Medieval: Total War

Total War comes to medieval Europe, but has it left any luggage in feudal Japan?

Creative Assembly has teamed up with Activision, this time, to bring the next installment of Total War - this time in Europe. There's more factions, more provinces, more units and more Total War action! But has anything been left off from the previous game? Hell no! Its been improved.

Graphics are a sight better. The map remains largely unchanged (except for the change in location), other than an ever so slightly more detailed topography and ocean. The battle scenes, however, are much improved. The 3D engine has been retained, however the 2D unit models have been scrapped for 3D ones. While not fluid, nor entirely pretty for a modern game, they are somewhat more aesthetically pleasing than the ones found in Shogun: Total War. The landscapes themselves are worlds apart from the ones found in Shogun. While, still, not all that crash hot, the popup and ambient features (rain and fog) have been rendered properly, and the landscapes are far more detailed than before. The soundtrack is, once again, powerful, this time with a strong Medieval theme rather than a feudal Japan theme.

Battle complexities have increased also, with a great deal more formations to choose from before, especially individual formations. In the previous game, overall formations for group and army were the battle winners, with only three different formations for individual groups. In this game, however, individual formations, as are group and army, are in much greater numbers, and can be just as crucial as the overall formations. Generals, like the last game, gain ranks for winning battles once again, as does your King/Prince/Emperor/Doge/Sultan (which your ruler is depends on your faction). However, much more is gained by battles, in the way of vices and virtues, as well as an RPG style attribute enhancement.

There are six attributes, Influence (rulers only), Loyalty, Piety, Dread, Command and Acumen; reffering to how well one may influence the public, one's loyalty to one's ruler, one's devotion to God/Allah, one's ability to intimidate the populous (and keep order), one's ability to command an army, and one's ability to manage a province's/country's economy, respectively. All these attributes play a huge part, i.e. Influence determines how well the people respect your ruler (i.e. his ability to stave off rebellions), Piety determines whether the people will be very religious, and Acumen affects your income. For generals, a low loyalty may cause them to lead a civil war against your leader in an attempt to usurp the throne. Vices and Virtues are gained through battle also. For example, if a general continuously retreats, he may gain the Vice of coward, giving him -2 command and -6 morale to his troops; on the other hand if he continuosly wins, he may gain the Virtue of Mighty Warrior, giving him +2 command and +6 morale to his troops. In this way, a general's rank is much less a determination as to whether he will win or lose as his other attributes are.

Your ruler is still considered a general in this game, however is vastly different from the previous one. First of all, your ruler will die of natural causes, such as old age and sickness. Age is a huge consideration, and as the ruler gets older the chance of him dying becomes greater. Fortuneately, this increased chance of death is offset by an increased chance of giving birth to an heir. This time, both male and female heirs can be born (unless you are a muslim faction, who have no princesses), and become game pieces that can be used in battle and killed like normal. Princes become heirs to the throne, while princesses can be married off into other factions to seal an alliance, however they then give that faction claim to your lands should you have no immediate heir. The heir system becomes increasingly complex as the game progresses. When a prince becomes King/Emperor/Doge/Sultan, all his brothers are no longer immediate heirs and become barons of royal blood. If your ruler dies without an immediate heir (a son), then two barons will gather forces to their side and trigger a civil war in a baronial revolt. This may also happen while your ruler is alive, if the Baron's loyalty is low.

Once again, battles are in real time, while the game map is turn based, as in the last game. There are several changes to the economy and turn systems this time, however. Firstly, ending your turn ends the year rather than the season, and harvests occur at the end of every year, however are done so very differently from the previous game. In Shogun: Total War, a harvest could range from very poor to bumper, this is no longer so. Each province produces an amount of florins (money), depending on the fertility of the area, any farm upgrades and any trade constructs. Each turn, the total of each province is added up and your income calculated, however there is a chance each turn that several disasters will occur in your provinces, such as floods and earthquakes (which both have a chance of destroying something built) and plagues. All these disasters halve the income of the province. In each game there is also a very low chance that the Black Death, which plagued Europe in the Medieval ages, shall come, halving income in every province for a few years. Also, in the last game, once an army unit was trained, or a building constucted, there was no more cost other than the initial construction/training cost. In this game upkeep must be continually paid, making the economy a much larger concern, and placing general's with high Acumen to defend your provinces becomes a very worthwhile expenditure.

In Medieval: Total War there are twelve factions to choose from, giving you a huge variation. Unlike the last game, factions vary greatly, in religion, unique units and starting positions. Factions no longer hae special abilities (i.e. +30% attack with Archers) as in the last game, but rather gain bonuses with provinces. For example, some provinces have unique units, such as Steppe Cavalry, found in the Russian Steppes, and others gain a +1, +2 or +3 rank bonus when training certain units. This means that any faction can gain these bonuses if they take over the province, however disadvantaged factions (factions that start with few provinces) often start with these provinces. Factions also have other advantages/disadvantages, such as the Germans (Holy Roman Empire) who starts with a large, yet disloyal, territory. Too, factions are far more balanced, such as the Danes and Turkish, who have only one or two territories, but can build extremely powerful units, such as the Viking and Jannisary, respectively.

But wait, there's more! There are many more computer only factions than in the previous game. These include the Novgorod (early Russians), Sicilians, Aragonese, Hungarians, the Papacy, the Golden Horde (Mongol invaders) and a number of rebel provinces. Religion also plays a massive part in this game, whereas it was hardly a consideration in the previous. There are three religions, Catholic Orthodox, Christian and Muslim. If a Muslim leader conquers a Catholic or Christian province, the people won't be happy, and vice-versa. Catholic provinces will be slightly displeased with a Christian ruler, and vice-versa, but there is much more! Each religion gets unique buildings and units. These are Churches, Cathedrals, Mosques, Grand Mosques, Priests, Bishops, Amirs (Muslim Priests), Crusades and Jihads. Crusades, while incredibly powerful, may only be used against a Muslim or ex-communicated faction, with the Pope's approval. Jihads, on the other hand, are less powerful, although do not need any permisson, simply may only be unleashed upon a province that your faction owned previous to the current owners. The Pope is also a terrible hindrance, ordering Christian and Catholic factions to cease hostilities against one another, and to crusade against the Muslim factions, and ex-communicating any who disobey. Ex-communication has dire consequences, such as the possibility of Christian/Catholic revolts, and, if you continue to wage war against other Christian/Catholic factions, the Pope's request that other factions crusade against you. Such ex-communications can be cleared by either waiting for the current Pope to die, speeding up his death with an assassination (quite difficult) or conquering the Papal States and Rome, executing the Pope and setting up a puppet Pope.

In Medieval, navies are a huge part of the game, and are absolutely essential to win the game, whereas the were entirely non-existant in the previous game. There are many oceans preventing you a short route to some provinces (i.e. African provinces) and a few islands that must be conquered to achieve victory. In order to sail across the ocean, a port must be at the starting province, and then a chain of ships must span the ocean sections (i.e Barbary Coast, Meditteranean etc.) between the starting and ending province. The ending province doesn't need a dock, but you won't be able to get back off it without one. Also, if any enemy ships are in the same sea as you, or if it is allied or neutral and they are in the same sea next to the province you are trying to invade, you will not be able to move. Therefore, maintaining a large navy is essential to both moving quickly around the map and defending against enemy invasion by sea.

The game is once again non-linear, with the simple goal of uniting Europe under your rule, however much more variation has been put in. Firstly, there are three periods, the Early Medieval, High Medieval and Late Medeieval periods; starting in the early 12th Century, middle 13th Century and early 14th Century, respectively. The later the period, the more available technologies, and the territories of the various factions vary; the Golden Horde is added in the Late period, owning much of Europe (although they always invade at a set date in the 13th Century during the other periods). The ability to access more technology in the later periods is offset with a more difficult game, as you must still conquer all of Europe in a shorter time, as all games end in the mid 15th Century, when the Rennaisance period began.

One brilliant addition is the alternative win option of glorious achievment. Instead of having to conquer Europe, one must instead commit glorious actions and wait till the game ends to be judged with victory or defeat. For example, the French should re-unite France and defend its territory; the Holy Roman Empire should defend its territories while expanding to conquer the Papacy; while other factions might never expand, simply beginning a glorious building program and enriching their territories. Also, as in the last game, battles can be automatically resolved, and the quick battle has been extended to Historical Battles and Historical Campaigns. This caters to the Civilization buff, the Age of Empires buff and the history buff quite nicely.

Espionage and assassination are still a part of the game, however much less so than in the previous game. In Shogun: Total War, it was possible to eliminate a faction with assassins by assassinating a ruler and all his heirs. This can still be done, however the inclusion of barons means that a baronial revolt may ensue rather than the collapse of the faction. Also, as heirs are now moveable playing pieces, it is far more difficult to locate and kill all heirs. Despite this, there is plenty of variation and replayability, unlike the previous game.

Overall, Medieval: Total War takes Shogun's faults and fixes (most of) them. The amount of variation and massive map ensures that you won't get tired of this one too quick. I reccommend this game especially to fans of the previous game, RTS or Turn-based Strategy, but this game will be enjoyed by all. Medieval: Total War - Viking Invasion is now out, and is a must for any fans.

Final Verdict:

Graphics: 3.5/5
Sound: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Playability: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5