Friday, March 06, 2009

Empire: Total War is a Total Mess!

Empire: Total War, the newly-released real-time strategy (RTS) epic game from SEGA and Creative Assembly, shows great promise and boasts great potential, but falls short in the most important facet of gaming - the "Fun Factor."

Saying Empire: Total War falls short in the area of "fun" is actually an understatement. Playing Empire: Total War may be one of the most frustrating and maddening experiences you will ever have.

Let me be clear. I'm a huge fan of the Total War series. I've invested numerous hours of my life playing Medieval: Total War, Rome: Total War, and Medieval II: Total War. Great games - all of them!

And I have been salivating at the possibility of getting my hands on Empire: Total War. I mean, here at last, was a game dedicated to the era of the American Revolution! Not only does Empire: Total War come with a Revolutionary War campaign, but the "Special Forces" edition of Empire: Total War comes with The History Channel Revolution on DVD. To say that I've been excited about this game would be a colossal understatement.

But, troubles began as soon as I opened the case.

I went to Gamestop in Wilmington, Ohio, slapped down my card from Uncle Visa and paid $74 and some change for the "Special Forces" edition. I get back home, and lo and behold, Volume II of The Revolution is missing. That's right, the box only has Volume I of The History Channel series on the American Revolution! That program is the main reason I paid for the premium edition. (Turns out that all the "Special Forces" editions only ship with Volume I. So, buyer beware, the box cover makes it sound like you're getting the whole series of The Revolution. You're not. You're only getting Volume I, which has the first four episodes).

Then, I start the install process. Apparently, to cut down on piracy or to collect customer information or just to torture their customers, Creative Assembly and SEGA make you register with Steam (which is some kind of online game hosting company). This isn't optional. In order to play the game that you bought, you have to register and play through your new Steam account!

Several times, I got an "error" message that the game was unavailable and that I would have to try again later. Say what!? I paid $75 for the game. It's my game. I own it, and I expect to play it. The fact that I have to go through some online platform to play the game that I just bought is ludicrous.

After opening and closing Steam a few times, and talking to my computer a little (you know, some "encouragement"), I finally made it through that process - only to have the game keep jumping and jittering and freezing in the intro movie and the launch process.

I dialed down the graphics to "low" hoping that would work. Of course, by this time, I've invested over an hour just to get the blasted thing to work! I'm frustrated and frazzled. The word "fun" isn't even in my vocabulary, and isn't that why we play games to begin with!?

Okay, so I finally - and I mean "finally" - get to the game menu screen. I decide to go with the "War on Land" tutorial. I hit "play." Game freezes and locks up. I have to shut the whole computer down, reboot it, and try again. Now, I'm a pastor, so I don't make it a habit to curse, but I must confess that some of my old Army vocabulary came bubbling up into my mind at this point.

So, we're now at Take 2 - the second attempt. It's now been close to 90 minutes that I've invested just to get STARTED with this game. A game that's supposed to be fun. After selecting once again the "War on Land" tutorial, it slowly loads...slowly... slowly...slowly...and hangs there. Almost loaded, but not quite. That gold bar is about 90% full, but it refuses to budge the remaining 10%. It just hangs there.

Minutes pass. The bar doesn't budge. My Army vocabulary starts to come to my mind again, and then....I hear "Welcome to the battle tutorial...." The problem is that the screen isn't matching the words. The narrator is telling me how to fight battles and I hear the sound effects of my army setting up to battle, but the screen still shows that blasted gold bar at 90%. I haven't made it to the play screen yet. I'm still on the loading screen.

The narrator stops speaking. He's obviously waiting for me to do what he told me to do, but I can't. I'm still staring at a 90% complete gold load bar. Still haven't made it to the actual game yet. Once again, Army vocabulary comes into my mind.

It becomes apparent that this second attempt isn't going to fare much better than the first. I hit the windows button and the escape button. Nothing. So, I do the control-alt-delete. Nothing. Once again, I'm faced with shutting the computer down cold. And that's what I do.

I decide that maybe the third time's the charm. However, this time, I'll go back to the desktop. I loaded it on both my laptop and desktop. My laptop has Vista and more power, actually. But perhaps my desktop will fare better. Can't hurt to try.

So, here we go again...this time, I make it all the way to the game, but Empire: Total War runs rough from that point forward. At least, however, it runs.

Does the game show promise? Absolutely. Does it tease you with great potential? Definitely. Does it deliver? Unfortunately, no. Perhaps if you have a top-of-the-line computer system, you'll have fewer problems.

Either way, I have found Empire: Total War to be totally frustrating. Hopefully, SEGA and Creative Assembly will see the error of their ways, and do what needs to be done to make the game more playable and enjoyable.


Addendum (March 13, 2009): I have been able to get this game to work on my desktop at the lowest graphics settings. However, the game is still sluggish. The game's campaign videos will not play properly, and there are game play issues as well. Perhaps upgrading my desktop computer's RAM and graphics card will help, but I don't have the money for that right now.

Addendum (March 15, 2009): It's confirmed -- The special edition ships with only Volume ONE of The Revolution, the DVD series on the American Revolution. This is false advertising, in my opinion, as the box cover says NOTHING about Volume I. It indicates you'll get the full series. So, buyer beware!

Addendum (March 24, 2009): To be fair, while Empire: Total War demands a pretty high-performing computer and graphics card, the game is very fun, once you get into it. I've enjoyed several hours of the game, since my initial review post. I don't retract anything. Installing and getting used to the game was very frustrating, especially with the whole "install through Steam" arrangement. Why can't the game just play like Medieval II: Total War? Just install and go! Why do they need Steam? Aside from that, though, and the fact that the game will be sluggish and problematic on older computers (if it plays at all), it IS a fun game, once you get into it.


Anonymous said...

Sadly even if you have a high end system it still doesn't seem to want to work! When I choose a battle, the game hangs at a 90% bar and then the whole system restarts.. I know this game doesn't seem to like having two graphics cards but, it does the same even when I totally disable one of them.. It certainly falls short in many areas and, I am beginning to think I should have waited for the developer to fix it before forking over the cash for the very same special forces edition.

Anonymous said...

Then your VideoCard can't support the game! The game might work if you change it to N-Videa GeForce.

Anonymous said...

Yet the game plays perfectly fine on my modest system that is still using an agp card with most settings on ultra at a resolution of 1680 X 1050.
The pc market place was much better off when it was only populated by computer geeks and computer literates; at least then we didn’t have to put up with every man and his dog calling software a mess because of user error or ignorance. Is this software perfect, of course not, show me a title that is now at launch, but plenty are able to play this game straight out of the box with little or no trouble.
It's no wonder more and more developers are catering to the lowest common denominator and switching to developing software for the console market.

Anonymous said...

The game works just fine for me.

Be very careful when installing games on Steam. Give it more time than you think it needs to process things. Steam has a tendency to be very sensitive.

Premature exits from Steam or hasty attempts to play Empire without first getting the 0 day patch is a recipe for disaster.

So, in this case shame on Steam, not Sega or the Creative Assembly.

Anonymous said...

Wait till you see that they put General Howe in Maine instead of New York after evacuating Boston ...

Anonymous said...

Come on, it's not "steam is sensitive" etc etc and all that B.S. or any other lame excuse, it's Bad game game coding period. I both modify and beta test games and this game out of the box is a beta version period and that's being very generous.There is no way this game ever made it to the testing phase on any other rig/s besides the ones they used where it was made. Sadly this is the new trend by game makers and has been for quite some time now. They need more emphasis on quality and less emphasis on hype and promotion.They all seem to only be concerned with making a quick buck these days and there are no exceptions.

I purchased 2 gigs of ram and a brand new ati hd 3850 512 meg radeon and tried 3 sets of drivers having the most luck with a older set from april of last year . I know peeps with nvidia cards who are having trouble playing this game also. All systems meet or exceed their "recommended" system requirements.

It proves it's not the rig or the card or any other lame excuse for their shoddy and poor quality product it's just crappy half assed coding by the makers and if your lucky your rig fits the very narrow config profiles this game is made for.

JS in MI said...

I totally agree with the false advertising with regards to the Revolution DVD. I too only bought the Special Forces edition because I thought I was getting the entire Revolution Series. Has anyone tried to contact SEGA about this? Something needs to be done about this - some sort of class action lawsuit. Sign me up.

Anonymous said...

I got the game a couple days after it was released at walmart and everything has been running smoothly on the highest setting possible. Perhaps your hardware just isn't enough to keep up with it?

Anonymous said...

Great original post and I agree with many points made. CA worked their butts to make this game what it is or could have been. Sega has been pushing them to release it sooner to the hype and impatient pre-order line up (definitely a bad move from gamers)and this my friend is the evil doer that promotes the "quick buck" phenomenon from guys like Sega and Take2 (if you remember those greedy bunch). Whether you come up with a class action lawsuit or boycott or stop this "pre-order" bs, we'll sadly continue to see games looking more like camel dung than finished products that we once loved.

Anonymous said...

I've been playing the "Road to Independence" campaign on E:TW and wrote up an after-action report in the format of "excerpts from Gen. Washington's journal." Check it out:

Anonymous said...

Well your alls computers obviously cant hold the game if it is crashing mine works fine.

Anonymous said...

Mine didn't work well. I was so upset that I went out and bought an Alienware M17 at the highest options. This problem won't be happening again soon. I love Total War games. I have similar complaints about the Revolution DVD cheat and the STEAM burden.

Anonymous said...

I have only had two very minor issues, both related (and restricted) to the road to freedom campaign. I can avoid them entirely by simply playing the grand campaign. I am forced to either tolerate stutters when fast-forwarding in battle, or play on low graphics, but my computer is actually towards the lower end of the scale.

Anonymous said...

ok i know every one is saying this game is a beta this game sucks this game has bad coding it didnt come with all the history channel crap.....blah blah blah. but when you get right down to it empire is an epic game of massive proportions, yes you are going to have problems with it and yes there are places it needs touching up but all in all it is a great game. now im not gonna lie and say i didnt get frustrated at this game cause i did , alot in fact. but most of it turned out to be my fault. my problem was i didnt have a good enough graphics card so i got a new one and then it worked, it was a tad slow at some points and bit laggy here and there but what pc game honestly isnt at points. its easy to blame the manufacturer but they put a page on the games official web site a long time ago that listed the games graphical requirements. now the history channel movie thing that is another story. but before you go bashing a great game look to see if the problem is your fault,and with no offense meant to any reading this but more than likely it is.

Brian Tubbs said...

Once you upgrade and/or speed up your computer (I took off Norton antivirus, which is a memory hog), work through some of the bugs and kinks, and set aside the false advertising re: the History Channel DVD, THEN....

It is a fun game. The "Total War" series is (imo) the best of the best! And this game is very good. It's just frustrating to get to the point where you can enjoy it.

And...I'm still not enjoying it to its full potential. I'll have to sink some money into a good gaming rig, before I can enjoy the best of its graphics.

Anonymous said...

My laptop ran MTW2 on 'high' graphics...but for this one, it barely runs smooth on 'low' graphics. Here are my specs:

Intel core(2) CPU T7600 @2.33GHz - 2GB RAM - XP Pro

Anonymous said...

What to suggest to get when you are choosing from Special Forces or Regular

Anonymous said...

Listen up guys, to run this game, you need a bad machine. I mean bad. I just spent 1036.45 (to the penny) on my new beastly monster and this game is effin epic. I love it. The graphics make it great and so much more enjoyable. I tried to play it on 2 older machines that I had and at lowest grpahics/shading, etc. It sucked at best. Conclusion, you need a beastly comp, we're talking 5000 series or higher on the graphics card with 256-bit and 1GB dedicated. You need DDR3 ram, atleast 6GBs, with an intel P3 chip. I'm telling this game is massive but its worth it, trust me. I've logged 63 hours in 2 weeks....its awesome, I love it.

Anonymous said...

First off, maybe it is a lesson to show that there are more important things in life other than video games, and that our sole source of joy shouldn't be based off of if it works or not.

Secondly, I have the game, and yes it does work and it is fun. However, I have had a lot to do lately and have not had much time to play.

The reason it doen't work though is because your computer is out of date. Sorry, but that is the way technology goes these days. Look on the box for the specs on the back of the box.

I have:
- Widnows 7
- 4 GB ram
- 2.12 GHtz duel core processor
- 512MB nVIDEA GeForce 9800M GS

If you get a new computer make sure it has a VIDEO CARD! That is memory specifically dedicated to applications like video games. They are VERY important for games. Nowdays a 256 MB video card is not very expensive, but I'd get one higher like 512 or more if possible.

Also, if you know someone who can help build a computer you can get a pretty beastly machine compared to what you would buy from the store. (Store computers are not really meant for gaming) The ones at the store that are meant for gaming are expensive! Just my biased opinion so it is not necessarly always true though! Hope you can get it to work!
- Remember Video Card!