Let’s Play the Empire: Total War Multiplayer Campaign – Episode I: The War Begins (France)

The following post, by Peter Davies (aka Beefeater1980), playing France, is the belated first instalment in the Empire: Total War multiplayer campaign write up! Click here to see what it’s all about.

 

In this episode, Britain and France go to war on the high seas and in the Low Countries. Will one side score a knockout blow early on? Or will the war turn into an early stalemate?

 

Over to PD…

 

***

 

Here they come (Crick! Crack! Bang!), those red-coated, black-booted, musket-toting minions of a mercantile empire, flags waving and cannons bristling. In ETW, Britain has advantages to make a royal weep and hang up his ius primae nocti: unassailable home regions in Europe that can each churn out a land unit or several every turn; high-value ports, ready to knock out those sleek and deadly fifth-rate ships that will demolish the sixth-raters I can build in the time it takes to say ‘Hornblower’; and the most powerful alliance in Europe at its beck and call.

 

Against them stands France and my enviable record of five defeats and no wins against the campaign AI on ‘Normal’. Oh, and Spain as an ally: 10/10 for machismo but, in deference to Real Historical Fact, her glory days are behind her and she will lose interest a few years in, only to spend the rest of the game swigging Sangria and reminiscing about Pizarro and Cortes. Gentlemen, place your bets!

 

And yet. PS may have more and better ships and an invulnerable home base but the British army starts the game small and unimposing: France on the other hand has a solid core of infantry, cavalry and artillery in Europe itself and a huge income from her home regions – after a couple of turns I was pulling in around 8000 income per turn net despite a comprehensive trade blockade. If anyone can save the world from the fate of British hegemony, association football and the expression ‘eff off’, it is La Grande Nation.

 

Empire: Total War - The War Begins

LE PLAN: France is likely to fall behind Britain diplomatically early on, since my fleet is made up of a couple of bathtubs floating in the channel with only three one-eyed gunners between them. Unfortunately, the one thing CA didn’t mess up in programming this game was making the AI a vicious little jerk whose sole aim is to kick hard in the unmentionables the human player it judges to be weakest. Naval strength is a major component of that determination. Left to their own devices, Britain’s AI allies (Portugal, Netherlands and Austria) will declare war on me in the first few turns, leading to a three-front war on sea and land and a very, very short LP.

 

However, I have a cunning plan. Because my position starts uncertain, Peter S (who is a solid strategist) will probably expect me to try for a boom, building a couple of grant continental armies – he’ll never suspect a pre-emptive attack. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: attacking in turn 1 will force Britain’s scary allies to make a snap decision on whether to join the war at a time when the calculus is more likely to be more favourable to me. This is why my first action in the game is to move my leaky little fleet to attack the nearest British armada, a move which goes swimmingly in the sense that the remains of my navy are now doing the breast-stroke back to Le Havre.

 

Empire: Total War - We are sinking, we are sinking

 

A SHAMEFUL DISPLAY! Over the next couple of turns, PS moves his fleets into both of my northern ports, leaving them smoking ruins. However, what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabouts. Austria and Hanover – the only land powers in Britain’s coalition – decided that they had better things to do than get in a bust-up with my army and have said ‘Nein’ to this war.

 

On the home front, while conventional wisdom is to tear down those religious schools as soon as possible and replace them with hotbeds of radical study so as to speed off down the tech tree. I want to see if the additional tax and stability I get from keeping Europe Catholic can outweigh this, so I’m following the Jesuit path for now. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

 

DIPLOMACY: Diplomacy? Diplomacy! I’m worried about protecting my American colonies, since I need all my resources for the struggle in Europe. To get around this, I sell a few of my less wealthy colonies to Spain for 1000 / turn over 10 turns. It’s probably not a great deal, but it’s better than trying to extract income from provinces I can’t reliably hold.

 

Over the next couple of turns, I start my army marching on Amsterdam. My initial plan was to carry out the siege for the full 5 turns, but immediately after deciding to end turn 4, I get a bad case of invader’s regret; now that he’s smashed my fleet, PS probably has an army inbound and, while it’s not going to be as big as France’s, if it catches our force at the walls of Amsterdam, my only army is going to be ground into so much mincemeat. Since I have more artillery than the defenders, I will try an assault next turn, and hope that it it goes badly I’ll have enough of a force intact to hold off a British counterattack until reinforcements get there.

 

Drawn up before the walls of Amsterdam. Imposing, aren’t they.

 

Empire: Total War - The French at the gates of Amsterdam 

 

Onward for France! They charge, they charge…

 

Empire: Total War - Here Come the French

…and they retreat, as natural to my troops as eating frogs and cruelty to geese.

 

Empire: Total War - The French Retreat
So, yeah. That went well. At least the army didn’t get totally smashed. To add insult to injury, as my battered soldiers flee in disarray from the walls of Amsterdam, PS has landed a large army under the command of John Churchill, aka 1st Duke of Marlborough, aka the Mindelheim Murderer, who eats Parisian babies with his morning breakfast and cleans his teeth with toothpicks made from the bones of French grenadiers, to besiege Brussels. I try to console myself with the knowlege that it would have been even worse if the army had attacked while I was besieging Amsterdam, but it doesn’t help.

 

Things are looking bleak for L’Hexagone.

 

Next up, in Episode II, the Royal Navy goes on the offensive around the world  — but closer to home, events proceed a little differently…

When is the premise of a story too ridiculous for you?

Here’s another question for you guys: When do you find a work of fiction’s (book, game, etc) premise so ridiculous that it prevents you from picking it up?

 

For me, as a science fiction/fantasy/anime/video game geek, an open-minded attitude towards far-fetched concepts comes with the territory. I mean, I’m currently playing a game about demon-fighting schoolchildren who summon their guardian spirits by pantomiming suicide! Even by JRPG standards, that has to take the cake for bizarreness. But on this blog, I’ve also mentioned a TV series about people who cross the galaxy by walking through wormholes, a time-travel-steampunk American Civil War game, and an anime about a biplane-flying pig, none of which cause me any problems.

 

Yet  one concept never fails to make me howl with disbelief: a foreign power invading the continental United States (most famously, Red Dawn). Aliens with the technology to fly dozens of light-years are landing on the White House lawn instead of lobbing giant rocks from orbit? No worries! Giant two-legged robot lizards are tearing up California? Pass the popcorn! But the moment the first jackboot touches down on American soil, having apparently teleported past a US Navy and Air Force that are the most powerful in human history, is the moment I say, “Not interested.”

 

The underlying principle here is similar to the Uncanny Valley. Just as we are repelled by robots and animated characters who look like humans, but aren’t quite right, so I roll my eyes at settings that are obviously meant to be the real world, but aren’t quite right. In other words, I have a much higher threshold for suspending disbelief in real-world settings, and these scenarios (as with any other that suggests the author failed to grasp the basics of a real-world issue, whether it’s politics or a financial crisis) fall egregiously foul of that. And that is why it will be a very long time before I ever look at THQ’s Homefront, not to say Red Dawn itself.

Roleplaying and time management in Persona 3 Portable: Who says there’s no roleplaying in JRPGs?

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

As far as I can tell, the core of Persona 3 (refer to my initial post for the premise of the game) is its dungeon-crawling RPG combat. From a min-maxing perspective, the other, social aspects of the game ultimately seem to boil down to the bonuses they confer in the RPG element*. Even raising the main character’s stats by studying, singing karaoke or going to trendy coffeeshops will ultimately affect his/her ability to strike up relationships with certain other characters, which in turn, affects the bonuses carried into the dungeon crawl.

 

Note my use of “as far as I can tell” and “seem”. Except when looking up specific, narrow questions, I’ve departed from my usual RPG practice by minimising my use of FAQs for this game. And that is because Persona 3 is the most I’ve ever roleplayed in a single-player RPG. Back in my “intuitive gameplay” post, I talked about two different ways of looking at a game – as a set of rules to be mastered; or as a story to be acted out. And there is a certain tension between those two mindsets: when I can see that the “optimal” choice is grossly out of character, “unrealistic”, or ”ahistoric”,  this hurts my suspension of disbelief. For Persona 3, I’ve gotten around this by simply not looking up the optimal choices.

 

So, free from concern about min-maxing, I’ve been spending the game’s precious resource, time, in a way that best brings the “Japanese schoolkids” theme of the game to life. My main character, Arthur, raises his Academic stat by paying attention in class, praying at the local shrine in the afternoon, and studying in the evenings, not because I think it’s optimal, but because it’s what I think he would/should do. He raises his Charm because that stat will be used in his relationship with one of my favourite NPCs in the game, and if I want to see that dialogue, so does Arthur. And he spends his time with people whose company he enjoys, not necessarily those who’ll give him the most useful bonuses. (The one time powergaming concerns drove me to hang out with a NPC I found annoying, I imagined Arthur gritting his teeth and making noncommittal remarks the whole time.) It’s a liberating feeling to simply play “naturally” and focus on my favourite character interactions, without worrying about the minutiae of builds, boosts, and seeing every last bit of content!

 

About two and a half months have elapsed since the start of the game. Arthur is all set for a certain storyline event in a week’s time, and he’s well on track for his exams in two weeks…
* Specifically, social links will affect the EXP/levels of your created “personas”, the spirits that do the heavy lifting for you in battle.

Persona 3 Portable: A promising start

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

Plan for the day

Morning – Go to school.

Afternoon – Hit the books.

Evening – Fight monsters?!

 

The average high schooler who thinks his/her life is in turmoil has nothing on Arthur, my name for the hero of Persona 3 Portable. It’s not just that he’s a transfer student, the new kid in school. For Arthur is one of a handful with the ability to fight the “Shadows” that rob people of their will to live, and so, despite his tender age, the fate of the town is in his hands.

 

Not wholly in his hands, luckily. For backup, most visibly, Arthur has the schoolmates with whom he goes dungeon crawling – the friendly Yukari, Junpei the class clown, and cool older kids Akihiko and Mitsuru. They’ve proven their worth so far, Yukari with her healing and wind magic, Akihiko with his fists and lightning magic, Junpei with his whacking great two-handed sword, and Mitsuru radioing in directions and calling for backup if the team gets separated.

 

But building social links (“S-Links”) to others will also boost Arthur’s inner powers, and there are a lot of potential friends he can make: the elderly couple who run the local bookstore, the little girl who hangs out at the shrine on Saturdays, his buddy from the kendo team, even the person he plays MMOs with on the odd Sunday.  He doesn’t know anybody especially well yet, but he’s made a decent start.

 

It’s only been a little over a month since Arthur moved into his new school and discovered his powers, but he’s settling in well. He’s aced his midsemester exams (for which Mitsuru owes him a present). He’s making a fair few new friends. And last but not least, he’s defeated several tough bosses and plenty of lesser foes. Things are looking up for our young hero – and they’re most definitely looking up for Persona 3 Portable.

 

Xenonauts, the fan X-Com remake, draws closer to completion

One indie game project I‘ve followed for a while is Xenonauts, essentially a fan remake of one of my favourite games: X-Com (which I played under its UK title of UFO: Enemy Unknown), the strategy game where you led a secret government organisation against an alien invasion. Many of Xenonauts’ bullet points seemed promising, from a backstory tweaked to explain the familiar X-Com starting position, to the addition of a feature I’d always wanted, allied NPC human soldiers. Still, I was cautious. Would the project simply turn out to be vapourware? Even if it did come to fruition, well, X-Com clones generally haven’t been well received.

 

Well, today, I saw a developer diary on PC Gamer that highlights the current state of one of the two main game modes, ground combat – and I was impressed. The basic gameplay – moving your soldiers around, taking cover, shooting it out with aliens, using tanks and rocket launchers as support – is in place, although the art assets aren’t all there and the game balance is still a work in progress. I’m not a huge fan of the tile graphics, but the unit sprites themselves look pretty good. And a glance at the Xenonauts website, which I hadn’t visited in some time, indicates that much of the game’s other key component, the world map, is also in a playable state (for example, air combat, base building, and R&D are all present).

 

The finished product could still fail to work out, but after seeing the latest coverage of Xenonauts, I do have more confidence that it will see the light of day. For fans of the original X-Com, this is one title to keep an eye on as it draws closer to release.

 

(Link to PC Gamer courtesy of No High Scores)

Section 8: Prejudice – First impressions

Over the weekend, I had the chance to spend a few hours playing Section 8: Prejudice (see here for my “looking forward to…” post in which I mentioned the game), and so far I like it quite a bit. Here are some specific thoughts:

 

  • The game’s pacing feels about right. It plays quickly enough to have a joyous, madcap feel, and it doesn’t take long to get into the action. Power-armoured soldiers blaze across the map only to be cut down by in a volley from entrenched defenders, while respawning players take a mere 6-7 seconds to drop down from the sky. That said, the game is also just slow enough for me to keep up.

 

  • I really like how well the game accommodates players like me, who are terrible at the actual running and gunning in shooters. There are plenty of fun things I can do instead – I can indulge my specialty in video games, fortification, by patrolling the base, throwing down turrets in key locations, and repairing defences when necessary. I can equip myself to take out enemy turrets or outposts (which are easier prey than other players…), I can repair teammates’ vehicles, and so on.

 

  • And on that note, one area where I do seem to have an edge on random online players is teamwork and tactics. In one match, I thought I was the only guy who had ever heard the words “repair”, “fortify”, or “convoy”, and it’s a pain when other players capture an objective and charge off to the next one, only for the enemy to waltz back in and recapture the undefended objective. None of this is surprising, but still…

 

  • I also like the ability to call down vehicles as a match progresses. Not only are the vehicles themselves – a hover bike, a mech, and the holy of holies, a tank – pretty cool, but saving up for vehicles gives me something to look forward to.

 

So far, so good…

What I’m anticipating – May 2011 edition

Currently I’m in something of an entertainment downtime. I finished Tactics Ogre a week ago, and I’m replaying it at a leisurely pace to see one of the other storylines, but I’m not particularly engrossed in any works of fiction at the moment. Starting next week, this should change, as I have some new toys in the pipeline…

 

Already bought, waiting to arrive:

 

Section 8: Prejudice (multiplayer first-person shooter, PC) (Metacritic) I’m not much of an FPS player, and this goes doubly so for multiplayer. But I’m making an exception for Section 8 – it comes highly recommended; it’s cheap (I paid US$13.50); and most importantly, it’s supposed to have very good bots, so I should be able to have fun playing single-player or cooperatively (as I’ve discussed with some of you guys!). Downloading this via Steam as we speak.

 

Jeanne d’Arc (fantasy tactical RPG, PSP) (Amazon; Metacritic) – As you probably guessed from all my Tactics Ogre coverage, tactical RPGs’ blend of RPG storytelling and squad-level strategy gameplay makes them one of my favourite game genres. Jeanne d’Arc, a fantasy game very loosely inspired by the historical heroine, is supposed to be a very good example of its genre; it’s also pretty rare, so when I saw it on sale for a pretty good price, it was a no-brainer to snap it up. My copy should arrive next week.

 

Persona 3 Portable (urban fantasy RPG, PSP) (Amazon – the US release, not the European collector’s edition I ordered; Metacritic) The PSP port of a widely acclaimed PS2 RPG, in which the protagonist must juggle daily high-school life with periodic monster-fighting expeditions. While the juxtaposition of high school and life-and-death conflicts always annoys me in anime, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this plays out in a game. This should also arrive next week.

 

Already pre-ordered, waiting for release:

 

A Game of Thrones (fantasy TV series) – HBO’s adaptation of my favourite fantasy novels. Filed under “pre-ordered” because I subscribe to the cable channel that will eventually (in July) broadcast it in Australia.

 

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion (space opera RTS, PC) – I wrote this up in more detail back when it was announced. In addition to the usual expansion pack offering of more, and bigger, spaceships, this also comes with “new victory conditions”, which I hope could deliver a better late/endgame to Sins.

 

Will definitely buy when released:

 

A Dance with Dragons, by George R R Martin (fantasy novel) (Amazon – free shipping for Americans!) The long-awaited next instalment in the aforementioned favourite fantasy series.  I’ve waited almost six years for this book, and there’s no way I’m passing on it.

 

May or may not read/buy:

 

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie (fantasy novel, paperback edition – book itself has been out for a while) (Amazon): I remember seeing this book described as the “Rashomon effect” applied to a single fantasy battlefield. Abercrombie is a skilful author and I greatly enjoyed his previous books, but their extreme bleakness is starting to wear on me. I’m not sure if this book will have anything to say about the human condition that Abercrombie didn’t give us in his previous two books. We’ll see…

 

The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy novel, paperback edition – book itself has been out for a while) (Amazon): Second book in a trilogy that I’ve seen described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups”, about the adventures of Kvothe the omnitalented wizard. The books have generated a fair bit of internet buzz, and I enjoyed the first book at the time, but subsequently I can barely remember a thing about book 1. Another “maybe”.

A Game of Thrones’ bleakness, revisited

HBO has now aired three episodes of Game of Thrones in the US, and while it doesn’t show here until July (in time for A Dance with Dragons!), I have been following the discussion anyway. I am not at all surprised that some viewers characterise it as a bleak show — but I think this is an opportune time to dredge up my post from last year asking whether the franchise is really that grim.

 

(I don’t think the following vague comment counts as a spoiler, but just in case…)

 

Yes, it is violent. Yes, bad things can happen to people who deserve better. No, it is neither hopeless nor nihilistic, and that, to me, makes all the difference.

 

(And no, I don’t think this just means I have extreme standards for what counts as “bleak”…)

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