Like a mouse trap, a delicious treat with a neck-breaking catch. UPDATED
avenger1212 wrote this review on .
I'd like to start out by singing the praises of CA and the Total War team before I stab them in the back. Empire TW as you know takes place during the Revolutionary war era, starting during the early 1700's thru the Napoleon's days on earth and the American Revolution to the earliest stages of the Civil War era when steam driven machinery took off. It's an evolution of the melee based combat to ranged combat, which sets apart this release from previous Total War games. It's enough to say old strategies will not always work here, such as using your cavalry to flank the enemy and take out cannons before nearby defenders can save them. Cavalry was up to now an all purpose unit that just had to avoid pikemen. With Empire, cavalry must be used carefully as a simple line of gunmen can wipe them out with a head on charge. This example is to show, your skill as a strategist will be tested in this game, and poor decisions will be punished more than in past TW games. It, in my opinion, makes the combat more authentic to the era, even to the point where the width of your line affects how much firepower that unit will have (you might recall from history class that only the first line or two of infantry was able to fire, with the rest waiting to move forward to fill in gaps as others are killed). The strategy combat seems well done and while staying based in previous games game play, offers the change you would expect from this era.
Ship combat is another new element to the strategy offering. It is similar to other games in this regard like Sid Meyers Pirates. It's fun, so I'm glad they added it, but at the same time I find the game play to be cumbersome with larger fleets. I find myself losing battles I might have otherwise won simply because I am unable to micromanage all my ships in real time. Letting the AI run them does not seem as effective as the AI runs the opponent. So, you really have to be on the ball with the ships. But, for an analogy I quote C3PO from Star Wars A New Hope in saying "Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough." Trying to board a ship is just not worth attempting. For one, there's no time, and secondly it's easier to sink the opponent than wear them down to just the right moment where boarding them won't result in your own demise at their broadside. Maybe I'll learn some strategy to make this work in time, but for now it's something I avoid.
The tactical map is where the majority of significant changes come from in ETW. I know some of you like the array of options available in previous TW games. I tip my hat to you and leave that argument to your review. As for mine, I absolutely love the slimmed down campaign map. They have elected to revamp almost entirely how this part of the game works. While you do still build add-on buildings in your cities that allow new unit creation or buff the cities stats, there is only one city per region which is the capital of that region. As your region grows, you are given new build nodes for commerce, food, or education/culture. Each of these areas have options that favor the aspects of civilization (survival, commerce, culture and military).
In ETW the devs saw fit to bestow upon us a tech tree that you get to elect how it is followed via building schools, colleges, and universities on town nodes, and ordering those facilities to focus on a particular upgrade. Each town that is set up for schooling is able to research an item in the tech tree. The tech tree contains upgrades that benefit the before mentioned aspects of civilization and is where anything that could give you an edge over your opponents is researched. Everything in this tree is useful and makes for a richer tactical aspect for the game.
There's much more to go into in the tactical arena, but I don't want my review to go on indefinitely. You'll have to discover them for yourself if you end up buying the game. I found the changes to the tactical map intuitive and easier to manage while adding a surprising amount of depth to the game via the tech tree. Good work CA, you really improved the series here!
The snap of the trap:
This game has so much going for it, I hate to report it's not finished. It seems like games get released all too often these days without proper testing and coding. From a marketing perspective, I can see how delaying a release could result in lost sales each time you do so. However, releasing a frustrating, buggy and unfinished game on your customers isn't much better. I believe CA to be a company that prides themselves in their work, and I expect the upcoming patches will address the problems fully. However, for this review I must report the following issues:
AI: The AI in ETW is fickle. I've literally watched the computer run melee units back and forth 15 feet in front of my lines as I shoot them down. Had the computer engaged, they probably would have beaten me back. Instead, I am handed a victory that should not have occurred. In fort sieges, I've pinned the enemy unit in a corner of my fort and wiped them out as they stood with their backs to me doing nothing. I guess with nowhere to run, the computer elected to not act at all. They could have turned and fired back. There are tons of little issues like this that will probably be worked out in time. For now, it's regrettable but forgivable really.
Also, when you siege a city, you have an option to demand they surrender. I've only had that actually work once, and it bugged out forcing me to attack the city anyway. In most cases, this option is worthless since no matter how bad they are outnumbered, the enemy would rather fight.
Crashes: This past Friday night I began the 4th episode of the Road to Independence. In this mission you are tasked with expanding the 13 colonies to essentially form the USA as we know it through war and diplomacy. After 6 hours of advancing across our great nation, I was heartbroken to be greeted with a white screen and fatal exception of empire.exe upon the resolution of an end of turn phase (following all the factions taking their turns). Upon reloading the game and even after rebooting my computer, that turn always results in a crash, and nothing I've tried will allow me to progress any further than ending that turn from the autosave. In short, my campaign is now over, and my evening wasted.
Load times: Next to the demo, these are a lot better. However, taking command of battles becomes a bit less exciting given they are not short either. I can't really say they are awful, but I think they could be shorter with some optimization.
Performance: The campaign map is choppy. I believe the devs are addressing this in the next patch. For what the game is, I think it requires more of a computer than it should need. However, TW games of the past had similar drawbacks at release. These games may not pack the graphical punch of say Crysis, but there is a lot going on. But, I would warn the performance does need tweaking, and encourage that the devs are on top of this one.
Faction turn phase (yes I have CPU moves turned off, so I'm not seeing their movements): This is the part of the game that makes me not want to play it. There is a large list of major and minor factions which each get a turn. The time it takes to cycle through all the factions can at times be staggering. As a faction grows, it's turn takes longer (the British took nearly a minute themselves to resolve their turn once up to speed). I timed a 3 minute end of turn phase in an advanced campaign where several factions had emerged as leaders. Mexico became a faction at one point, causing me to curse since I knew there would be one more faction in my EOT phase. Without some optimization to this part of the game, I'm not sure I'll be able to play it much longer. It takes 30 seconds to spend your cash, an hour to build an army and 3 minutes in between turns. This is unacceptable IMO.
Diplomacy: The diplomacy options are actually very cool in this game. The diplomacy menu is well done and makes sense. However, the diplomacy AI is retarded. Nearly every turn I have to refuse England or Frances offers to buy my territories (the same ones). Enough! I'm not selling! If you become too powerful, your strategic partnerships will deteriorate to the point where everyone is against you. While I agree, real life has a tendency to be this way, it can be somewhat crippling to the diplomatic features of this game. China probably hates us, but they'll still sell us their stuff and buy ours. Some AI tweaks here and I think this will be the best diplomacy to date in a TW game. But for now, it's kind of broken.
Empire TW has the potential of being the best TW game to date. There is so much good stuff there, it would pain me to see them not fix the problems. I think games like Star Trek Legacy (which was abandoned after release by the Bethesda) make us weary of games that are released in poor shape. I don't think CA will do this to us, but to those ends I'd recommend not buying the game until it is polished. Once it is polished, I think I'll sit back and marvel at what CA has done. This is truly a well thought out game, even if the execution needs a little more work. When the bugs are fixed, I'll come back and review my score. For now, buyer beware, this one comes "as is".
As promised, while very late, I've returned to breifly update my review. To date, I feel CA has sufficiently addressed the vast majority of my complaints above. So, without much fanfare, I'm updating my review score from 7.5 to 9. Excellent (but painfully slow) work CA!