The test version
The first test version of Empire couldn't be tested. It crashed a lot and battles sometimes didn't even start. We couldn't review this version and we didn't want to. Right before our editorial deadline Creative Assembly sent us a much improved version, without crashes and almost bug-free. Only path-finding problems during sieges and painfully long loading times remained. The developers promised to fix these problems until launch. We can't verify that, so these quirks influenced the scores for AI and controls, lowering each by one point.
According to reliable sources the 18th century lasted exactly one hundred years. To avoid boredom, here's the summary: The British, Prussians, French, Spanish, Austrians and Russians shot each other all the time, James Cook sailed around the world, the first steam engines were used in factories, British colonial armies arrived in India and fled from the newly-founded USA and in France members of nobility literally lost their heads, right before a small Corsican came to power.
You don't like that? Then change it. During the campaign of Empire: Total War you will govern one of eleven nations, including England or Prussia, from 1700 until 1799. The map is much larger compared to Medieval 2 and, apart from Europe, includes North America and India.
The beautiful strategy map is used to govern your empire and to move armies. Battles are fought in real-time or can be calculated instead, usually with comprehensible results. So far, it's as usual. However, Creative Assembly changed the game mechanics a lot and, among other things, it's possible to command naval battles for the first time. So does Empire live up to its Total War ancestors? The definite answer is: No. It even surpasses them, although our test version still had teething problems.