If you've spent nights awake plotting how Napoleon could have done better during his invasion of Russia, or detailed meticulous plans how the Russo-Austrian alliance could have won at Austerlitz, then you probably need to spend some more time outdoors. You'll also probably geek out over Imperial Glory, the latest real time strategy (RTS) game to hit the market.
Imperial Glory takes one of the favourite periods of history buffs -- the Napoleonic era -- and applies the real time strategy treatment to it. If you've played any of the Total War series, then you'll know what to expect from Imperial Glory -- tonnes of strategy, intelligent building of resources and armies, all punctuated by the occasional large scale battle.
But while Total War's recent efforts (such as the excellent Rome and Medieval) provided compelling gameplay both on and off the battlefield, Imperial Glory shines brighter with its strategy elements, with its battles marred by some poor AI and control issues. It doesn't make the game unplayable, but RTS veterans -- traditionally a finicky lot of gamers -- will probably prefer Total War's efforts.
The bulk of the game is the campaign mode, which sees players taking on the role of one of five European powers (Britain, France, Russia, Prussia or Austria). Each nation has its specific advantages and disadvantages -- Britain, for example, is fairly secure from attack as an island nation, but is conversely slower at growing its population and resources. Several other European nations are represented in the game (such as Spain), but are not playable.
Most of your time will be spent viewing a map of Europe, where decisions on what armies or structures to build, diplomacy options to explore, trade to start and wars to declare are made. Just as in the Total War games, players are given a 'turn' to make all their desired changes. Ending the 'turn' will cycle through all of the other countries' decisions and sets the game clock forward by a month.
Players have to manage their resources intelligently (gold, food, wood and people), with new troops or buildings needing different combinations of the four to be completed. The rate your resources replenish depend on your territory, but can be augmented the good old fashioned way (taking it by force) or via trade with other nations. Players will often get trade offers from friendly nations which they can either choose to accept or renegotiate.
Trade is just one aspect of Imperial Glory's sophisticated diplomacy options, which are definitely one of the highlights of the game. Each nation has a sympathy rating with others, which rates how friendly countries are to each other based on numerous factors. Refusing a trade offer, for example, will lower sympathy, while building consulates on foreign soil will raise it. Diplomacy in Imperial Glory can range from forming alliances (forcing everyone in an alliance to declare war on a nation that attacks any member), allowing passage through its lands, marrying off possible heirs and more. Pump up a neighbour's sympathy levels towards your nation and you can eventually annex their lands -- an effective and bloodless way of conquest.
Players can also improve their lot via researching new technologies. New technologies can lead to improved resource production, diplomacy and better troops, and are researched via a tech tree which allows you to focus on specific paths (such as military, political, resource and commercial). Despite the branching nature of the tech tree, you don't really have ultimate choice about what to focus on -- players are forced to eventually research all the techs, as it's the only way to move into different technological eras.
But it's not always going to be about planning, as Imperial Glory will require you on occasion to directly lead your armies into battle. These battles take place on large environments with varied terrain, and feature hundreds of soldiers on the screen at one time. Like in most other RTS games, victory for these battles relies on having the right troops and the right attack strategy. You'll have to memorise the rock-paper-scissors nature of troops (artillery can easily beat infantry, cavalry can rout artillery, organised infantry can defeat cavalry, etc), as well as take note of any geographic features you can use to your advantage. Imperial Glory even allows you to station your troops into any buildings on the map, giving you a fortified place from which to attack enemy troops.
Imperial Glory's battles are generally well done, but you may experience some frustration as the game requires you to micro manage practically every move of your troops (down to attacking an enemy, even if they're standing within bayonet distance of each other). Morale also seems to be rather high for both your troops and the enemies -- even if they're clearly being routed, troops will rarely flee in panic (but will on occasion withdraw to regroup before attacking again).
The game's naval battles, one of its major points of differentiation from the Total War series, don't fare well either. The controls themselves are fairly straightforward, with players maneuvering their ship (taking account of the wind direction) in open ocean to deliver broadside cannon fire at your enemies. While this works well when in charge of one ship, the situation becomes decidedly more complex when controlling several -- your fleet doesn't follow particularly well, and you're always in danger of accidentally sailing off the map (which results in an automatic defeat).
These combat shortcomings are a pity since Imperial Glory's battles are possibly the best looking of any RTS game out there. Troops and environments are wonderfully detailed, with the individual soldiers animated in a lifelike way. Sea battles are also well done, with Imperial Glory rendering an impressive looking ocean.
With a stronger strategy component, players will find themselves focusing on the more deliberate planning sections of Imperial Glory. This makes for an overall slow-paced game experience, so adrenalin fans may find themselves bored after a few hours.
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