Developer: Pyro Studios
Release Date: May 17, 2005
Pre-order 'IMPERIAL GLORY': PC
Almost exactly five years ago, Creative Assembly planted a fertile seed with its first turn-based/real-time strategy hybrid, Shogun: Total War. The Total War series continued to flourish and gain more fans and critical acclaim with Medieval in 2002 and Rome last year. With Total War's star rising, other developers have started trying their hand at hybrid strategy games. Pyro Studios, the folks behind the successful Commandos franchise, are about to toss their hat into the ring with Imperial Glory. So how does this ambitious title, boasting epic battles on both land and the high seas and a much-ballyhooed imperial management model, stack up against the contenders already on store shelves?
While the game offers several game modes, including multiplayer and recreations of great battles pulled from the history books, the bread and butter of Imperial Glory is the single-player campaign. The campaign launches your leadership of a burgeoning empire in the tail end of the 18th century. Each empire has its benefits and challenges. Play as Great Britain and enjoy the security of being an island nation but bear in mind, you'll likely need a substantial navy to carry your troops to the field of war. Or perhaps choose France and enjoy the benefits of great natural resources and ready access to the economies of the continent… but that central location could make you a target for many nations and lead to war on more than one front.
And of course, the era of empires is still young and many countries still fly their own flags and harbor their own ambitions. The whims of the leaders of these free countries could lead them to ally with your enemies or perhaps snatch land from you while your armies are busy elsewhere. While the opposing empires are your prime focus, the smaller countries become important to annex or manipulate as you can be sure other empires will be doing the same as everyone jockeys for power and continental dominance.
Bringing Europe (and parts of North Africa) under your control is the objective but how you choose to achieve it is up to you. Obviously, economics will be crucial. Each territory gained is capable of producing the basic resources: money, material resources, food, and people. Each capital territory also produces research points necessary for driving your technological advancement. Various upgrades can be built to improve production ranging from hospitals to saw mills. Your economy can also reach out across borders through diplomatic transactions of money for goods or you can build vast commercial networks to bring much needed money through trade.
Once you have the resources, you can pursue your ambitions diplomatically (or as I prefer to think of it, the "I want your country without having to destroy everything in my path and rebuild it again after its mine" approach) or militarily. Diplomacy, aside from allowing you to buy or sell resources, helps you control conflict, support your military activities and even annex countries. At the root of the diplomatic model for Imperial Glory is the sympathy between countries; nations with higher sympathy will be much more supportive of your diplomatic overtures than those with low sympathy. Sympathy is gained through successful diplomacy such as treaties or trades, building consulates, newspapers or other facilities in foreign countries, or a variety of other routes.
On the other hand, you can readily lose sympathy through diplomatic failures, wars or other activities that may irk your neighbors. If you manage to max out the sympathy in a neutral country they'll join your empire and heap thanks upon your greatness in the form of money, resources and their standing military. Needless to say, this is a wonderful thing and something you should pursue vigorously. Of course, at the same time, the other empires are doing the same things. Curses for having a fair game! Diplomacy is also crucial because the system of alliances can help you manage broad scale conflict on the continent; another country or empire is a lot less likely to strike at you if you have formidable allies.
Even more gratifying is carefully manipulating fearsome opponents into crippling wars with each other while you prosper in neutrality, possibly even receiving large sums to give both sides rights of passage so they can reach each other to conduct their war. Profiting from war may be morally questionable in real life but it sure is fun in Imperial Glory.
Ah, but alas, not everything can be done through diplomacy and superior economy. Sometimes you simply have to get your hands dirty and pummel your opponents into submission through superior force of arms. At the imperial management level, you can create your armies at any of the capital cities and different structures allow for different units to be built. Once you have your basic military academies, barracks, stables, foundries or their advanced equivalents, you can create your field leaders and the units they'll command. In order to march troops to war they must be lead by a commander, such as monsieur Bonaparte.
Commanders each have ranks and their increasing rank not only gives them bonuses but allows them to command additional units; a general with a full complement of troops is a lot more potent than a mere captain. This dynamic is important since you can only put three armies into combat at one time with an additional army serving as a possible reinforcement. It becomes of utmost importance to carefully balance the armies with infantry, cavalry and artillery as well as bringing fresh reinforcements from the capital cities to the front lines. While this is easy early in the game, as the years progress and wars grow in scale it can be quite a challenge to make sure your frontline forces are as strong as possible. Once you've got the right troops in the right place, then it's showtime …
Conflict can be resolved either by letting the AI determine the winner through chance and unit strength estimates or leading the battle yourself. I strongly recommend leading the battle yourself because that's where the fun is. Prior to the start of the battle you're given a quick overview of the field including any objectives or defensive structures and you have the opportunity to organize your units and formations before initiating the action. Infantry and cavalry can take different formations, many of which are gained through research and each have various bonuses or penalties. The box formation is a particularly effective defense for infantry on the receiving end of a cavalry charge while the line or double line formations are better for firing on other infantry. The right balance of troops is crucial and my favorite component of that balance is artillery. Nothing shakes an opponent free of defensive emplacements like good ol' howitzer fire.
The unique utility and effectiveness of each type of unit allows a savvy player to have decisive victories even when greatly outnumbered. I've found myself outnumbered 2- or sometimes 3-to-1 but my careful choice of infantry formations, judicious use of cavalry charges and vigorous artillery fire have won the day. The magnitude of success that comes from strategic use of different unit types is why I found myself choosing to lead the battles myself rather than allowing the computer to calculate victories and casualties from straight numbers. Oh, and for no other reason than I really, really enjoyed artillery, I'm going to repeat myself… artillery rocks.
As I said much earlier in this preview, one of the things that sets Imperial Glory apart from other titles is that it also includes naval battles. For those lucky people that have played Sid Meier's Pirates! , battle on the high seas in Imperial Glory should feel at least a bit familiar. While slower and more tactical than Pirates! , the general gist is the same… jockeying for the best position to lob devastating broadsides upon your adversary.
Also familiar is the use of grapeshot to kill crewmembers, chain shot for ripping apart the sails, masts and rigging, and cannonballs for splintering the hull timbers. And you need not sink your foe to be the victor, you can also board and capture enemy ships and press them into service under your flag. But Imperial Glory isn't about privateers poaching merchant vessels, it's about great navies clashing for supremacy of the seas and, accordingly, many battles will not be one-on-one. However, it can be a bit of a challenge hustling ships about, accounting for wind and weather, while trying to get into an optimal firing position without getting pounded in the process. So thankfully, the battles are limited to only a handful of vessels on each side.
Imperial Glory stands out from the pack with a unique quest system. Advancements in the technology tree will open up various quests ranging from discovering the Rosetta Stone to aiding Simón Bolivar. These quests come at a price or require certain additional achievements, like building trade routes to committing troops to the quest, but the prizes can be invaluable in gaining the upper hand. Helping Simón Bolivar will result in him bolstering your armies while discovering the Rosetta Stone will lead to great leaps forward in research. Overall, the quest system adds another enjoyable dimension to the gameplay without being burdensome as many highly complex games tend to be.
The execution of the game, in terms of graphics and sound, is pretty solid. The empire screen is easily navigated and manageable, which is often the failure of many complex turn-based strategy games. The graphics in the RTS battles is more than adequate. The scale of the visuals and the level of eye candy seem to be a bit more modest than the genre heavy-hitter, Total War: Rome, but were suitable for the gameplay.
The sounds are enjoyable … or more specifically, hearing a cannonball zinging overhead is enjoyable. Although, I hope they tinker with the in-game announcer before release. Throughout battles, depending on primarily on the size of armies, an announcer proclaims your pending defeat or success. Unfortunately, at times this voice tended to be dead wrong, declaring my forces on the receiving end of a solid beating when in fact I was decimating the larger army with my superior infantry and artillery. I also hope that Pyro Studios gives the camera controls another once over since I found them a bit awkward.
Overall, Imperial Glory looks to be a solid entry into the hybrid real-time/turn-based strategy genre. It's a small niche, but definitive Total War series fills it with pride and gusto. Pyro Studios looks to be ready to steal some of Creative Assembly's thunder with the richly designed and feature-filled Imperial Glory. The deep and practical diplomacy model combined with a robust and not overly-complex technology tree, not to mention the quest system and naval battles, will certainly help Imperial Glory stand apart from its competition. To that end, it seems that Pyro Studios is doing well to beef up the turn-based empire building aspect of their entry into the genre. Whether the real-time combat component of the game is competitive will depend largely on whether players enjoy the more methodical pace and smaller scale battles of Imperial Glory as much as the considerable experiences of battle in Total War: Rome.
What I will say, as a strategy junkie, this is one of the few games I've played recently, even as a preview build with some rough edges, that I had to stop playing because I noticed the sun was rising. While I could blame that on the sun rising sooner, I won't deny the fact that Imperial Glory leaves you wanting to conquer just one more country when you probably should have called it quits long ago. For strategy enthusiasts and Total War veterans twiddling their thumbs waiting for the next installment, Imperial Glory is a game to keep your eyes out for.
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