by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Been around the block
It isn't often that a game comes along that redefines an existing genre, or even creates a completely new one. When Shogun: Total War - the first in the now six year old Total War series - came out, reviewers could not agree on whether the game created a whole new genre or redefined an existing one. The one thing they did all agree to, however, was that the game had something special. Rome: Total War, released back in 2004, was a major turning point for the franchise. With a new engine and improved gameplay, The Creative Assembly delivered a groundbreaking strategy game, deserving of high praise and equally high review scores. Gamers felt the same way and spreading the word became sort of a religion among strategy gamers. Today we look at the latest addition to the Total War franchise, Medieval 2: Total War, to find out if the first game in a new generation of Total War games can leave a similar impression.
Bringing you up to speed
Many of you will have already played one or more of the Total War games. The series got started back in the days that terms like DirectX and GPU did not even exist and, given its popularity, it is hard to imagine that there is anyone left who has not played at least one Total War game. If you are among the unlucky few that are new to the series, let me yank you out from under your rock and fill you in.
Total War games are best described as a hybrid between Civilization and Stronghold. In the Civilization part you maintain your cities, interact with other nations and move your units around to further your overall campaign. When units do battle, you enter a Stronghold-like mode where huge armies duke it out on a battlefield that is related to their location on the overall map.
To the walls!
You can roughly divide these battles into a siege mode where you besiege a city or castle (or become besieged of course), or straight out battles between armies. Early in the campaign, you cannot apply the same strategies to these two modes. Walls need to be either destroyed or taken by siege engines that can be constructed at the start of the siege or produced in your cities or towns. Early siege engines need some time to achieve this and are not very efficient. By the time that Cannons become available, shattering walls becomes so ridiculously easy that they are reduced to being an afterthought. Cannons had the same effect on walls in real history of course. With the arrival of gunpowder technology, mankind gained a means of destroying even the thickest walls. Justification for buildings walls - that often had a detrimental effect on the growth of a town or city - could no longer be found, resulting in the open, un-walled cities that we know today.
Armies are governed by several factors. First and foremost, their attack and defense ratios combined with their attack type. Ranged units are generally lightly armored, enabling them to use hit and run tactics. Melee units, either mounted or on foot, have a more armor, though you will have to wait until you are technologically advanced enough to train and recruit heavy-armor units. Stamina and 'mood' also contribute considerably to your success on the battlefield. It is not uncommon to have to fight enemy reinforcements that are eager and fresh, with an army that is still tired and battered from defeating the original army. Tired and battered units have a tendency to flee the battle and fleeing armies tend to get slaughtered. Because of this, the battles can get quite challenging at times.
Once two armies lock and engage, you get to make a choice to either direct the attack yourself, to have the AI process the battle automatically or to flee. Directing the attack yourself is obviously the most gratifying of the three options and choosing that lets you zoom in on the battlefield, position your units and do what Medieval2: Total War is all about: Fight!
Enjoying the scenery
With the considerable graphical upgrade that the game has received, it is easy to get lost in the scenery. Especially mountainous areas can be distracting but a real general will not be looking at the scenery but judging the lay of the land. Finding strategic advantages in the terrain can make all the difference, especially since the AI is not very good at this. An example; taking your cavalry into the forest decreases their effectiveness, as does trying to run them uphill. The game reflects this rather well, so trying to engage your enemy on an open field or charging down a mountain can make a real difference in the outcome of the battle.
Once combat is engaged and you actually take the time to enjoy the spectacle, you will see that combat is downright brutal. It is not that the action is particularly gory or even bloody, but there is something primal about hundreds of men bashing each others' heads in with all sorts of metal objects. Well, who am I kidding, it is -very- primal!
No Pros and Cons at this time