Total War

How to fix the diplomacy in a game that has “TOTAL WAR” in its title

No one uses diplomacy.

Or at least, to better explain, not uses it in the way it's supposed to. We all know the friendly A.I. factions that just REFUSE to sign a trade agreement that will benefit the both of you;

, the memes.

In total war games, especially in TW Warhammer, diplomacy doesn't really address the main core of gameplay, nor complement it with meaningful choices. Although it's a general discussion, i will mainly talk about the Warhammer saga.

Diplomacy, as we understand it in the real world, becomes relevant ONLY when the parties involved have the same amount of power and resources, since a direct clash would prove too costly: as an example, let's pick A and B as the main warmongering factions. They are perfectly equal in strength, and will not declare war on each other. Luckily for them, there are three other neutral factions: C, D and F. All of them, individually, have the same power of A or B, but do not naturally wish to fight unless swayed.

The equation is simple: the faction that creates the biggest alliance through diplomacy wins. You see, this is the most simple realpolitik event that can happen (WW1? WW2? Cold war? Does anyone know of any conflict in history?) but it's something you will rarely encounter (if ever) during a normal campaign of any total war.

The problem is that if those diplomacy mechanics were realistic, the game would be incredibly slow: as slow as the real world, at least, and Total war is simply just a power fantasy game. The player is enabled and encouraged to forge an empire mainly through blood and fire… but in that way the functionality and the fun of diplomacy gets lost in translation. Why care about agreements and confederations when you can easily steamroll any neighbouring faction?

The A.I. is… the A.I., sadly.

All the problems i have exposed so far get compounded by the fact that non-hostile A.I. is too stupid to be useful. Let's say you are faction A, and you allied with C to overthrow B. In total war, C will derp around so much that it will be basically useless. In all of my hours of gameplay in TWW2 (900h) my allied obeyed my suggestions twice, and both of the times i waited and besieged a settlement for three turns before the A.I. actually decided to join in the fun (even though it has always been in the same region).

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Reliability is the premise of diplomacy. If you can't rely on the A.I., you really can't get diplomacy. Even when you play coop with a human buddy, coordinating with them in a timely manner can be a pain in the ass, so how can the A.I. pull it off? It can't. And this is just one example of how the A.I. can fuck up.

So, there is a problem. How do you solve it?

Here is a premise before delving in: I'm an amateur game designer, and i played titles from the Total War series for more than 1,500 hours since my childhood. Now i'll put my money words were my mouth is.

  • Non-aggression pact: the factions that already like you enough to accept it won't attack you in the first place, and viceversa. I would simply make it more endearing even to malevolent factions (especially if you are stronger and quite close to them) and not make them propose it when they are trying to make a peace treaty before you conquer their last settlement.
  • Trade agremments: as I said in the beginning, everyone should want to trade with anyone they are not in an active conflict, even just for the profit (as, surprise surprise, it happens IRL).
  • Military Access: ah yes, the most useless thing, also known as "Non-aggression Pact 2.0". I find hilarious how any faction will cross your borders without any care in the world OR ask you this treaty even if they are on the opposite side of the map. Just make it that both the player and the A.I. have to either declare war or sign this treaty to access other's territories (as, surprise surprise, it happens IRL). Of course, any A.I. faction should be kind enough to easily accept it with a positve diplomacy rating above 20 to avoid frustration.
  • Defensive alliance/ Military Alliance**:** it's evident: as it is, the whole mechanic of allying with someone else doesn't work, so let's design it from the bottom up, instead of the top down. The basic function of any alliance is to gather power and resources to your side. Let's ignore the resources for a second, ant let's tackle the power (you know, the whole "TOTAL WAR" part): we already estabilished that, for now, it is both impractical and ineffective. So, the logical step is to give back the agency to the player: it's simple as that. But how?
    • For the player:
      • with a d***efensive alliance****,* you will be able to **summon (**and the possibility to control) an allied army whenever you are besieged or you fight in your own territory, with a cost and a hefty cooldown for each faction you are allied with. Kinda like the player does in the "new" empire authority mechanic, but reversed. The power of the allied army can be defined by either: 1) the raw power of the allied faction, 2) the cost/cooldown you'll have to endure, 3) the diplomacy rating you currently have with them (AKA: "how much they like you"), 4) raw distance from the battlefield. Maybe all four of them. But of course the whole mechanic MUST be powerful enough to justify it's existance and compete with the standard way of playing, or we are already back at

      • with a military alliance, besides the effects of a defensive alliance, you also get to summon AND control a native allied army in the campaign map for free, or little to no cost, and with a time limit (or until their death). The balancing process of this mechanic is both interesting and complicated, but you get the jist of it. Besides the cool factor, this will kill two birds with one stone, resolving both the impracticality and ineffectiveness of alliances in TOTAL WAR games.
    • For the A.I.:
      • For both of the treaties, just make a hive mind: IE,the allied factions will behave as they were one. They would synchronize as best as they can, they would give back the lost territories, eccetera eccetera. As simple as that.
  • Confederation: you know what? this actually work quite well as it is. For this fact it enjoys the status of being the preferred diplomacy action to pursue, but sadly it only works with factions of the same race.
  • Vassals: same as military alliance, but with the resource part i talked about previously in the "Alliance" section.
  • Peace treaty: ditto, but sometimes it's too little too late when A.I. factions propose it to you or when you want a truce to direct your armies to another conflict.

So… what is salvageable?

Actually, everything else that i have not mentioned already. The premise of diplomacy in total war games has lots of potential, and in some outlier cases it works, such as the reliability rating, but for the most part it's only about trade agreements and "let's agree to ignore each other… for now. After that, it becomes difficult."


These are my two cents. Feel free to comment and to respond to my ideas, i'll try to be present as much as i can in the comment section. Also, sorry for any mistake, English is not my first language. I'm just a silly Italian boi.


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