Finally, I was able to press END TURN enough to get the short, generic VICTORY movie at the end of the grand campaign in Empire: Total War (I had completed the victory conditions 30 turns before the end of the game). It was a long, long slough as Sweden, moving through Russia, south through the Caucases into Kashmir and then shooting west through Pomerania, Bavaria and onto France. Empire is a giant game, encompassing the biggest map of the world so far in a Total War game (I actually got to fight a battle near my house in the midwest!). The idea of conquering all of it by the time alloted is pretty daunting, but once you get on a roll, entirely possible. I had little trouble with any of the enemy nations with the exception of Spain and England. England managed to keep my Swedish ships out of the water for decades at a time, and against Spain, I actually lost some major land battles before they finally succumbed to a three prong attack from France, Portugal and up from the Mediterranean.
Overall, Empire: Total War was a big step up from the graphically excellent, but rather mediocre Midieaval Total War 2, with major refinements to the campaign mode, the removal of the management of families and lineage, reduction of the importance of religion and missions from the pope or some governing body (I’m my own governing body dammit!). In the Grand Campaign, I felt a lot more free to hack through whatever part of the planet piqued my interest at the time, regardless of race, creed or religion. I love the fact that each of the nations speak in their own language— a really wonderful touch that I didn’t realize until I couldn’t understand anything my Swedish troops were saying on turn 1.
As for the real time battles, I found the engine to be more fun and more intense than anything in MTW2 as well, handling musket and pistol just as well as arrows and swords. The typical AI quirks fans of the series have learned to love after all these years are still around, making flanking and harrasment your best tools against an easily flustered AI. Sieges are still not very fun, and I would have to say they are worse than their Rome/Midieaval TW counterparts because they don’t follow what was going on during the period at all. Sieges during this time rarely went into initial assault, instead the attackers would build, over time, a massive mine and trench system around fortifications. Eventually, if left unmolested, the attackers would get bombards close enough to fire over the walls at which time the defenders would either surrender or prepare to receive 3 assaults through breaches, after which they could surrender with their colors. None of this is represented in TW: Empires and I feel that’s a grevious lack of attention to detail as well as simply not being very fun to play out.
We did finally get sea battles in this version and it’s something I am really looking forward to as Creative Assembly continues to revisit the series (Shogun next!). The sea battles are slow and tactical, but the first time you see an enemy’s magazine blow up all the build up is worth it. That said, most of the time I let the auto-fight figure out who won unless it was a major throw down.
As for the special people: Spies, Gentleman and Priests, I really didn’t do much with two of the three. Priests are necessary if you want the people that you just conquered to be happy by being converted to your religion, but they just sort of stand around. Gentleman give bonuses to research and production and can duel other Gentleman, but I really didn’t pay much attention to them other than using them as semi-spies here and there. Spies I used a great deal and were a key to success in most of the campaign, nothing new here from the early days of the series.
To conclude, Rome Total War is still my top dog in the 4X genre. Sure the graphics are no where near TW: Empires and the campaign game is certainly not as mature, but Rome just something about it that resonates with me. Possibly that the scale seems more appropriate, or the period is one I find entirely more compelling. Next on my list is Napoleon Total War, but that will have to wait until I upgrade my tired socket 939.