After a controversial launch, Empire has gone on to become one of the sleeper hits of the Total War series. A few weeks before the standalone Total War: Shogun 2 expansion, Fall of the Samurai was released, we asked Creative Assembly studio director, Mike Simpson about Empire's strange journey. "It’s weird isn’t it?" he said. "It does keep going – that’s one thing about Empire, it’s still selling now as much as it was a year ago and that just doesn’t stop."
Empire was to be The Creative Assembly's most sprawling, ambitious Total War yet, but its release in 2009 was overshadowed by AI bugs. Passive enemies and weak AI frustrated Total War players. Simpson admits that The Creative Assembly "did take on a little bit more than we were actually capable of delivering by the date."
"We had to have it earlier, so it was buggy on release, and it took us quite a few patches to get that sorted out. But when it was done it gets closer to the product that we originally intended, and it had long, long, long legs."
Empire's vast campaign takes place across three major theatres of war, America, Europe and India. Those are just the land battles, additional coastline zones host naval battles for international trade routes, vital for securing the huge resources needed to fuel a hungry global empire. Simpson described how The Creative Assembly approach each edition of Total War, in stages of "revolution" and "evolution." New titles like Empire are designed to refresh the series and update the engine, acting as a platform for future expansions like The Warpath campaign and, follow-up games like Napoleon.
"Empire was one of those revolutionary steps, but at that point the revolutions were starting to take too long to do, so it started to take more than three years to go around and that cycle was too long," said Simpson. "So at that point we realised you can’t actually throw the whole codebase away and start again, we have to do it in chunks. So we’re going into more of a continuous revolution process, which seems to be working pretty well."
Empire is available on Steam now for £10 / $19.99, and there's a demo available if you fancy trying it out. It's improved immensely in with the patches CA have added over the years, and there are plenty of mods out there keeping it fresh.
More recently, Total War: Shogun 2 could be considered the next "revolution" of the cycle. We've since had Rise of the Samurai and Fall of the Samurai, which means we're probably due another big step into a new theatre soon. Where would you like Total War to go next?
Standalone Total War expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is out, and it's really rather good. You can find out exactly why in our Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai review. You'll be fighting for tradition and the Samurai way on the Shogun's side, or battling to restore the Emperor to supremacy, but carving out your empire in the midst of a civil war isn't an easy task. The standalone expansion adds 39 new units, three new agents and a bunch of new boats. There's a new tech tree, railways and dramatic new weapons like naval artillery and gatling guns to get to grips with.
There's so much to do. Where should a new general start? Who should you kill first? Which are better, swords or guns? Is Sun Tzu's Art of War actually useful? (yes, if you're monitor's a bit low down, plonk it on top of the ancient tome, voila). Here are ten top tips to help you take back Japan.
Set up trade routes quickly
Building an empire is expensive. Never mind the cost of training troops and building boats, it's the upkeep that you need to worry about. Soldiers are always hungry and boats have a habit of breaking. That'll cost you a set amount of gold every turn. In Total War, quick money is hard to come by. You can take an enemy town and sack it for all it's worth, or just set up a trade route.
Doing a deal with another clan will instantly secure you a boost to your income every turn, but the number of trade agreements you can set up is limited by the number of ports you control. Your first step should be to send out a small fleet to skirt the shores of Japan. Whenever you catch a glimpse of an undiscovered faction, you'll be able to set up a meeting straight away and start negotiations.
In Fall of the Samurai, your relationships with other clans will be affected by your allegiance with the progressive Emperor or the traditionalist Shogun. If a clan's on the other side, they won't like you very much. That's why it's best to discover as many factions as possible as quickly as possible. The deals you do should be limited by the number of ports you have, not the number of factions you can talk to.
It's worth keeping an eye on which resources are in demand. If you see one selling for a good price, upgrade the mines and mills that generate that resource to boost that vital trade income.
Use artillery always
Ships can now bombard cities, mines, farms, railway stations and even armies from the safety of the sea. If one of your armies enter battle within a friendly fleet's circle of influence on the campaign map, you'll be able to call down artillery to smash your enemies on the battlefield. This is an extremely powerful ability that you'll want to use constantly throughout your Fall of the Samurai campaign.
On the strategic campaign map, you should use fleets to strike at unguarded resource buildings scattered throughout enemy provinces. You can hammer farms and mines into disrepair, damaging your opponent's economy. They'll have to spend some gold to get those buildings repaired as well, making shoreline bombardments a great way to soften up a province for invasion.
Naval artillery can be even more useful in battle. As long as the fight is initiated within the circular range indicator of your fleet on the campaign map, you'll be able to call down a couple of devastating bombardments during the real time battle. You can choose a focused bombardment, which is useful if you're going for a high-risk strike on a vital enemy unit (the one that carries their general, for example), but you'll probably do better with the less accurate strike. This will spread out the incoming shells, delivering less destruction over a wider area, but more disruption to the enemy line.
A well timed strike can obliterate enemy armies in tight rank and file formation. If you're lucky, your strike will result in plenty of casualties, but even if you don't score a direct hit, the force of the impacts will send soldiers flying. This can scatter your foe's formation and open up gaps in their gunlines. Once you've called in the big guns, there's a bit of a wait before it arrives. Getting barrages on target can take a bit of practice. If you master artillery, you've added a devastating weapon to your arsenal.
Build boats. Lots of boats
Naval artillery is an important weapon, but your fleets have an even more vital task. You must protect your trade ports at all costs. At high tech levels, you can upgrade those ports to international trade centres. These bring in immense riches and give you the opportunity to recruit troops from overseas. If your enemy blockades a port, it'll cost you thousands in gold and you'll lose those recruitment options.
Don't let that happen. A fleet can travel a long way in a turn, which means they can protect wide stretches of coastline from would-be pirates. It's worth keeping a few souped up fleets as high-impact defensive armadas designed to crush raiding parties. Likewise, send out small squadrons yourself to harass enemy resource points and raid trade routes. Maintaining all these ships will be expensive, but it's worth it.
Once you've researched the tech, it's worth upgrading your port defences. This will install a series of huge cannon emplacements around your shipping centres that will automatically lay damage on any enemy fleets within range. You'll even be able to see these tiny cannon emplacements firing away on the strategic campaign map.
Mind the seasons
Each turn in Fall of the Samurai reflects just a few weeks of time. In previous Total War games, clicking the End Turn button could move the game ahead an entire season. This has some knock on effects that you'll want to keep in mind as you plan your conquest of Japan.
Winters last a lot longer. If you leave armies out in the field during the winter months, a number of soldiers each turn will freeze to death or desert. As it can take many turns to train replacements, you'll want to keep these casualties to a minimum by planning around the winter months. When you plot an army's route on the campaign map, you'll be able to tell how long it'll take them to reach their target from the number of times the arrow changes colour along the journey. Making a note of this will help you avoid stranding your armies in the cold.
That means the winter months are good for up your forces and planning your attack. When the snows thaw, start the war.
Manage the pace of change
Moving down the new tech tree in Fall of the Samurai can be a dangerous business. You gain new advances by increasing your faction's overall modernisation score. You do this by building modern buildings, researching certain civic techs and training advanced troops. Their are several tiers of modernisation to unlock, and each time you cross into a new tier, the chances of a samurai rebellion increase.
As you start to head into that final tier it's a good idea to pull some troops off the front lines to garrison some of your central towns. When the samurai rebel, they really go for it. Large armies of them will pop up in the middle of the countryside in your weakest lands. They'll make a beeline for the city of that province, trashing your mines, farms and taverns as they go. Build structures that increase repression to stop this from happening, and keep your forts well stocked with troops. Their mere presence will discourage disgruntled warriors from turning their blades against you.
Be aggressive with your allies
Just because you're allied with a faction doesn't mean you're not in competition with them. There are a lot of factions fighting over a limited amount of territory in Fall of the Samurai and you'll have to be boisterous if you want to take more cities than your nearby friends. Securing lots of territory early on can solve problems later in the campaign when the only territory you can feasibly take belongs to an ally.
Betraying a faction you have a long term relationship with will have a negative effect on all of your negotiations. Word travels quickly, and the other faction leaders will quickly get wind of your backstabbing behaviour and trust you less as a result. Damaged relationships have a direct impact on the amount of profit you make from trade, which makes all-out war with friends a bad option.
There are sneakier alternatives, though. When the campaign starts, there's a rush to conquer the many tiny factions scattered across Japan. If you don't take their territory, your allies will. I often found myself racing allied armies to undefended enemy cities. In these situations I would employ Shinobi agents to sabotage allied armies. This would freeze them on the campaign map and give my army the chance to occupy the province that should have rightfully been theirs.
If your Shinobi is good he'll complete the mission and leave no trace. In that case, sabotage isn't an act of war. Your ally might suspect your involvement in their army's difficulty but they'll never be able to prove it. The perfect crime.
Turn the enemy
There are several new agent types to scheme with in Fall of the Samurai. Used them well and you can destabilise enemy provinces and even turn enemy troops to your cause. Imperial factions can recruit Ishin Shishi agents, Shogun players can recruit Shinsegumi. They play very similar roles on the campaign map. They're good agent hunters, can repress rebellions, inspire friendly troops or waltz up to enemy generals and talk them into joining your cause.
It's worth sending one or two agents wandering through the wilderness, converting small enemy forces whenever he can. These turncoats can hang around behind enemy lines, sabotaging resource points and throwing themselves suicidally in front of large enemy forces to slow their progress. Cruel, but effective.
It's worth remembering that some targets are much more precious than others. When you're harassing enemy provinces, you'll want to burn trade ports and advanced resource gathering structures to the ground. Above all, you'll want to target railway stations.
Railways are so expensive, and require such a level of infrastructure, that they only come into Fall of the Samurai towards the end of a campaign. If you get a line up and running, you have an enormous advantage. Troops and agents can travel from one end of a route to the other in the space of a single turn.
This will let you respond to invading armies very quickly. More importantly, it'll let you get new units, cannons and gatling guns to your forward forces almost instantaneously. The cannon factories you'll need to build gatling guns have to be upgraded many times and take a long time to build. You're not likely to have many, and they'll probably be tucked away safely in the middle of your empire somewhere. Unless you have a railway, getting these monstrous weapons to your armies can take a long, long time.
If an enemy takes one of the stations along the line, you won't be able to transport troops to any location beyond that station. As you'd expect. Trashed stations are very expensive to repair as well, so you'll want to make sure they're well guarded. Conversely, you'll want to break enemy stations at every opportunity, using bombardment, agent sabotage, or ordinary troops.
Look after your Generals
Fall of the Samurai's campaign spans a relatively short amount of time, which means you won't get the problem that could crop up in larger Total Wars like Empire, when leaders tended to die of old age on the eve of an important battle. In this expansion, your generals be there until the end, as long as you keep them out of trouble.
With each battle they survive, your generals will gain experience. As they level up you can buy advances from their personal skill tree, improving their ability to command in the field, or turning them into masterful siege warriors that excel in defensive situations. Keeping your leaders safe in battle can be a delicate business. Their "rally" and "inspire" abilities are tremendously useful for those moments when you need to give nearby a troops a much needed morale boost, but generals must stay close to the front lines to use them. Keep spearmen at your leader's flanks to protect from enemy cavalry attacks and equip give his bodyguard revolvers when you can. This will let these elite warriors deal damage from a short distance, just out of harm's way.
The campaign map is almost as treacherous as combat for your brave generals. Enemy Shinobi can assassinate them outright, and high level Geisha can woo them away from your cause. Use your own agents to counter these threats. Install your own Geisha in your biggest armies to keep morale high, and counter Shinobi with Shinsegumi, Ishin Shishi and Foreign Veterans.
Guns are great
Archers can compete for a time, but in the end, guns will win out. If you're used to meatgrinder melees then the stand-offish art of mid-range gun combat can seem a little odd, but the rules are simple. Focus fire on weaker units to break them quickly, this will have a negative impact on troops near the fleeing unit. It's hard to stand and fire when your friends have turned around and started running for the nearest pub.
Royal Marines, US Marines and infanterie de marine units are very powerful. They're very accurate, reload quickly and can even put on a good show when they go toe to toe. They're well drilled, too, which means they're less likely to break. If you get the opportunity to recruit these chaps through international trade ports, you won't regret it. Shogunate Guard and Imperial Guard are good all-round gunners, and support these quality elite troops very well.
When you can, grab the high-level "kneel and fire" ability. This will train the front rank of a unit of gunners to take a knee while firing, bringing more guns to bear on your oncoming foe. Wait until the foe is just entering rifle range, throw down some artillery and enjoy the spectacle as your troops mow down the enemy army. In the face of all that gunpowder, the Samurai were doomed to fall.
Lead designer of Shogun 2, James Russell, knows just how much fans love Total War. The series typically produces enormous games capable of generating epic storylines across decades of war. Even then, it's surprising just how much time players spend building their empires. Russell says that "the average" Total War campaigner "plays for about a hundred hours." That is a lot of war.
The process of managing your empire from the strategic view and then fighting hour-long battles can eat up a lot of time, but "the real crux of it," according to Russell, is that "Total War has great replayability."
"With Shogun 2, any of those clans could have won the day and become Shogun, so you can have a lot of playthroughs and a lot of different things can happen" he says. "What we want to do is really put the player in an immersive, very specific setting and say 'you write your own story'"
The upcoming, standalone Fall of the Samurai expansion looks to do just hat. The six new factions are split into two groups, pro-Shogunate traditionalists and imperialist sympathisers. All of them have their own self-interest at heart, but will be able to specialise in different aspects of war to take Japan for themselves, whether that means training expert samurai, or trading with the West for powerful new guns.
"We choose preiods that have a lot of depth, a lot of interest, a lot of things going on, a lot of factions vying for control" says Russell. The culture clash and technological battle that lies at the heart of Fall of the Samurai should provide plenty of the famous depth that keeps Total War players coming back for more, and will let us play with some powerful new toys at the same time.
For more on Fall of the Samurai, ceck out more from our interview with James Russell, when he talked to us about the difficulties balancing historical accuracy with fair mechanics, and revealed that Shogun 2 players will be able to fight with Fall of the Samurai players online. You'll find much more in the six page Fall of the Samurai preview in the latest issue of PC gamer UK.
Shogun 2: Total War’s standalone expansion will let you play online with existing Shogun 2 players, even if they haven't bought it. Whether you’ve discovered Fall of the Samurai’s trains, gatling guns and cannons or not, you’ll still be able to compete online with swords and muskets.
“One of the things that we made sure of with Fall of the Samurai is that we didn't split the online community”, says James Russell, Lead Designer on the series. Players without Fall of the Samurai can play against people with the expansion. That's really important to us. We want to make sure that people who buy the new game can play against the guys playing Shogun 2.
James stressed that maintaining context during the online battles is still a priority for Creative Assembly.
“Total War - particularly the campaign side - is a very unique, thoughtful, deep experience that we want to maintain. We definitely want to keep Total War as an immersive experience even though we want to create multiplayer battles that you can get in and out of quickly, and have fun if you’ve only got half and hour.”
"We have lots of plans to make multiplayer into a more compelling experience,” continued Jamie.
Shogun 2: Total War was the most multiplayer-focused game in the franchise so far, bringing a co-op campaign and fully-featured online component to the franchise. Yesterday we also chatted to James Russell about how the team juggle historical accuracy with a need for balance and sensible mechanics.
For more on Rise of the Samurai, watch part one of our exclusive interview or read Tim Stone’s in-depth feature in PC Gamer issue 236.
"We've got a huge pile of options we'd love to set the game in," says James Russell, Lead Designer of the Total War series. And we can't wait to see them happen. With three games in Steam's top 20 most played, it seems PC Gamers can't get enough of Creative Assembly's franchise. Probably because it's consistently great. Watch the video above for more from the closest thing Creative Assembly have to their own general.
Standalone Shogun 2 expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is due in March. It's going to be noisy, bloody and brutal. We're talking cannons, gatling guns, repeating rifles and spears: all being used against squishy human/horse flesh. The expansion will be set during a time of modernisation that marked Japan's transition into an industrial state 300 years after Shogun 2's campaign.
For more on Shogun 2's latest expansion, check back tomorrow or pick up a copy of PC Gamer 236, where you can read Tim Stone's in-depth feature.