The Rise of Rome: Total War
It is no exaggeration to describe Rome: Total War was one of the most revolutionary strategy games ever made. It was a game which, with its ranks of intricately defined Roman legionaries - staggeringly realistic and a far cry from the fuzzy unresolved masses of the first Medieval edition – forever redefined the Total War series.
Even years later with three great, but by no means radical sequels bringing some refinement to the format, Rome continues to stand the test of time and remains one the most seminal editions to the strategy game genre.
But were things about to change with Sega’s release of Empire: Total War? Could they bring the reign of the legendary Rome to an end, or would Empire be just another sequel which, however good, simply couldn’t escape Rome’s mighty shadow.
Listening to all the hype about Empire’s vast range of new features and feeling the build up as its release came ever closer, I for one felt assured that it could. However the truth is that for everything which it does so well, Empire: Total War is a game which, ironically, falls far short of Rome and its sequels because it tries so hard to be different.
Empire: Total War Campaign Map
When first getting onto the campaign map, it is obvious that much has changed. Set in the turbulent 18th century, the player’s colonial ambitions can now span the breadth of three whole continuants. And with the Americas ripe for revolution, rebellion in India, and most of Europe obscured beneath a haze of cannon and musket fire, everything is there for the taking. But the truth is that for however large the campaign map might seem, changes to the layout of provinces do much to undermine the game’s vast sense of scale.
Unlike Rome and Medieval 2, countries are no longer dissected into provinces. Instead, to take the whole of France for example, the player simply has to capture Paris. To conquer the entire Spanish mainland, they only need capture Madrid. This means that if you play as Britain, struggles against your neighbours are not lengthy, and after only two major battles, a huge chunk of Europe is already incorporated into the empire.
Empire Land Battles
The problem with the low density of settlements also means that not only do you fight fewer battles, but there are fewer opportunities for sieges. In a game which has so much emphasis on cannons this is curious, and what is even stranger, is that town layouts – so superb in Rome and even better in Medieval 2 – are surprisingly poor. Expecting something that would surpass the aesthetic wonders of Rome when first attacking a capital city in Empire, I couldn’t believe my eyes to discover that the whole place consisted of about six houses, one government building and a crumby town centre.
But what of the battles themselves? Well graphically, as you would expect from a Total War game, they are superb. However, because of the huge emphasis now placed on missile troops, the battles of Empire: Total War demand an entirely different set of tactics compared to its predecessors.
And as someone who enjoys nothing more than slicing into an opposing army’s flanks with a massive charge of heavy cavalry, simply slogging it out with musket volleys quickly became tiresome. This is of course a matter of taste, but in my opinion, the format does not suit these kinds of battles as well as it suited warfare from the classical and medieval periods.
But when considering the games biggest innovation: its use of real time naval battles, it is difficult not to be awestruck. Visually they have to be some of the best graphics of any game I have ever seen.
Watching as the water, from the choppy dark Atlantic to the clear blue of the Caribbean, laps about the hull of your vessels while they slice their way across the water is nothing short of breath taking. Similarly during combat, with the crew scrambling about on deck, full broadsides tearing great gashes in ships and debris littering the water, it just looks phenomenal.
However naval battles are also let down by how difficult the vessels are to micro manage. They must be lined up just so in order to pull of a devastating broadside and just trying to get them all positioned correctly is painstaking work. Also when you have ships of different classes and speed, they will smash into the back of each other unless constantly supervised.
The ships are also hopelessly inadequate at defending themselves when the player’s attention is focused elsewhere and this means naval battles must be continually paused and un-paused. But worst of all is that other nations hardly bother to beef up their naval capabilities, and this means large scale engagements are rare.
Overall Empire: Total War Review
Had Empire: Total War come along out of the blue as some off the wall, obscure strategy game, I would be the first to sing its praises. But the problem is that when you consider what the game has evolved from, its deficiencies are hard to justify.
Graphically the game’s good, but in many ways not as good as Medieval Kingdoms which was much more spectacular in terms of city layouts. Similarly the battles are enjoyable, but they are repetitive, and lack the dynamism of its TW predecessors. Naval battles could have done much to redeem the game, but although visually superb, they are frustrating to manage. All in all, although Empire: Total War is by means a failure, for me at least, Rome: Total War still reigns supreme.