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Empire: Total War
Real-time strategy games are all about the battles. Sadly some titles fail to place much importance upon careful strategy and so the combat degenerates into chaos. Not so with Empire: Total War. The approach is vital and even with superior forces a headlong charge at a well placed enemy will often end in disaster. For a successful land battle you have to weigh up your position, the surrounding terrain, the enemy position and your army’s morale. Choose unfavourable ground, allow your enemy to flank you or charge too early and you may find your army crumbles before your eyes. Land battles have not changed a huge amount compared to earlier games in the series such as Rome: Total War but there are a few additions to note and the new unit types require a modified approach.
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The Importance of Terrain
The importance of terrain cannot be underestimated in the Total War series. As with real history the exact location that armies choose to line up their ranks can often decide the battle. In simple terms you want to be on higher ground. This will enable your ranged troops, bowmen, riflemen or artillery to fire further. It also means the enemy gets tired climbing the hill to attack you and a well placed charge at the right moment can send them scurrying back down again. This was especially true in previous installments of Total War but even with the advent of guns and good quality artillery you will still find many battles spill into a bloody melee struggle and having the higher position is hugely advantageous.
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Fences and Walls
There are two big additions in Empire: Total War which have an impact on where you place your troops and how they move around on the battlefield. For a start rolling open plains are now a rarity, most battlefields are littered with the evidence of advanced cultivation and you will find fields enclosed by walls and fences. These walls and fences can be used as cover by units of riflemen and they provide a barrier to all unit types. Men on foot will pause and climb over before they can continue on their way and cavalry will awkwardly jump the barriers. Placing your men in a line behind a fence or wall can work extremely well.
It can also be a good idea to place them back from but near the wall because they will then get a few free shots at enemy cavalry while they are trying to clamber over the obstacle to get at you. If you have infantry incoming, you can get to the wall and use it for cover before they can
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The second big change is the addition of buildings which your troops can enter. Most battlefields have some structures on them and select examples will give you a door icon when you hover over them with a unit selected. You can send your men inside where they will smash out the windows and fire at any enemy who passes nearby. Not all unit types are allowed to enter buildings; in fact only certain kinds of infantry are. Holding buildings in a map can be a useful tactic because the enemy will struggle to get at you but there are some problems with it. For a start if your unit is too big then most of them will be left in clumps around the outside. Also when your troops bunch up to enter a building they are very vulnerable. Finally, distant artillery can bring the building down around your ears. In order to take an enemy infested building it is best to charge in with bayonets rather than commanding your men to fire from outside, because the men in the building have the advantage of cover and they will beat you in a straight fire fight.
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Another hugely important factor to consider in any land battle in Empire: Total War is the formation of your troops. There is a much stronger focus on ranged units in this game and in order to develop good riflemen you need to research the relevant technology. You can develop various formations which allow the men to form up in defensive squares to deal with cavalry charges or advance and fire in well regimented lines. In general if you can line up two units in a sort of angled v shape facing your enemy, or even better form a bowl shape around them to create a firing zone which has men shooting from three angles, then you’ll see them drop quickly. It is vital that you protect your flanks and so keep a couple of reserves behind your main force or station some angled troops on either flank to ensure that no enemy sneaks round there.
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Units and Weaponry
The types of unit and quality of weaponry you have at your disposal will depend upon the faction you have chosen and how advanced your technology is. Early in the game cavalry charges and even charging infantry can be very effective because the riflemen and artillery are poor quality. The first type of bayonet you develop is the plug bayonet which once fixed means your men cannot fire again and early artillery fires hopelessly inaccurate cannonballs. Later in the game you will have well drilled troops fighting with fixed bayonets which don’t hinder their firing and you can develop artillery with scatter shot which will devastate an advancing charge.
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Empire: Total War has a strong historical basis and so armies rarely fight to the death. The importance placed on morale cannot be underestimated; it is a vital mechanic to understand. You don’t need to beat every single opponent and you can frequently win battles with fewer men if you break your enemies morale and send them fleeing in horror. The key to breaking morale is hitting them with an overwhelming force at one brief moment. If you begin to surround an enemy unit, engage them and charge in from behind with a cavalry unit they will always break and run.
The artillery you develop later in the game will also go a long way towards to breaking enemy morale. Usually units feel comfortable when their commander is near and when their flanks are protected so try to separate the main body from the general and do your best to flank them. Good opponents will resist any flanking manoeuvre with a forcible reaction so it is often easier said than done. Just remember that once they rout they might recover and return to the front line so don’t completely discount them. It is often wise to use your cavalry to charge down routing enemies and deplete their numbers but be careful you don’t let them get too far away from the main battle or they may not be able to return in time to help you should you need them.
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You will find that compared to earlier Total War games there are far more battles out in the field. If you approach a city there is an interdiction system which allows an army with remaining campagin map movement to react when an army moves within range. This makes for much better fights. There are still city sieges of course and you’ll find certain units can scale the walls with grappling hooks and ropes and fight their way inside or open the doors for the rest of their army.
While sieges were a huge part of medieval warfare they are less engaging in this period and largely because of the poor AI and dodgy pathfinding open field battles are much more enjoyable. Sometimes when you are defending you will also get the option to build defences for certain unit types. If the enemy army has cavalry make sure you use spikes which prevent them from charging, if not then the bunkers are much more effective.
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When it comes to artillery the range is now massive and they can sway the course of a battle like never before. You need to choose a good high position for your artillery, preferably away from the action but make sure you leave a unit to protect them from marauding cavalry. If you are defending it is often a good idea to take your cavalry off in a wide arc around the enemy, pick off their artillery and then charge into the forces that have engaged your men from behind.
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The depth of the tactics you can employ in Empire: Total War land battles is astounding and during human versus human battles you will really need your wits about you. It is considerably easier to get one over on the AI and their failure to react to certain manoeuvres should allow you to rack up some easy victories. Experiment with tactics and perfect your timing for best results. See you on the battlefield.