342 tea barrels and the freedom of taste
If you were ever curious enough to take a look over the history of the U.S., you probably noticed that thousands of years of pre-Columbian history takes up only a few pages. The end of the colonial period, however, culminating with a very jolly tea party followed by the Independence War, has entire treaties dedicated to it which judge and argue certain events that eventually led to the independence of the thirteen colonies and a harsh Civil War later on.
On the other hand, the European history of the 17th to 19th centuries doesn’t need an evaluation from a neophyte like me. But there are a few important moments from this period which, with a bit of luck, can be witnessed in Empire Total War.
Short history lesson
One of the fascinating things about the entire Total War series, which started with Shogun: Total War in 2000 and continued over the years, going over the most important historical phases for humanity, sometimes even twice (see the Medieval titles), was the fact that every game in itself wanted to be more than just a commercial title for board gamers.
Overall, Total War is a history lesson. Not one that could replace personal study, but one that contains enough elements to light the passion of someone who already has a predisposition towards the immense wisdom that the universal history offers. Maybe Rome: Total War was one of the most spectacular games in the series, but Shogun: Total War and its expansions was by far the most interesting and exotic. That’s because the Japanese didn’t fall into the Dark Age trend like everyone else, but created a civilization which is and will always be fascinating.
A lot of players and gaming press members see Medieval II as Creative Assembly’s magnum opus in terms of building the premise of a historical strategy and tactics game close to perfection. I personally tend to disagree. In my opinion, the premise was there in every game of the series. What kept Medieval II a step away from that elusive perfect 10 always had to do with technical problems or small conceptual aberrations. For instance, one of the aces up the recent titles’ sleeves is considered to be their dynamic campaigns.
But we already know that this can also be a drawback, because not everyone wants their own timeline in history. Furthermore, it also depends on how you approach total freedom. On the other hand, every game nowadays gets graded for its multiplayer, and the lack of a dynamic online campaign was probably the heaviest anvil hanging from Total War’s throat. Fortunately for Creative Assembly, they always dropped in a shallow grave, because there’s no real competition in Empire’s category.
Empire Total War offers two main campaigns. One describes U.S. history in the colonial period, emphasizing the Independence War, and the classic, wacky Grand Campaign which allows us to choose a nation and conquer the known world that we have access to: America, Europe and India, all in the classic Total War spirit.
I should mention that the friendly chatter regarding Total War has always been serious and every time around, fans wondered which historical period would be approached in the following game in the series. Because there are plenty subjects, even though most of them don’t fall under the Total War category. And just when most of the subjects had expired, with one of them used twice, we see American propaganda on the rise again. In the end, there is a justification, because nowadays the United States are still a major superpower, and the main commercial and seafaring forces contributed to its forming.
It’s big enough to be a Total starting point, especially if you add a Grand Campaign for those who love Europe or Asia. On the other hand, however, I’ve gotten to know American history better than our own, because a lot of recent historical movies and games injected us with the 13 colonies and gargantuan amounts of tea. Not to mention Battlestar Galactica…
For the American campaign, you can feel that the Independence War and the Civil War don’t really fit the globally-destructive bill that defines the Total War series. It reeks of forced hand, of external testicular pressure and whether you’re pro or anti-American, you can’t shake this influence. And the first time you bash against this problem is in the first campaign missions that drag you through a few important moments: the „acquisition” of a few French-owned territories and one of the first important battles which gave hope to the newly-formed Americans of escaping British taxes, despite the defeat they suffered.
Obviously, we shouldn’t forget that between these there was a grand party in Boston, on the 16th of December, 1773, when the sea turned into an infusion, despite the hopeless screams from the East India Company. This is why the 5 o’clock tea can cause bloody bloating to colonial-spirited folk. In the end, however, the American campaign proved to be a pleasant, optional innovation. So there’s no reason to drag down the score because of it.
When it comes to the dynamic world conquer campaign, things change. A lot. The unit variety is really out there, which makes you play with a notebook next to the keyboard. Personally, I chose to focus on the American campaign, even if it’s slightly scripted, because it wasn’t featured for naught and because it pissed off some people to the same extent it made other happy.