Summary: Imperial Glory has recently gone gold and we took some time off to play with the demo to get some initial impressions. How does it stack up? Where does it fall short? Is it worth the download?
Obviously, combat with artillery and muskets is going to be different from knights and bowmen going at it, but due to the technical limitations of Napoleonic era weaponry, the ranges involved are not actually that much greater. Fortunately for the gaming world, troops still fought wars from formations not unlike those of centuries and even millenia past, meaning that control of the game involves only moving around groups of men, rather than individuals. This permits the scale of battles to be significantly larger than they would be if we were dealing with modern individuals and platoons. Of course, this is not so fortunate for the men who actually had to fight this way; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellows in tight formations, firing once per minute, maintaining ranks in the face of simultaneous volleys of hundreds of 1" thick lead balls... it's almost enough to make a man say "stiff upper lip there, old chap".
The familiar RTS dynamics remain, however. Cavalry are vulnerable to infantry fire and prepared infantry formations, but excel at hitting from the flanks and are perfect for cutting down artillery. Artillery have amazing firepower and range, but are helpless in close combat. Infantry are more powerful than cavalry, but slower and more vulnerable to artillery fire.
To make matters more interesting, the game distinguishes between various kinds of infantry. Whether or not these distinctions are accurate is beyond my ability to say, but in terms of gameplay, there's a great deal of difference between sending cheap, regular Line Infantry in and the deadly Black Watch highlander regiments. There are also multiple types of cavalry, from lancers through hussars to dragoons, each more adept at one task than another.
Typically, units have their stats displayed in terms of armor, melee and ranged combat ability. These aren't very clear, unfortunately, and one is never quite sure what difference armor makes in the game, or how tough the morale of a particular unit type is. Presumably these are the kind of differences that are more apparent in the strategic map, which is not playable in this demo.
SIDEBAR: Though Austerlitz is often considered Napoleon's most crushing victory, the Prussians suffered an even more devastating setback at Jena. Actually, Napoleon was only involved in the side battle. One of his Marshals, Davout, defeated the main Prussian force of 55,000 men to the North. Learn more at Wikipedia.
The land battles are quite interesting. The Imperial Glory game engine appears to be at least as capable as the one used in Rome: Total War. The first battle is a very small engagement which tasks the player with capturing the second of two objectives on the map. The first is already in his hands, but to reach the second the player must cross a river. Regular troops can walk through, but artillery must use the bridge. Tactical options are somewhat limited.
The second battle has the player outnumbered but in control of the two objectives already, the victory timer has started. As with the first battle, the key targets to be held are two buildings, which can be garrisoned or left standing alone. If garrisoned, they're highly resistant to regular forms of attack and only artillery would be of much use.
The enemy AI is surprisingly adept and aggressive in the tactical battles, we're almost certain it is aware of the player's unit positions whether they're "hidden" or not. Regardless, it exploits any opportunity that it is presented with to destroy the player's artillery. In fact, one of the problems we encountered is that we're not exactly sure how to prevent your own artillery from being eaten up outright. Enemy cavalry is almost always fast enough to blow by protecting infantry, and it can disengage from a cavalry-on-cavalry battle.
In fact, the actual battles themselves presented us with a bit of trouble. There's really very little feedback as to whether or not the player is doing well. Failure is almost immediately apparent, but we can't say if flanking an enemy line with our own infantry actually helps. Cavalry charges are repulsed as often as not, even if the attack hit the rear of the enemy formation.
Another problem we ran into is the interface. Seemingly intuitive command options, such as using one mouse button for movement and primary attack, and the other for secondary attacks (such as charges) are missing. During unit deployment before a battle there are no options to change the facing of your regiments, and there is no automatic arrangement of regiments into sensible lines when they are moved en masse.
All in all, however, the game does show promise. The battles are engaging enough to make us want to see more, especially with the context of the strategic map and the help of a manual. Worth the download? Almost certainly if you like Total War style RTS games.
SIDEBAR: Napoleon's Grand Army was defeated in Russia by the cold and lack of food. As the Russians retreated, they plundered their own lands to deny Napoleon supplies, and he entered Moscow only to find it empty.
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