As a long-standing fan of the Total War game series, I looked forward with great anticipation to the latest instalment Empire: Total War. This game was going to be it. For the first time a single campaign would span multiple theaters (Europe, North America and India). It would also see the introduction of naval warfare, as well as a host of other new features. And, to crown it all, the game looked great on the preview videos. Visual detail has always been a hallmark of the Total War series, but with Empire they outdid themselves. With each video and screenshot, the developers added a disclaimer assuring the viewer that this was in-game and real time.
So I pre-ordered the game from a local game shop. I waited and waited, and then it came. When you get a new, long-awaited game, there are several stages of ecstasy. The first is actually getting the game in hand (something which is being lost with digit downloads from providers like Steam). The second is tearing off the cellophane and getting a whiff of that unmistakable “new game smell“. This olfactive delight climaxes when you carefully open up and thumb through the game manual for the first time. During the refractory period you’ll enter the third stage: actually installing the game. Watching all the progress bars slowly fill up and whatever eye-candy the developers provided along with the installer only serves as foreplay to the fourth stage: running the game for the first time. And, if the game is well done, there is a fifth stage: the realisation of how awesome this game actually is.
I got stuck at stage fourth, which pretty much ruined the other stages for me.
See, E:TW is a “Steam game”. This means that, once purchased, you enter the serial number of your game into Steam and register it with your account. You can then take your game with you wherever you can take your Steam account. After downloading it on a machine, you can play it anywhere, anytime, without the fear of physical breakage or theft of your game discs, or your house and all your games burning down. Steam also provides an on-line community and games store, as well as keeping your games up-to-date automatically. In short (if you have broadband Internet; a problem still for many South Africans), Steam is great and I love it. Except when it screws you around when trying to install a game from DVDs. See, with data rates as they are in South Africa, downloading all 14GB of E:TW would have doubled the price I paid for the game itself. So, rather mosy down to the shop and get to experiences stages one and two. Sounds good? Yes! Except when you cannot, for the life of you install the darn thing!
I’d start the installation of the game. A Steam window would pop-up informing me that the “local game cache” is being created. Fair enough. Then the progress bar would fill and… nothing. Nothing happens after that. The progress bar remains full and the animated ellipse keeps running its little heart out. Nada, nothing, ziltch. Frustrating? You bet!
After attempting to reinstall the game a few times (in all fairness, random, unforseen, unreproducable errors to occur sometimes), but the result is always the same. So I climbed on the Internet and found that I was not the only one having these problems. In fact, I found a whole lot many more people having a plethora of problems with this game, even after successful installation. This wasn’t looking to good. But at least the developers were quick to jump on these complaints and quickly released work-arounds and patches (as is the norm with big games these days, unfortunately). But the difference between my problem and all these others were that no-one was answering the questions my comrades and I were asking: how do you install the game from the DVDs?
After trying several possible remedies (I even just left it there for 14 hours, hoping that the installation would pick-up, as some people reported happening), a friend suggested I bring my game to him, login into my Steam account on his laptop and installing the game there. I took it along to the office at varsity and the game installed without a hitch on the first try. I copied the install file from his laptop unto my computer, but still had the game problem as I had no way of letting Steam know that the files are there already. Wading through the forums and our little empirical study of the situation, I came to the hypothesis that the decisive factor was the speed of the Internet. At home I have but a sub-megabit Internet connection, while at the University of Stellenbosch we have the fastest Internet connection in the country. So I labouriously packed up my PC and spent a frustrating day at the office getting my PC registered on the varsity network. Once I got everything set up, the game installed without a hitch. So the solution? Too slow Internet! (Admittedly at a late stage I saw Steam suggesting changing your download server, but I never tried this.) This endeavoured swallowed up the bulk of more than a week.
On Steam’s part, I am furious for allowing Internet speed getting in the way of installing a game you paid good money for. I can imagine a scenario where, with the release of a new game, the servers are flooded and people with slow connections somehow keeps getting kicked to the back of the queue for load-balancing purposes. I still love you guys, but as of today, your latest Steam hardware survey shows that about a quarter of your users still have sub-megabit connections. Please figure out what this problem is and fix it! I’m also furious at both Steam and Sega for not responding to the desperate cries of us who could not even install the game.
As for the game itself, I can’t say that much yet. I looks amazing, even running on only medium graphics. A lot has changed, however, and I am finding it difficult to figure out all the new managerial aspects of the game. My fears of Total War becoming too much like Civilizations also still needs to be vindicated. But I am optimistic that things will turn out for the better. I have only played the game for less than three hours thus far (I am swamped with other stuff at the moment), but have thus far not encountered any other technical difficulties with the game.