Imperial Glory Updated Hands-On - Ship Battles, Historical Quests, Diplomacy

Imperial Glory isn't the next game in the Total War series, but it certainly could be, judging from our experience thus far.

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You'd be forgiven if you mistook Imperial Glory for something like Napoleon: Total War, because there certainly appears to be quite a bit of Creative Assembly's acclaimed strategy series in this Napoleonic-era strategy game. Like Medieval: Total War, Imperial Glory will let you try to take over Europe by alternating you between a turn-based strategic map and real-time battles. This has always been a fascinating era in history, with the rise of the nation state, nationalism, and the dawns of the scientific and industrial revolutions, and judging from our time spent with a preview of the game, it appears developer Pyro Studios is taking that all into account.

Imperial Glory will let you indulge your Napoleonic complex.
Imperial Glory will let you indulge your Napoleonic complex.

Imperial Glory will let you take control of one of five principal powers of the time: France, Britain, Austria, Prussia, or Russia. You will then play the strategic portion of the game while looking over a map of Europe, which isn't too unlike the map seen in Medieval: Total War, and sort of like a complex game of Risk. From here, you'll manage production, move armies and fleets around, engage in trade and diplomacy, and more. Europe is divided into provinces, each of which has ratings for food production, population, and resource production, all of which have useful aspects throughout the game. Unit and ship counters look like miniature brass replicas, as if you're actually the leader of your country moving pieces around the map. Each turn represents one month, and after 12 months, the game displays a progress report, ranking where your nation is among its competitors.

To its credit, the developers at Pyro Studios are throwing some intriguing new ideas and concepts into the Total War-like formula. For one, you can actively research new technologies on a tech tree. Like in the Civilization games, you can pick which technology to research next, so there are strategic decisions to be made as to whether to focus more on industrial technologies to boost production by unlocking new buildings (which lets you build ships, buildings, and units faster) or military technologies to build more-powerful units.

Another interesting new feature is quests, which are unlocked when you reach certain milestones, such as by researching a new technology. Quests are sort of like the great wonders of the Civilization games. They represent significant achievements of the era, and by accomplishing quests, you can earn a significant reward. For example, the medical revolution quest means that building up to a certain population will let you build hospitals in all your territories at no cost. Meanwhile, the Rosetta stone quest requires you to build up a light infantry and naval force and then link a sea route to Alexandria, Egypt. But doing so will triple your research production for a year, which represents the scientific significance of discovering that historically important item.

Russell Crowe isn't in sight, but don't let that keep you from shouting, 'Huzzah!'
Russell Crowe isn't in sight, but don't let that keep you from shouting, 'Huzzah!'

And, of course, you really can't make a game about this era without having some kind of robust diplomacy system. The nations of the era were in a constant balancing act as they allied with one another to counter the growing power of their rivals. So Imperial Glory will let you form coalitions and defensive alliances, request rights of passage, form commercial treaties, and more. You can also try to repair or improve your relations with other nations by building consulates and newspaper offices abroad to try to generate sympathy with them, as well as with other foreign nations. That's important, because your nation's reputation varies, depending on your relationship with a particular foreign power. Turn down an opportunity to form a defensive alliance and the nation offering may take offense.

As the great Prussian strategist Clauswitz noted, though, war is the continuation of politics by other means. So inevitably in Imperial Glory, there will come a time when you do have to battle it out, on both land and sea. When it comes down to a fight, the game switches to real-time tactical mode. You'll see a 3D battlefield with your units on it, and it's up to you to maneuver them and select the right tactics to prevail over your enemies. However, you can also autogenerate the results if you don't want to mess with battles or if victory is all but assured.

Sea battles take place on a very beautifully rendered seascape, and you can control multiple ships in combat against multiple opponents. If you saw Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, then you'll have an inkling about what you need to do. Basically, you have to maneuver your ships into position so they can unleash powerful broadsides against the enemy, while at the same time minimizing the amount of damage you'll receive. You can choose from regular cannonballs, which are good for punching holes in a hull; chain shot, which can shred sails and therefore cripple a vessel's speed; and grape shot, which, like a giant shotgun blast, takes out exposed enemy sailors. In many ways, the naval combat in Imperial Glory is very much like a slower, statelier version of the combat in the recent Sid Meier's Pirates! remake.

You've got to admire the courage and insanity required to stand in a straight line when being shot at.
You've got to admire the courage and insanity required to stand in a straight line when being shot at.

Land battles are very reminiscent of the battles in the Total War games, as again, the secret is maneuvering your troops into appropriate formations to win. This also means countering an enemy's moves by choosing the right tactics. If infantry are being attacked by cavalry, have them get into a square formation, which makes it difficult for cavalry to carve them apart. Or if the infantry are going up against infantry, have them get into a line formation to maximize firepower. In addition to infantry, you can command a variety of cavalry and artillery. The game also features some nifty tactics, like the ability to have infantry barricade themselves into buildings, where they receive line of sight and defensive bonuses. We also saw some pretty cool moments, including when one of our armies was atop a frozen lake, which was not a good place to be, as canon fire shattered the ice.

There are fans of the Total War games who have been clamoring for a Napoleonic chapter in the series, and in all respects, Imperial Glory looks like it should deliver what they've been looking for. But even if you're not a Napoleonic warfare fan, the game is worth keeping an eye on, as it blends together elements from other highly successful strategy games in an effective and interesting way. Imperial Glory should ship next month.

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