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Post feature RSS Modder's Review: Empire: Total War

Reviewing Creative Assembly's latest epic and it's potential for modding.

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In the year 2000, Creative Assembly released Shogun: Total War, the first in their long lived and critically acclaimed series of strategy games. Since the feudal Japan themed Shogun, the Total War series has covered conflicts in the Roman era and twice gone Medieval. Empire takes places in the turbulent 18th century, a time when empires were expanding into the new world and the muskets and cannons where the height of military technology. If you're into strategy games than you've probably already heard about the game, maybe even read reviews, played the demo, or even bought it by now. But what about it's modding potential? This review will be exploring what can be done with this game and it's engine, though it is by no means the end all on the subject. By the end of this article, I hope to give you enough information to make an informed decision on whether Empire: Total War is a suitable candidate to be the vehicle for your particular creative vision. To this end I'd like to bring three points to your attention.

Moddability: Not all games can be modded, however, some are more easily modded than others. A game might only have third party tools available, while other have first party, fully supported mod SDKs.

This is more a matter of whether you're making a mod just for the fun of it or to be played by the greatest number of people. If a game is dead or dying you may not want to start modding for it. Making a good mod can take years, so ask your self if people are going to be willing to load up this game to play your mod when it's done.

Flexibility: some engines can be bent and worked out of it's original form to make something completely new, others can break with only slight deviations. You have to be thinking about what type of mod you are making and if it will fit into the game you're modding.

So how does Empire measure up? Let's take a closer look at each point.

Building an Empire: Moddability

One good indicator of what is possible with a game is to look at mods that are already out for it. Currently, mods are a little scarce for Empire: Total War. While there are some promising projects in the works, the lack of official tools means that most of the mods out are just tweaks to the interface and factions. Considering that the game is still fairly young, this isn't surprising. A mod development kit is in the works, but until then modders have to make do with third party utilities. One that I was able to find was the Pack File Manager, which allows you to pack and unpack assets into files that the game can read. These “.pack” files hold packed game data, as the name suggests, and are designed to stay packed. The packs can be one of three types: Release, Patch or Mod. Each successive level overrides the one below it, so that patch data is on top of release data and mods are on top of the patches. This allows for a very none destructive mod system, though multiple mods trying to override the same data can conflict with each other. This means that there is no need to have players unpack files in order to play a mod. You can read more about the file system in this post on the Total War Blog.

Empire Total War

This would look great as the Caribbean

At this point the game is moddable, but very limited. We're still waiting for the mod SDK, so there are many unknowns. This doesn't mean that you can't do anything, or that you can't get started on the preliminary stages of mod development. You just might want to be a little conservative in your goals until you can get your hands on the tools.

Voice of the People: Popularity

The game as been generally well received by critics, and sales of the game have certainly been strong. Empire has regularly been in the top 10 PC games sales charts for both retail and digital several times. They're recently released DLC also did very well, topping newer games like Prototype and and ArmA2 in revenue on Steam when first released (and considering that it costs almost fifteen times less, that's rather impressive). It is without a doubt the best selling Total War game to date, with more copies sold than Rome and Medieval II combined. This means that there is a huge potential player base for any mods made for it.

Empire Total War

The scale of Empire is astounding, as are the number of copies sold

One if by Land, Two if by Water: Flexibility

Before we discuss how much the game can go beyond it's original design, let's look at that design. Empire: Total War fallows the same formula used in all of the Total War games to date with two types of gameplay in the single player campaigns. The first type takes place on the campaign map, which has three theaters this time around (Europe, India and the New World). On the map are representations of all of your cities, towns, armies, ships and other units spread across predetermined territories. This part of the game is turn based with each nation moving one at a time. It is here that you move your armies and manage your empire. Set taxes to generate income, but beware rebellion from over taxed citizens and local economic contraction. With the money you earn you can build buildings to produce goods for a town, research more advance technology, fortify the city, increase happiness in the provinces or recruit military units.

When opposing armies meet on the campaign map the battle can either be auto resolved, if you're sure you'll win and are in a hurry, or you can fight the battle in real time. These real time confrontations are the second type of gameplay. Units are in groups according to their types, allowing you to easily control hundreds of troops at a time. You can set their position within an area on your side of the battlefield before the engagement starts to better set up your strategy. Once battle starts you must make the best use of your troops and the battlefield to ware down the enemy moral. The later time period means that ranged weaponry is much more advanced than in any previous Total War game. You're main line infantry use muskets, though bows and arrows are still used by some nations, and melee is still a very viable option. There is also more in the way of artillery at your disposal.

Empire is also the first Total War game to have naval combat. Ships act as individual units in battle and move as fleets on the campaign map. Battles on the high seas are much like their dry counterparts, but the the crew/hull/sail damage dynamic that should be familiar to anyone that's played many games set in the age of sail.

Empire Total War

Sea battles look good, but large engagements can be a mess

There are two single player campaigns that you can play through. The “Road to Independence” campaign puts you in charge of the thirteen colonies in North America, allowing you to build up to becoming the United States. The “Grand Campaign” on the other hand is more free form, allowing you to pick any nation you want with a variety of victory conditions. You can also play quick battles that allow you to jump right into real time battles, either historical or contrived, on land and at sea. Currently multi-player is limited to real time skirmishes, but there are planes to make full campaigns playable online in a future update.

Empire Total War

The humble beginning so a super power

The Total War games have always been noted for their technical achievements in graphics, and Empire is no different. While landscapes tend to be a little bleak, this is a mater of function to accommodate the vast armies that march across them. Thousands of troops can be on screen during the real time battles and each one is exceptionally detailed. Sea battles are similarly impressive, though the water tends to tile when you're zoomed out. Even the campaign map is rendered in full 3D and looks rather good. Though not quite as impressive as the RTS sections, it's still an improvement over previous games. But if you want to see Empire in all it's glory, you'll need a descent computer. The game can scale down but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone using a computer that's more than three years old, unless you're going to set everything to low. In the end, Empire offers an impressive graphics engine that shouldn't hold back your artistic vision, at least in the RTS battles. The campaign map is much more limiting in what you can do so you might not be able to add every little detail.

Empire Total War

The rocket's red glare and the bombs bursting in air give proof that Empire looks great

Empire, much like previous Total War games, is built primarily to do one thing and do it well; combine turn based, empire management with massive, real time battles in a historic setting. While the addition of naval combat and the emphasis that the era brings to ballistic weaponry opens up your options quite a bit, the engine still feels fairly closed and inflexible. This tends to be a problem with all strategy games (though Warcraft 3 certainly showed that it's not impossible). It's possible that this will all change when the modding development kit becomes available, with new tools comes new possibilities. Judging from previous Total War titles, it's not going to be impossible to create total conversions, but it probably won't be very easy. However, if you're looking to create a mod that fallows the Total War formula and is technically similar, you might find Empire to be one of your best choices.

Empire Total War

Multiple theaters op pens up the realm of possibilities, while keeping things manageable

In summery, Empire: Total War is another masterpiece of real time strategy from Creative Assembly. While technical problems bogged down the initial release, I experienced little to no trouble in my time with the game. It's hard to deliver a decisive verdict on the Empire's viability as a mod platform at this time as the SDK is still unreleased, but progress by modders already working with the limited resources available give hope. Again, it's going to be a bit hard to totally change the gameplay. But if you have a Total War type of mod in mind, this is the best Total War yet to do it on.

Powerful graphic engine
Large, loyal fan base
Perfectly suited to historical mods


No SDK, yet
System requirements may be steep for older computers
No evidence of much flexibility in the game engine
Still no multiplayer campaign mode, yet
Load times can be long for large battles

N0dachi - - 50 comments

Nice read, though it might be a little biased ;D

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formerlyknownasMrCP - - 892 comments

Should also add to the Cons:

-Completely **** house AI that is completely dependent on if CA wants to patch it properly anytime soon.

-Each Patch seems to cause problems with some mods due to constant radical changes to coding and database variables.

It should also be noted that Empire cannot support anywhere near the number of units that Medieval 2 Kingdoms could- Kingdoms had support for up to 8 reinforcement armies per side that would be almost completely under the users control.. When Empires demo was first released modders were able to mimic something similar but unfortunately such feats weren't possible in the full release version meaning we are now stuck with CAs crap Reinforcement system until someone finds a way to hack it.

I'd also add to the Pros:
-A lot of the hard limits that were in Medieval 2 have now been removed- such as map sizes.

-You can manually set Unit sizes to well over the HUGE setting.

Overall though I feel this article is a little too soon off the mark, its going to be several months before any real modding progress can be made because the current state of the game is just terrible. However I am enjoying a lot of the mods that have been released its mostly the official stuff that's been a HUGE let down.

Still don't let my negativity get in the way, your article is great.. Well done and keep us informed on what goes on in the empire community. ;)

Also my advice would be turn DOF off if you make screenshots from now on, because I find the game looks better with it off.

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LaDoncella - - 16 comments

all reviews are terribly biased

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Bird_of_Prey Author
Bird_of_Prey - - 1,616 comments

Indeed, anyone who says that they aren't biased is just kidding them selves. ;)

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formerlyknownasMrCP - - 892 comments

I also want to add that you should definitely check out the Lordz Napoleonic Total War 3 Map Packs as they show you exactly what the engine is capable of and even have tutorials and tools included with them that'll teach you how to make custom maps.

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Bird_of_Prey Author
Bird_of_Prey - - 1,616 comments

Thanks for the suggestion! Sounds great.

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Ennui - - 420 comments

This game is great but I can't play it anymore because I'm sick of waiting 5 minutes for the AI to get its stuff done in between turns on the grand campaign.

Good article, but frankly you spend far too much time reviewing (and/or gushing about) the game than you do investigating the actual moddability of the game. I would have liked to hear a lot more stuff that's interesting to modders, along the lines of the little you wrote about the filesystem, rather than just a review of the game and all the other stuff I already know from having played it. The title of the article is a bit misleading in this case because this is honestly more of a game review that touches upon the potential for modding without actually getting into the specifics thereof.

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Bird_of_Prey Author
Bird_of_Prey - - 1,616 comments

Please note that this review was not designed to be a modding tutorial. If anyone wants to write an in-depth guide to modding Empire, with links to tools and tutorials and the like, I'd encourage you to do so. Someone with modding experience with previous Total War games in especial.

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formerlyknownasMrCP - - 892 comments

I get it, it was a fluff piece. Obviously its not written as an analysis of the moddability of the engine rather to attract potential modders to the engine- which I 100% do support because the game needs A LOT of work, at the same time though you're in for a world of pain if you do take up the engine which I think a lot of people are concerned about.

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sootheater - - 110 comments

You know you can turn that off before you start the grand campaign right? Just click the check.

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Flobulon - - 107 comments

As someone who has tried, modding for E:TW is very basic - the extent of it is new unit skins (not models), new/existing units with tweaked stats, and some VERY basic battlefield texture changing. That's it.

And afaik CA has no intention of releasing an SDK.

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formerlyknownasMrCP - - 892 comments

Exactly, its just assumed they would by a lot of members that seem to think that CA actually cares about modding-- which is a misconception that even Lusted himself has blatantly spread-

at no point has CA ever said an SDK would be released nor have they said if official mod tools would be- its just assumed they would going by what the team keeps telling the community- but if Patch 1.3 is anything to go by you'd know that CA's team has been lying through their teeth to keep the faithful.

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