GC '07: Empire: Total War First Look

Sega and Creative Assembly reveal the fifth game in the acclaimed Total War series, which is set during the Age of Sail.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--After years of countless requests from fans, Sega and Creative Assembly are set to finally deliver a Total War strategy game with guns. Sort of. The two companies revealed Empire: Total War, the fifth game in the popular Total War strategy series, and the biggest leap in the series to date. First of all, the game will introduce real-time naval battles, which is something that's long been missing in the series. Next, it will introduce a ton of new technology. Third, it will be set during the Age of Sail, so it will introduce rifles and firearms.

Empire will span the 18th century, the dawn of the modern world, from about 1700 to somewhere past 1800. This period encompassed a lot of revolution and warfare, including the Seven Years' War, a conflict that could be considered the first true world war because it was fought all around the globe. The game will run right up to the cusp of the Napoleonic Wars, but it doesn't sound like it will cover that epic conflict. If that's truly the case, it's not too hard to imagine that the Napoleonic Wars, a popular request by Total War fans, could easily be implemented in an expansion or a sequel.

The game will cover much of the planet, including the New World and India. This will allow for many new factions, though the US will probably be the biggest and most important addition, not to mention the most popular one with North American gamers. Like all Total War games, it will feature a strategic layer and real-time land-based battles, but the important new additions are the real-time naval battles that will have large formations of vessels. In the example given to us, you will be able to command about 20 ships in combat, a number similar to the number of units you can actually command in land-based battles. But because ships, like regiments, are composed of hundreds of men each, you can still have a large number of personnel in a naval battle.

There will be various classes of vessel, which will essentially vary by maneuverability, speed, and firepower. The naval warfare of this period was dominated by ships-of-the-line, which were massive floating fortresses, but there were also frigates and nimbler, speedier combatants. You'll be able to conduct a wide range of naval warfare tactics, including boarding enemy vessels.

Land battles will introduce new features, such as the ability to garrison men in buildings. They'll also introduce the use of cover, such as walls, which is required for the introduction of rifle combat. At the same time, because the weapons of the era were wildly inaccurate at long range, engagement distances will still be similar to those seen in existing games. This was an era when formations of men marched rigidly and precisely around the battlefield, while armies lined up opposite one another to trade fire until one side broke. There will still be cavalry charges and melee combat in the form of bayonet charges as well.

We are also excited that Creative Assembly is incorporating improvements into the gameplay, as well as streamlining it. After four Total Wars, there's no shortage of suggestions as to how to improve the game, and some of the stuff we heard is encouraging. For instance, the game will gradually introduce you into the campaign. You'll start with only a few things that you can do, but more and more options will slowly begin to unfold, which should help with the learning curve. Even better, the designers realized that players were spending too much time building units and then marching them around the map just to merge into a single army. So now you'll be able to designate a general to be the nucleus of an army, and new units will assemble around him. Thus, a lot of tedious micromanagement is easily eliminated.

Creative Assembly uses its engines twice. The game engine for Shogun: Total War was enhanced for Medieval: Total War. Then the gorgeous 3D engine introduced in Rome: Total War was enhanced for Medieval 2: Total War. Empire will introduce a brand new graphics engine, which is an exciting development considering that last year's Medieval 2 still looks like a cutting-edge graphical game. We were told that the game will capture naval combat like no game before it, and judging from the early screenshots released for Empire, that certainly seems the case.

Empire is still early in development, which was highlighted by the fact that Creative Assembly didn't have any gameplay on hand to demonstrate the game. We can expect more details and an actual first look at the game in the coming months. When it will ship is another mystery because apparently, it's also still too early to give any kind of release date. Still, Empire sounds like a huge leap forward for Total War, and we'll look forward to learning more about what should be another epic strategy game from Creative Assembly.

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