I've played the majority of the Total War roster, excluding Troy, Three Kingdoms, and Rome 2.
Strategically, the post-M2 games are good to great.
The province system is adequate, some of the abilities are useful, the political systems are usually better…you can talk about the whole general system but the flaws in that that I've found are mostly the result of inadequate garrisons and badly planned siege maps than an inherent flaw in the idea of separate armies. The strategic picture of Total War is, frankly, something that usually improves over time, and could be great with some tweaking to allow more player freedom – like tying army counts to logistics in some way or letting you increase it organically via research. The worst I can say is that there's been a gradual removal of player freedom via things like trading regions – the rest is usually subjective or something that only needs an improved execution rather than being outright BAD.
Okay, let's be honest here.
We can bitch about over-microing, special abilities, single entities, magic, unit healthbars, streamlining, whatever, you can talk about that all day (or just watch someone like Volund bitch about it for about 20 hours in an indecipherable Scottish accent if you're into that). I disagree with a lot of tactical gameplay decisions made in Total War games for a variety of reasons.
What the biggest problem any Total War game has is the T3 engine, or as some call it, Warscape.
It does not model unit collision properly and just about every problem the games have from Empire onward in terms of atmosphere stem from that. You can't just jam an engine designed for musketry and ranged combat into things and expect it to work for Iron Age heavy infantry or Chinese civil wars or Japanese samurai. It simply won't work right.
The most obvious impact is to cavalry. The lack of weight for melee cavalry was acceptable in a musket game, where, you know, cavalry were expected to be unable to break lines. In games where heavy cavalry are still relevant, the lack of mass to their charges makes them basically impotent. This is most egregious in Warhammer, where there are heavy cavalry units in classical knightly fashion that have enemies to run over – but due to the lack of actual mass and weight to the cavalry, the old scenario of breaking an enemy's ranks is difficult to pull off at best.
You need mass to give the game atmosphere. Shogun 2, bless its heart, still failed to deliver a satisfying melee experience. You zoom in on a fight and its a clusterfuck of people sliding everywhere, seemingly random synced kills, etc, with some blood splatter if you've paid $3 on Steam to unlock base game content (corporate greed is an entirely different subject lol). Even Divide et Impera, which many hold up as the holy grail of Rome 2 realism mods, doesn't fix this fundamental issue from the gameplay footage I've seen. And, yes, you can get 'impact' with stuff like cavalry in Warhammer or Three Kingdoms. But the force field in front of Bretonnian cavalry doesn't give them weight, it just gives them an instant death touch until the charge stops all at once and it degenerates into the impactless sliding moshpit of melee combat.
If you want a satisfying 3rd rendition of any of the original 3 games – Shogun, Medieval, and Rome – push for CA to make a new battle engine. It's been using the same one since Empire, just updated for 64 bit. It can't continue to hammer a square peg into the round hole of melee combat, and the attempts they've made to fix the issue…don't.
Melee needs weight to it. And we won't get it until we get TW4.
- The paradox of comments about CA making Total War battles more “multiplayer focused” while other comments lament the lack of multiplayer support
- Floaty Infantry and Lack of Weight in Bannerlord
- My Thoughts on Light Infantry
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