Empire: Total War

It crashes.

It used not crash. When I was running it at the very limit of capability of my old ATI card, I had to have all the settings dialled all the way down. The graphics were blocky and shadows were non-existent. The 3-d models rendered as 2d sprites unless I had the camera literally eye to eye*. But it didn’t crash. Looking at gameplay videos and screenshots where it actually looked pretty I was bitten by jealousy and took a look to see what hardware I could afford.

So I upgraded**.

When it works (which to be fair it does occasionally) the game plays and looks better. It’s quite cool to zoom from birds eye view down to the troopers level, with individually rendered barley stalks swaying as the troops march through. But it also crashes. I’m thinking it’s an nVidia driver issue so I’ll have to do some research there and see if I can get it working. A sporadically crashing game would be more forgiveable if it wasn’t such a long term game. i.e. I don’t really care if a game which plays quickly crashes often (c.f. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) but one like Empire where it takes so long to get into the game and requires you to make large time investments to actually achieve anything it becomes impossible to play.

That is the main issue I have with getting started with a game of Empire: Total War. The initial ramp up into the actual campaign. The Path To Independence tutorial campaign is thorough but dull, dull dull (Possibly only to non-American eyes?). So when you go to select the “grand campaign” you’ve got a bunch of major powers to choose from. They just seem so… complicated. There’s so much pre-existing baggage for all of them that it seems as if their path is already set and that you’re just playing out a predetermined role.

Maybe it’s just me but my favourite nations to control in Medieval2: Total war was Denmark or Scotland. Not for any great love of Vikings or my Celtic cousins but more because, as small initial nations you really controlled the growth and history of the nation. You started at a small, slow pace and grew into the game. With the bigger nations you had half a dozen provinces to control and had to keep an eye on them all from the get go or you’d be struggling straight away. It’s just a very different style of play. (similar to running small clubs in football manager games as opposed to the giant, already successful clubs)

Previously, I installed a mod to enable playing as the smaller nations in Empire: Total War. I tried playing as Genoa and as Hannover. It was fun and there was definitely less stuff to keep track of. The only down side is that as a small nation there’s very little you can actually do. You build some troops try to spot a vulnerable neighbour and conquer.  The only downside is that your neighbours will have major nations as allies and all of a sudden you’re trying to fight off a superpower with town militia and the most basic of troops. Hunh… that’s actually pretty historically correct.

The only time I really played the grand campaign for any length of time I did so as Prussia. Mainly because it’s relatively simple, just two provinces and primarily land battles. But as I was in such a central location that I pick fights with Russia, Poland, Austria, Sweden. Much like the actual 7 years war in the 17th century. And of course, inevitably, once I was stretched far enough, my allies, the English sail into Berlin with a pretty impressive invasion force. Thanks for that guys.

This reminds me of another issue I have with the total war games (if I’ve got so many issues with them, why play them? Because they have fantastic potential to be brilliant games and they’re exactly the sort of game that scratches my itch for a combination of strategy/tactics). You always get the feeling that you’re the focus of attention. If you show weakness you’ll be attacked by neighbours. If you get too strong, former allies will attack you (rather than try to ride on your coattails). There’s no sense of a grand actions outside of your theatre of operations to which you are only a bystander. All other nations are concerned with dealing with you.

Maybe this is inevitable because you are the only human playing and it’s easy to assume that you’re the centre of attention. Perhaps if you saw the intra nation conflicts not involving yourself this feeling would fade? You never hear about other nations losing territory or significant battles being won or lost.

So for my latest game I decided to try playing as the Ottoman Empire. To be honest just the little advisor summary you get at the start of the campaign is intimidating for the sheer scope of their potential problems.

  • Persians attacking in the east but they’re weak so potential for expansion into areas of rough terrain, Check.
  • Russians targeting a protectorate in the north; Check.
  • Allies, the Barbary corsairs guarding the southern seas, Check.
  • Bellicose neighbours Austria will jump on any signs of weakness and would love another war, Check.
  • Poland is another potential aggressor, Check.
  • Religious unhappiness in newly conquered European provinces, Check.
  • Short term aim: get on good terms with a major western nation. Ok.

Right can I play yet? Oh, I’ve got to be careful I don’t fall behind technologically as well? Ok then.

So, this was my kingdom (sultanate). I was finally there. Time to settle down and claim my throne as the king (sultan) of bel… Istanbul.

Sorry, my mind was wandering there.

Finances are good, ~4000 in the bank and a further ~3500 on the way next year. Now usually with the Total War games my first action is to build roads in all the provinces which have them. Aside from the additional money they bring in, they also tie a large empire together and allow speedy troop movements. The Ottoman empire however seems to have a solid infrastructure already and I’m not flush enough to be able to afford cobbled roads from Baghdad to Cairo to Istanbul. I do have some regions which need administrative structures and I’m going to have to militarise in both the European theatre and in the East so military building and troops being build there.

With what I’ve got left over, I’ll try and upgrade the towns and villages scattered around the map. Most productive first and then work my way down. The next turn I build and ship some troops to my protectorate in the Crimea. They’re still standing on the ship as the turn ends. I also work my way through every nation I can build trading links with and do so. That’s an extra ~2000 a turn in income.

During the end turn Persia declares war, raids my port on the gulf of Aden and sends a pitiful army towards Baghdad. Georgia also declares war which is convenient as I wanted to take them out anyway. Russia attacks my protectorate in the Crimea and I can send my ship bound troops to help. I do so and the game crashes. Which is a pity as I was really starting to get into the game

<edit>Of course online guides like this make it all seem so easy. It never is. It’s like a game of Diplomacy. It’s easy in theory, but complicated in practice.</edit>

*It’s an old bugbear of mine. Using 3d models when 2d sprites serve the same overall purpose, especially with a strategic game is missing the point of why people play the game. Especially if developing the graphics engine means that you don’t have the time/resources to work on a competent A.I. anyway…

**Unintentionally. I bought a new graphics card. But it wasn’t compatible with my processor (CPU) or  power supply unit (PSU). I bought a new CPU and PSU. The PSU worked fine and I even got the graphics card working (kinda). However, the new CPU wasn’t compatible with my motherboard. So either leave €100 worth of CPU lying around or buy a €40 motherboard. One new motherboard and a complete Windows XP reinstall later I’d basically build a new PC for around €400. Looking at it now, my monitor’s looking kinda rough these days… All in all; given that it’s a 5 year old PC I got pretty good use out of it.

Image from wikimedia commons

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