Dont you love turn based strategy videogames? You start small and then expand, money is little and everything needs turns to grow. Is a vicious cycle, how many "one more turn and thats it for tonight" because you want to take that last city or get that technology? Once you get them you want more.
Empire Total War takes on what its probably the best Total War to date. I played Rome Total War which was a great title, but Empire is somewhat different. For start you can choose to play campaign with the british, Spain, France, Sweden, a lot of european nations and some India ones... and then you have a set of minnor nations that I dont believe you can play campaign with, but they are a lot (like some indian states in america, Venice, States of Italy, etc). And thats the beauty of it, you have access for regions like the middle east, Europe, Rusia, India, North and Central America.
And you will allways have oportunities for military alliances, to become trade partners and even to force a nation to become a protectorate of your nation. Technology exchange is hard, the other nations wont be willing to give you any knowledge for less than a lot. Trading can make you win big money, but in case of war the enemy can block a port and your economy will suffer.
So I picked the british... At first I was amazed because of the many options and all the information a single building has, is incredible. Is not like other turn based strategy games (even Rome Total War or Civ4 which is terrible for city managment), here when you spend money on a building you know why you are doing it. Some buildings give you an agent, for example a priest, the priest can go into your cities or even enemy cities and eventually change the religion of a city so they become happier. This is very usefull specially with the arab nation I conquered. Agents also come like scientists, but you have to move them into university cities like Oxford. Other dubious agents like rake┤s carry missions of sabotage and murderer, they can also infiltrate into an enemy city.
Soon I realised that you dont have the option to make a settlements that eventually will grown into a city. The cities are allready there, if you want one you will have to take it by force. Then, as the city grows and you add some buildings and with time some villages that you can barely see on the map will become other cities. This is a good idea... in games like Civ4 I was allways trying trying to have a new city, and then found out that it was too close to another city and that resources were not nearly enough for it as the city grew.
Like cities the managment of the army is a hard task. If you think you can just go and start creating multiple armies across your regions you will soon be bankrupt. The upkeep cost for the army and the navy are huge. I found that out in a rather difficult time, I had to raise taxes at one point and sacrifice growth so I could carry on a rather expensive war on the Cherokee nation. It was useless, the war was lost because my access to the cities I was trying to take was terrible. So I negotiated an expensive peace and took my loses only to keep a city (Florida, future home of Destructoid). So I had to disband armies accross my regions and get some militia (less expensive for upkeep), for city defense. But I learned, and though I hate upkeep I admit that it made me think more and use a better strategy. If you gather expensive combat units inside cities the upkeep costs are going to kill you. When you manage to avoid that and have a couple of good supplied armies allways mobile to conquer regions then you treasury is going to allow you to make investments into the cities you own for future growth and more revenues.
It may sound complicated, but really, you will have to pay attention to just a couple of things for managinf taxes and buildings. And if you hate that kind of stuff just put everything on auto and play just to make war.
Besides the typical ground battle now you have the option of ship battles. They are fun, maybe a little bit slow because they are on water, but all the strategy in the Total War series is to be patient and dont waste your units (kind of like dont attack a city suddenly, keep it under siege for a couple of turns). That has not changed in water combat with ships. You have to watch for pirates, but thats hardly a problem since every other nation is at war with the pirates.
Same as every unit they all get experience points with combat and they eventually have a rank, if the numbers of a squad is low after a battle you can allways pay for a replenish that will hold you back a couple of points... the thing is allways to pick your battles when you have the advantage.
Something that was rather annoying on Rome was the fact that Generals were not available to recruit, they were made. Now paying you can recruit one for your army, of course he will win rank with battles and experience and he may even die of natural causes, but is good to know that you have a guy that has a +1 to morale in combat.
This game looks awesome but you need some CPU and graphic power behind it (is the first Core i7 logo I see on a PC game). The engine that powered that TV program that used the RomeTotal War game to recreate battles now looks better than ever with the new graphics, a much needed improvement. The strategic map also looks neat with the new graphical additions to it, with everything turned on the level of detail is impressive.
It has some minnor issues, a patch is allready out, but in my machine the issue is that a couple of times my savegame got corrupted to the point that when I ended the turn the game crashed. So I had to go back to a previous savegame and then make a new one. But I havent found any other problems with the title.
You can get Empire Total War on STEAM for 50usd. And you should get it.