are viewed from the perspective of a godlike spectator hovering above the battlefield. Empire does have rock-paper-scissors-like unit balancing in that light infantry handily beat militia, heavy infantry beat light infantry, and pike emplacements beat cavalry (which we remembered only too late after hastily steering some of our dragoons around some fenced-off emplacements to cut off a routed enemy squad's retreat...only to get gored). Like with naval battles, you can hover your mouse over a company to get a sense of its status and morale, and because we had built up a decent number of low-level infantry units to outclass the local British militia, we were able to get many of them to route (flee) in short order. Routed enemies have a flashing white flag icon that hovers over their heads, and they will often break and run, giving you the option to pursue them or to turn your pursuing forces' attention to other enemy squads. The land battle was much more orderly than our naval experience because we had slightly larger and more-powerful armies that were able to flank our foes and eventually cause them to break ranks and flee.

From all appearances, Empire: Total War will have every bit of the strategic depth of its forebears with more-streamlined interfaces, intriguing new naval battles, and a brand-new setting where the Age of Sail hasn't quite ended and where guns and cannons begin to rise to prominence in modern warfare. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on this promising strategy sequel.

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159 comments
godnos
godnos

British empire all the way

Omagis
Omagis

Germans all the way man!!!

Zarcon94
Zarcon94

Man I want to play this game NOW

ettar079
ettar079

:D i remember the first time i saw that there was a new total war game comin out.... I CHEERED!!!! then cried when i saw how far away it was;(...

BiGG_SMiGG
BiGG_SMiGG

omg this game needs to be played, i cant wait

fatpumba3
fatpumba3

I can't wait to play as Sweden and Great Britain XD

ascalon94
ascalon94

Imagine you and your friend in co-op campaign. Where one of you is any country you want and the same wiht your friend. You can give your friend money and troops which leads you two to being the major superpowers. Then you decide to fight each other for global supremacy of the world. Now isnt that an awesome game

payne6705
payne6705

I really hope they fix the diplomacy cause I remember making so many truces and then literally the next turn that country stole my settlements/I am fighting for my settlement

n00bofdestiny
n00bofdestiny

i wish the battle will be lot of fun then RTW this game totally WICKED!!(maybe lol)

X_MANIAC_X
X_MANIAC_X

I lol'd. Anyway sweden for the win. Who has control of germany in this, i read somthing about a coalition or similar?

Sky_Stifler
Sky_Stifler

This game looks awesome I can't wait to play it =)

least93
least93

Oh yh MOOCDS ur a F A G!!!!!!

least93
least93

MOOCDS u r a loser get a life we are talkin about games not u being a P edo u fruit

TheFallingOne
TheFallingOne

Yeah! you can play as the Dutch. Now thats nice :P

gameking5000
gameking5000

Im going to play as Russia. They stopped Napoleon and stopped the Hitler surely they can stop the world and conquer it!

doylerz
doylerz

would this game not eat up graphics cards.....if medievil 2 worked well on my pc....would empire work?????

MOOCDS
MOOCDS

To all you guys argueing over Britain and America, your forgetting something very important in all of this...I mean sure he touched some children, but the mans a great singer and hes entertained us for so many years! You guys are just going around, argueing bout wether America saved everyone in WW2 or wether Britain did, while putting the man down, I mean sure, he touched some children now and then, but come on, its Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson!

gah468
gah468

would a 9400 6 gigs of ram and a quad core 2.2 processor handle this?

ElCatto
ElCatto

thank god that the AI is gonna be better, i mean in med 2 you stand in front of the last settlement of your enemy with 3000 troops and they wont accept vassalage, that just drives me crazy

bodylotion
bodylotion

If the game was taking place a century before this the dutch would be one of the most important factions, but i think they will start off as very important in this game as well so i probably play my first game as the dutch. (if playable). And Indonesia probably is on the map but i think it belongs to the dutch.

vinnym26
vinnym26

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

jeffreythethird
jeffreythethird

Lastly, theoander - people like you make people from other countries think Americans are arrogant and stupid. You're just a red-neck who prob has never opened a book before except the TV Guide

jeffreythethird
jeffreythethird

Also, after reading prev posts, some people need to learn how to spell and wikipedia whatever they are talking about before they post it. Ps. Also, maybe a good quality mod would suffice, but does anyone think that releasing a rated 'M' version would be awesome. MTW2 had kinda lame blood wounds, and after playing COD5 and a grenade blows off someone's foot ... I am hoping that I can get my hands on an equally gorey version of Empire TW

jeffreythethird
jeffreythethird

Everyone is soo touchy about who did what and when and how much ... we are all Western democratic countries (for the most part) and live in freedom. So, it would seem that the argument is of little importance. Anyways, from pouring over information for this game, I believe that you can be the Indians (India)? If so, I think that might be one of the hardest countries because everyone is going to want to come and take away the riches to Europe. If it is a playable faction, it'll prob be the first one I'll play. Colonies vs. Britian is too well-known, and while there were more British, the technologies were relatively the same. That being said, I don't know enough about India, but I bet it would be a pretty good challenge.

romavictor
romavictor

i dont really care about others opinions regarding who saved who during the world wars. Frankly americans always seem to think they "save" everyone.....through aggression ie (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan just to name some newer ones) So when americans say "why does the world hate us so much?" its because of people like you theoander that spread garbage propoganda. This is a GAME. Not a system to bicker over who and when of the past. Frankly America would be nothing if it wasnt for what britain spent to colonize it and populate it. So u should just say thank you and shut up. i personnaly cant wait for the americans to get spanked hard by someone, and watch you all run home to your mommies crying. Remember all bullies eventually get beaten up by those that they picked on!!!

min3mat
min3mat

I'm sorry but what? "What happens when you add muskets and cannons to total war?!" Erm they were already in it... That is not a new feature... Looking forward to the naval battles though. The streamlined politics system should be interesting and the promises of choices involving infrastructure sound promising (weapons depot's to raid perhaps? supply lines of various descriptions?) and the political choices should be interesting too (Payoffs from being Tory mayhap? Generals being politically aligned? Possibly some sort of way like in the old medieval to assign titles and responsibilities to your generals?). And the multiplayer campaign? Thats stunning i have to say. It just sounds like not enough new material for too much money and too late (Febuary already? I'm hoping this will be out for my birthday, July 30th!!!).

lingtong15
lingtong15

You know that we have the bigger campaign which is set in europe, africa, asia, so we actually get 2 campaign for the price of one! ALso, yes Creative Assembly are a british company who also have an office in Australia-Aussies made Med 2- And this game is going to be brilliant! Really cannot wait to recreate the British Empire and then take over the known world as the good old Dutch! "Free Gin anyone?"

blstoen
blstoen

This will run nicely on my new Toshiba Qosmio w/ Nvidia 9800M GTS SLI

hairybeanbag
hairybeanbag

Opps... I forgot to say.... ME CANTZ WAIT!!!!!!

hairybeanbag
hairybeanbag

Bought a whole bunch of upgrades for my computer to play this game.Hope its worth it

DaveA6489
DaveA6489

Amen to that napalmste! This is going to be SWEET :D

napalmste
napalmste

firstly, to theoander creative assembly is british, mainly based in sussex, ENGLAND, so the developer is in fact british, not american. secondly, also to theoander, the main reaso for the Third Reich falling was in fact the Soviet Union, which bore the brunt of Nazi war effort and by the end of the war were pushing the germans back faxter than the western allies were over a larger distance, and it was the second front that really prevented the Nazis invading Britain, so it was the Soviet Union that, if anyone, saved Britain during the second world war. also rainbow lion please dont talk about things you dont know about, "the war started in 1937"; jesus christ! if you dont know about something dont pretend to. But finally can we stop talking about world war 2 and admit that this game is going to be amazing, just hope i can buy a new computer in time

DaveA6489
DaveA6489

Ummm... Rainbow Lion, World War 2 started in 1939 not 1937 :P

Rainbow_Lion
Rainbow_Lion

:lol: @ theoander the war started in 1939 (edit :D ) and you septics only entered it in 1942 FYI we would also have taken total defeat over learning german unlike the french, also thanks to you lot we only stopped paying the war debt to our "allies" in 2007 whereas you rebuilt germany and japan for free so yeah thanks for your "help" we really couldn't have done it without you. NOT!

theoander
theoander

To all the folks disapointed this is set in a different time frame then the rest of the games, you have 4 other games to play! My goodness, swords and shields have been done to death in the total war series. Open your mind to somthing new. To all the brits whinning about the subject, and critizing the US, get over yourselves. Being butt hurt over us winning our independence nearly 250 years ago is a little silly. All total war games have been on european soil so far, and its an American company making these games. Complaining about this is akin to complaining about Koei making a game based in Asia. By the way, about the WWII thing, yes if the US hadnt entered the war, youd be all be speaking german right now. Thank us, or thank Japan for bombing us, either way we saved you. I cant wait for this game! Everything looks awesome, give me a solid AI and the potential for multiplayer campaigns and you have game of the year.

teaabags
teaabags

This looks to be a good game, i'll definitely be playing the English..just want to see what happens when we actually win this one hahaha. total war is a good franchise, so as long as they dont screw up graphics or sound or the A.I it'll be good

finfan27
finfan27

I also have every game in the Total War series. However, the "bugs" are very frustrating. Medieval II Kingdoms constantly shut down on me when trying to start battles. Mainly when it was on the edge of the map. I actually stopped playing it for a while due to the bugs.

sgoconnor
sgoconnor

Just please tell us they have fixed the sloppy AI. I love the Total War series and own them all but the AI bugs, even after all the patches, weaken the experience. Medieval 2 suffered from poor AI in both campaign and battle mode. Flashy graphics and expansive settings are great but please, not at the expense of a solid AI.

albibu
albibu

I don't know much about english and spanish colonies i dont care about settlers, pioners and conquistadores...the only thing i am really worried about is how to manage the small Castle of Moria, the only greek orthodox catsle left from the ages of Byzantium...against the massive Ottoman wave... What a TERRIBLE era to strat with!

Gater85
Gater85

Great history lesson.No matter what we will all be buying this game.I can't wait for it just hope my pc will be ok running it.

leop4rd
leop4rd

here man lads, we can all argue about who was the first in america but i discovered it yonks ago on google. this looks awesome i hope the sea battles are decent, it was a nightmare trying to control ships on imperial glory

gsmull
gsmull

Darn it, I still have not gotten tired of medieval 2: Total War yet! Can't these guys wait a few years before releasing this? The addition of naval battles will add a necssary new dimension to the game and it looks like they are getting it done right. Nobody has really done the colonial era justice including "civ 4 colonization." It looks like this has the potential to be just as good as the previous two releases and make this period of history just as enjoyable. It will certainly be on my pre-order list when available.

ferdelance69
ferdelance69

A Touch of accuracy is called for here regarding some posts: George Washington's historical roots were English. His name comes from the village of Wessyngton, (Anglo Saxon) England. The first ancestor of George washington to live in Wessyngton was William de Hertburn, who moved to the village in 1183. Five generations of George Washington's direct ancestors lived in the Old Hall manor house in the village, before the family moved south and then emigrated in 1657 to Northen Neck in the new colony of Virginia. A considerable number of the forces ranged against the British were in fact Either English or of English descent. Thus, that is why they were called rebels by the crown. There were many English settlers who heeded the call to arms by George Washington, as there were many of English descent born in America... so in one sense it was not only a war of independance, but could also be thought of as a civil war. As was the American civil war in the 19th century betwixt North and South.

SiMsquid92
SiMsquid92

Reading this has made me play Rome: Total War again. Man, that game rocks. oh and, can't wait for Empire :)

WS_Brand
WS_Brand

Actually, the first successful English colony was Jamestown in Virginia. It was established as a resupply base for English pirates attacking Spanish shipping, and more importantly as an economic colony looking for gold in the New World and for taking advantage of the New World commodities like tobacco. Jamestown was established almost two decades before the Massachusetts Bay Colony was started by the Puritans. Roanoke which is more famous because it vanished almost without a trace was the first English attempt to colonize North America. As to the whole Salem business out of all the people accused of witchcraft very few were actually executed, and it was handled within a legal framework that was both more just and humane than its European counterparts. Anyways it's unfortunate that the Puritans in America are most famous for the Salem witch trials, when there are many just as interesting aspects to their history and society, such as the fact that Puritan society was among the most litigious in human history, or that most Puritan scholars and lawyers saw the witch trials as an aberration and believed even the few executions that were carried out to be unnecessary.

xtoda7
xtoda7

My comp will have a heart attack trying to run this game,I wish it would come out on Ps3.

gogoman33
gogoman33

The first European settlers. weren't actually the Puritans (although they were some of the first English settlers). Before them was the Spanish, who were getting well established in southern North America, and then before them was really the Vikings who made some settlements up near Northern Canada/Greenland/Iceland. Although they later abandoned most of their settlements due to lose of contact with the mainland.

sage_spartan
sage_spartan

Actually the first European settlers to America (those guys with the Black and White outfits with the giant buckles) were christian nutjobs that were kicked outta Britain. Puratins I believe they were called, real big into burning innocent people alive for being witches.