Empire: Total War is easily the best game in the series and it's difficult to think of anything that can match it, at least outside of the MMO genre, for the massive amount of gaming it offers. The panoramic scale of the turn-based section works well without degenerating into information overload. It's baffling that the unit handling and AI issues that have haunted the series since inception are still present but you'll quickly adapt to being more hands-on with your units than should be strictly necessary.
With a bit of luck, future patches will address these issues and nudge the game a little closer to perfection. As it stands, Empire: Total War is a monumental slab of strategy gaming that is as brilliant as it is irritating.