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Empire: Total War (2009)
What could have been 2009's best game falls short of it's predecessors... and it's maker's visions for it
Of all the games that came out in 2009, Empire: Total War (ETW) was the one game I was really excited to play. But after playing the game for only around 50 hours, I felt something was wrong.
ETW is the fifth standalone installment in the renowned Total War (TW) series by Creative Assembly (CA). Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, ETW allows players to command an army of thousands in a 3D battlefield as well as ruling over one of the world's major factions. This time around the TW series takes on the age of gunpowder - complete with line infantry and cannons to command. The game features the debut of naval battles showcasing spectacular fighting sail combat. The game's campaign map is also the most extensive in the series, featuring much of the Americas, India, the Middle East, North Africa, and of course Europe. The campaign mode was enhanced by several new features such as towns that have either a commercial, educational, or a religious purpose in mind, recruitment directly from generals, governments and revolutions, dueling gentlemen, a technology tree, trade nodes, and several others. Land battles also have new stuff such as garrisonable structures and deployable defenses; units can now take cover behind fences as well.
All of this sounds fantastic right? So what's wrong with this game?
The first major issue with this game is stability. Before ETW, a TW game was the one of the most stable strategy games to play around. That track record was destroyed with ETW, which is the most crash prone game in the series. Although several patches have reduced instances of crashes, they still happen.
One of the things TW games are notorious for is having rather sub-par AI, and with ETW things weren't improved at all. In fact prior to patch 1.2, the AI was simply plain stupid - it barely did anything besides remain static - and it didn't even know how to pull off naval invasions; even with several patches, the AI is still somewhat poor despite showing some promise; only an unofficial mod called DarthMod has improved the AI's capabilities!
Now even if there were no stability issues or dumb AI, ETW still has at least one final snag - immersion. Gone are the family tree, events, missions, heroic victory markers, the connection with the characters in your campaigns, just to name a few.
The new unit retraining system, though convenient, is more or less like an exploit since you can bring your units to full strength no matter where your army is.
The reinforcement system is a major step back. In ETW, reinforcements come in piecemeal - a nation can't field more than 20 units during a battle; only when a slot is available can a reinforcement unit be used. Due to this battles feel less realistic and the system makes it tempting to kill your line infantry just so you can use those elites.
Graphically ETW has some of the best graphics in the series. The seascapes and ships are testimony to that; who can forget the impressive melee fights? On the other hand though, the game also has some ugly 3D models or sprites - ETW buildings look inferior to Medieval II buildings, for instance; to make things worse, ETW heralds the return of clone armies.
Speaking of armies, the "variety" in ETW is god-awful. Excluding the Ottomans and the Marathas, the factions in an unpatched ETW have virtually the same units with only different faction colors to distinguish their ownership. Officially, the solution to this is downloadable content (DLC), which I feel CA gas gotten it wrong considering that most of the DLC is what should have been in the game in the first place.
Anyway, if you thought that sieges were bad in previous games, that crappiness comes full circle in ETW. Sieges play out in such a way that it's like as though there are no walls in the battle. This situation is made all the more worse if you are defending a fort.
One the things I liked about the TW series was the audio. ETW ruined that notion. While units can now speak their native tongues, the sounds are somewhat sub-par (when its raining you don't hear raindrops). The music, while nice, was too repetitive (Scottish bagpipes play 4/5 times during the campaign); I actually listened to the game's soundtrack and to my dismay most of the music was meant for the in-game videos. ETW, simply put, lacks soul. To add insult to the injury, prior to the game's release, CA promised that ETW was to be "the richest and most dynamic PC RTS game of all time."
Having experienced all the crap that ETW had to offer, it was the only TW game that I uninstalled from my PC after only one month of play. I did had fun, but I still didn't enjoy this game as much as I enjoyed Rome: Total War or M2TW even after reinstalling the game with the patches. With my acquisition of Napoleon: Total War, ETW has left my hard drive for perhaps the last time. When the ETW was released, CA proudly proclaimed that ETW "will be remembered as one of the landmark games of the decade." Yes, ETW will be remembered - but only as a reminder of CA lowering the bar for the franchise.
To all those buying this game, I strongly recommend getting the DarthMod Ultimate Commander Edition to make the game somewhat more enjoyable.