You could forgive The Creative Assembly for playing it relatively safe with Empire. The foundations of its strategy series are so solid that a shift in backdrops (particularly to one as promising as the age of reason) is enough to draw up the requisite bullet points for the back of the box.
Empire has 12 playable factions, a new focus on ranged combat thanks to muskets, and beefed-up diplomacy options as Europe and the colonies nudge themselves ever closer to a recognisably modern world.
Yet the developer isn't playing it safe. An 18th-century strategy game without a convincing naval element would be like an MGS title without windy disquisitions about love and conflict. There have been sea battles in Total War before, of course, but they've always been AI-controlled diversions. This time, the oceans have turned realtime.