Welcome to our fifth Empire: Total War FAQ. This month we are focusing exclusively on your Land Battle questions…
With so much of the warfare in the period being focused on the use of gunpowder, will there still be a role for melee units?
Despite the emergence of gunpowder, melee and dedicated melee units remain important parts of warfare in Empire: Total War. Flintlock, muzzle-loading small arms were unreliable, relatively slow to reload and not always accurate. If you were sensible you carried a sword, or a bayonet, or both, or an axe or almost anything as a backup weapon. Once you’d fired, you had a tactical choice: try to reload before the enemy closed to stabbing range, or charge home before he could fire and reload. Hence the need for melee combat. The comparative short effective range of musketry makes this a ticklish problem for commanders. At the start of the period, players will have to make the choice between shooting at the last moment and not being prepared for melee or fixing bayonets. The land battles are being designed so that there is no single ‘right answer’ to that decision. This ensures that the tactics of timing and manoeuvre are vitally important. The period was full of successful bayonet charges and cavalry attacks. There’s a huge, rich variety in the period and we’re determined to get all that flavour into the game. Empire is definitely not just Rome or Medieval with gunpowder units.
With ranged combat being so much more important to the way land battles work, will units be able to use cover and stances to protect themselves?
Absolutely, finding cover on the battlefield for your units introduces a brand new idea to the land battles. Buildings on the battlefield can become a tactical focus of battle because of the cover they provide. Historically, farm and village buildings often saw some of the most ferocious fighting in many famous battles of the period, from Blenheim to Waterloo. Empire allows for this by letting men deploy in buildings for the first time in a Total War game.
There is a downside, of course. Concentrating your men in buildings makes them prime targets for enemy artillery. All the buildings on Empires battlefields will be destructible so the walls can come tumbling down!
Buildings aren’t the only cover. There are deployable items such as chevaux de frise (a kind of portable barrier studded with hideous spikes and blades) and earthworks that provide partial protection for units. The walls, trees and the outside of buildings that can be used as cover too. In addition, some units (skirmishers, in particular) are trained to fire from a prone position in order to reduce their vulnerability to incoming fire.
With ranged combat now so crucial, will the land battle engine UI display areas of fire in addition to unit range?
Aside from range, the battle UI will enable the player to view a unit’s line of sight and there are elements that communicate unit movement and fields of fire (the area that can be hit by a unit with its current facing and formation).
What effects do the weather and environment have on armies in battle?
Weather and the battlefield environment will have a variety of effects on the armies in battle. Fog and smoke influence line of sight, while rain affects rate of fire (or even whether a unit can fire at all) and the chance of misfires. The environment meanwhile will have a range of effects on troops via fatigue. Troops will tire on the battlefield if they march uphill or through mud and, as result, you’ll see their rate of fire and accuracy diminish. Ground types will also affect the movement rate of all troop types, as will obstacles like walls. This only goes to promote the importance of manoeuvring your units with care. If a unit is slowed and fatigued by mud, or commanded to climb over a wall whilst under fire, they could be cut to ribbons in no time by a well-drilled enemy.
Uniforms in that time period were mostly similar, how will you keep armies from becoming clones again?
Not all units are created equal – a number of units are not ‘regular’ army troops, and have plenty of scope for variation. Each unit we are using has a variety of different faces, hair colours, haircuts and facial hair. Unit equipments, such as backpacks and ammo pouches, have a variety of positions and sizes and there is also some variation with unit weaponry.
We’re also introducing a system that allows us to alter any part of the unit on a per-unit basis, so for each unit type we can add variety wherever possible and appropriate. Even the most uniform of uniforms can have hats at different angles, some buttons unfastened, shorter or longer coat tails, different shoes and all manner of visual flavour. Of course, with the more exotic unit types the world is our oyster!
Faction colouring is done in a cunning way, and we can have slightly different areas of faction colour on each soldier. Dynamic dirt and wounding will mean that in the heat of battle, every man in the unit will display a different level of grime and injury. All of this is intended to give us as much flexibility in de-cloning the units of men as possible.
Will we have the ability to dismount men pre-battle?
Better than that – dragoon units will be able to dismount and mount during battle. Dismounting is a unit ability that won’t be available to all units and must be selected through the tech tree. This opens up many strategic possibilities – dragoons can for example, ride to buildings or areas of cover on the battlefield, then dismount and fire from the cover they’ve seized. Before battle there will also be a few units that can choose to fight on foot or horseback (but can’t change during battle).. Guns will also be able to limber and unlimber on the battlefield; this means that horse artillery will gallop to where they are most needed.
Units could deploy stakes in Medieval 2 – what kind of deployable items will be available on the battlefield?
There are a variety of weapons and defensive structures that can be deployed in battle. Some in real-time, others in the deployment stage of battle. We’ve already mentioned the chevaux de fries. This can be deployed in the pre-battle deployment phase and provide an effective defense against cavalry charges and limited cover. Other examples include the infantry earthworks and gabions (large wicker baskets filled with earth), which can be deployed pre-battle, and provide significant defensive cover form small arms and artillery fire. The latter is a defensive emplacement that offers strong protection for artillery units from small arms fire but fixes your artillery to a set field position – lose the position, and you may have lost your guns! There will also be items such as wooden stakes, depending on other factors.
How will fixing bayonets be handled – will it be an order you can issue?
The order to fix bayonets can be given to any, musket armed, infantry unit that carries them in battle (and not everyone did, strangely). At the start of the period, a bayonet plugged into the gun barrel like a cork in a bottle – the musket became a heavy spear, but could no longer fire. As the game progresses, more advanced bayonet technology becomes available, including ring bayonets and eventually socket bayonets. The socket bayonet in particular didn’t interfere with loading or firing. Actually, that’s not quite true – historically the French decided to offset their socket bayonets above the barrel exactly into the firer’s eye line. This made aiming a bit of a tricky exercise.
Will there be different types of ammunition available?
Artillery units in Empire can gain access to a variety of ammo types that can be selected by activating a unit ability in battle. Ammo types include explosive shot – these are cannon balls that fly towards their target and then burst and fragment, showering an enemy with shards of metal that can be devastating to a unit of infantry. Canister shot or grape shot works in the similar way but at a shorter range, turning a cannon into a giant sawn-off shotgun. Then there are grenades which are delivered via grenadiers on the battlefield, with their range and effectiveness based on the experience and training of the unit.