Empire: Total War

“We’re not de-emphasising the campaign,” stresses James. “We’ve put a huge amount of effort into that side of the game.” There’s no need for the player to spend time moving a merchant laboriously from A to B when they could be researching weapons, engaging in diplomacy or planning a devastating attack on the French. “There’s more to do on the campaign map than ever before, but less repetition and fewer chores.”

But what of your foes’ actions on the campaign map? With that in mind, there are two programmers dedicated to the campaign map’s AI. Whereas the diplomatic and military AI in previous Total War games were separate entities, leading to some curious international actions, they have now been unified, which should result in more realistic diplomatic relations: more useful alliances and complex treaties. Diplomacy can now be entered into at any time, as opposed to having to send a diplomat to find a foreigner and click on it. James Russell again: “We’ve done a lot with diplomacy. It’ll be clearer to understand how a faction feels about you, and why. The factions will seem much more human; you’ll understand their decisions.”

The array of personalities we’re used to seeing standing around the map has also been reduced: no diplomats, and priests and princesses have probably got the chop too. Instead of spies and assassins, we now have the rake, a presumably caddish bounder who’ll ingratiate himself into your enemies’ corridors of power. His abilities have yet to be confirmed, but we’re guessing that it’ll be something more deadly than guzzling all the Prussians’ sherry and seducing a duchess. Spies have not definitely been cut, but the new campaign map is freer with its information: you won’t have to physically have a man on the spot to know whether France has invaded Spain, for example.

Initial glimpses of the sea battles were spectacular but one thing stood out: only a few ships in each. Would water-based warfare be on a small scale? After all, these are huge and complicated ships. James was once again able to reassure us. “It’s true, ships are complex; the hull, crew and sails can be targeted and damaged separately, and controlling them is a new skill. But we’re aiming for 20 ships per side.” Though that number is yet to be finalised, it’s clear the desire is for us to enact our own mini-Trafalgars, not just simple salty skirmishes. But what about the wind, the sea, the cannons, the crew, and the sails, not to mention the multiple ships? Isn’t this going to be a bit tricky? “We’re not trying to make a hardcore sailing simulator,” James says. “But we want the wind to provide some meaning so it’s not just a static environment - it’s about a balance. It’s a different challenge for us.”

Jamie Ferguson chips in: “There are visual and audio clues to help the player use the wind. It’s a simple concept and is easier than you might think to use the ships in battle.” Still, though, it’s completely new territory for Creative Assembly, whose previous games have been strictly landlubbers. “It’s been a lot of work. One guy spent a whole year working on the water. When you see raindrops hitting the sea, cannonballs skipping over the water... and of course waves get bigger, ships roll. In the Caribbean the sea is a beautiful blue, while the North Sea is grey.” There’s also a global weather system and climate types, so the weather conditions and position of the sun all dictate what you’ll see in a sea battle.

There’ll be 10-20 types of ship for each faction once the tech tree has opened up, with subtle variations between nations, and naturally some factions will have a slight technological advantage. Admirals work in the same way as generals, being able to build armadas around them rather than forcing you to laboriously source each ship from various ports. All this military might at sea is not just for crushing your enemies, however: sea power is vital for protecting your trade routes and making your overseas colonies viable.

With Empire’s release scheduled for November, meaning there’s less than six months left for CA to realise their ambitious dream, it’s a slight concern that the campaign map is still under wraps. Adding the third major element - sea battles - to the two existing aspects of Total War has thrown up many new challenges, but this experienced team is well equipped to cope. Confidence is high that Empire will be CA’s crowning glory.

May 9, 2008