The Empire Total War demo went up today, after waiting almost 6 hours for it to download (Steam was under a bit of strain, the UK server was trickling it down at 12KB/s, so I had to use the US East Coast server which wasn't much better at about 100KB/s),
Like previous Total War games this feels a bit glitchy - in fact it has crashed once. Load times are also a bit on the long side. Performance other than that seems great, runs flawlessly at 1920x1200 here with the detail maxed out (Windows 7, Core 2 Duo @ 2.4Ghz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 3870) and yes the game looks stunning.
The demo has one land battle, the Battle of Brandywine Creek of 1777, which historically takes place on the British march to Philadelphia. But also, best of all features naval battles hurrazz! Again only one in the demo, the Battle of Lagos in 1759 during the Seven Years War. In both battles you play as Great Britain, I've heard quite a few of our separatist friends complaining about that already.
Impressions: good easily up there with the previous games in the Total War series and already I have to say better than Medieval 2 (no matter how cool slaughtering King Harold in 1066 was). But I'm a little worried about the AI. After attempting to send my cavalry a couple of miles down river to flank the rebel's artillery and seeing them completely wiped out by infantry hiding in the woods (argh) you might of expected me to lose, after all sending my infantry in, across a river, against dozens of 16 pound guns in a very well defended position doesn't sound too clever. But for some reason the AI sent their infantry out to attack mine, which were already nicely formed up and positioned behind a hill to try and avoid their artillery. So for some reason the AI shot themselves in the foot and basically wiped out most of their forces. Obviously a welcome turn of events from my point of view and perhaps one a fresh faced separatist general might make.
The biggest addition is of course naval battles! We've not had naval battles in a computer game like this, ever. There's literally no comparison. Although there's less strategy involved then the land battles you do need to keep an eye on things, such as the wind direction as I've lost one battle by allowing my fleet to break up too much, and the French picked off the few stragglers before I could turn my ships around and get back there as the wind was against me, other than that all you need to worry about is keeping your guns facing the enemy ships - but this is where I have a problem, the ships turn way too fast, which means you don't get penalised as much for screwing up as you can get your ships back into position too fast.
To sum up, despite my niggling issues I have with it this game is looking to be fantastic, easily up there as a potential game of the year. Now I just have to wait a week and a half for the full game to be released.