The Creative Assembly, developers of the historical strategy Total War video game series, have announced a free online beta sign-up for players to try out a new multiplayer mode for 2009's Empire: Total War, and will be accepting requests via the game's website from Monday, December 7.

The game was the fastest selling entrant to the Total War series when it was released back in March, and strong sales meant that it topped not just the PC charts but also the multiplatform sales charts, making it the first PC game to do so in the 18 months since Football Manager 2008 made its debut.

The new multiplayer mode makes it possible to play through the game's long campaign mode in co-operation with another person or alternatively in an adversarial manner. The next edition in the franchise, Napoleon: Total War, is due for release in February 2010 and so Empire's beta may allow players a sneak peek into out-of-the-box enhancements to be featured in Napoleon.

Though it has largely held its initial $39.99 / €29.99 value, brand new copies of Empire can be picked up for around $30 / €20 from selected online retailers, for PC owners looking for a bit of absorbing strategy battling to tide them over the next few months.

Total War series website and beta sign-up: