Empire: Total War is a model kit of a game. Based on my time with the game, I can say that naval combat has been brilliantly realized, with a level of polish that honestly left me stunned.
It is difficult to stress how fantastic the game looks in motion. Cannon fire is a sight to see: billowy smoke thundering from each broadside, masts accurately snapping and crashing onto the rolling waves. Crew effects have been added since last we saw a build, and now an impressive number of sailors can be seen running about the decks, loading cannon and climbing the crow's nest.
Control of ships looks easy enough to learn, but naval strategy will be difficult to master. Simple flag icons mark friendly and enemy ships, and a compass surrounds the hull of each ship, showing the available arc of fire and the wind direction. Various forms of cannon shot can be loaded, and specific areas of enemy ships.
And while Rome may have moved the series into 3D, Empire will bring it into the physical world. On land, a cover system will make trees and ridges all important. At sea, cannon fire can pass through one ship and strike another depending on the situation.
As is the tradition with Total War, the scale of Empire is staggering. Starting at 1700 and moving onward through history, Empire will cover 50 factions across Europe, North and South America, and the Indies. Research trees will allow for dozens of ships and technological upgrades.
And yes, NASA satellite imagery was used for the campaign map, and will now automatically generate terrain for the in-game land battles. Rain, mud, trees and visibility will all now factor into the strategy. Though land combat was not shown in motion, a handful of screenshots were, and they looked suitably Napoleonic.
On the campaign front, colonies can now be taxed as a whole. Building management has been streamlined, with generals now having the ability to automatically recruit troops from nearby provinces. An American-themed story mode will take players from the founding of Jamestown all the way to Washington's victory.
While I haven't had a chance to get my hands on the game, just from what I've seen and heard, the game is looking like a significant leap forward in the context of the series.
Empire: Total War is set for release on PC in early February.