Total War

Why I’ve lost interest in the historical Total War titles.

Content of the article: "Why I’ve lost interest in the historical Total War titles."

I’ve been thinking about this for some time. I watched a video by Zerkovich where he discusses whether the Warhammer Total War titles have dampened or neutralised the appeal of the traditional historical titles for many players. His argument comes down to units based on empires and nations which have existed in history will always be at a disadvantage when compared to the likes of giant Mammoths and Dragons boasted by the Warhammer titles.

However, I don’t think that this is it. It may be for other people but not for me. I booted up Medieval 2: Total War recently. I picked the Holy Roman Empire and got started. The game somewhat holds up to my pre-Warhammer days of playing it on my laptop. What immediately stood out to me was how bland the game’s world is. Rome 2 boasts 117 factions. Medieval 2 has 17 and overwhelmingly favours Christian nations. I don’t mean to denigrate either the game or the developer here and I fully acknowledge that I am not comparing like with like. I just want to demonstrate that I’m not wearing rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the classic historical titles, namely Rome: Total War and Medieval 2: Total War.

Creative Assembly deployed a new engine for Empire: Total War. My poor laptop was just about able to handle it. I had mixed feelings about Empire. The trade system was nice and the idea of adding two additional maps to the traditional European theatre was a tremendous innovation. Sadly though, the core of what makes a Total War game, the battles were lacking. You need only recruit one type of unit – Colonial Line Infantry and only one technology (another innovation) actually affects the gameplay – Fire by Rank. The soundtrack is barely there at all which is tragic compared to the wonderful and iconic scores of the previous two titles. I know Darthmod exists but given my lack of interest, I have never installed it.

In 2017, I built my very first gaming PC and retired my laptop. One of the first games I installed was Rome 2. Immediately after launching it for the first time, I was struck by how beautiful the game’s campaign map was. However, the game just seemed to be… “lacking”. Raising armies was easy. Too easy in my opinion. You just click on the units you want and that’s it. You need not worry about population or resources. You just need the right buildings of which there are fewer and the income to sustain your new recruits’ maintenance expenses. That’s it. Medieval 2 had a “pool” system. You had a pool of units which replenished. You didn’t subtract from your population as in the original Rome and you could have up to three recruitment slots per city or castle. However, there were limited numbers of units in the pool which would take turns to replenish depending on what buildings you had. Recruiting a full army took multiple provinces working in tandem if the player did not want to wait six turns or so for one castle to produce the requisite units.

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In battle, the units don’t seem to have the same physical presence they had in the older engine. Charges in the older titles felt like they had real weight to them. You’d hear a crunching sound as the knights ploughed through a crammed mass of men. In the later titles, they just seem to stop and get to work. A small detail but I did love doing cavalry charges. Another was the generals. Whereas you had fewer of them and they’d respond to how they were used in the game in Rome and Medieval 2, in Rome 2, I had to manually level them up and never really saw any appeal to doing this. I always liked that having one do a lot of fighting would innately improve his ability in combat or appointing him as a governor would net him administrative and economical traits which could be augmented by building a university. Adding “+1 zeal” just doesn’t have the same impact even if it comes with abilities in combat. Same with missile units. Missiles are still there but they don’t seem to have a tactile impact. You could hear cutting and slicing sounds to simulate arrows piercing flesh in Medieval 2. My own personal opinion but I’ve never really cared for the arrow-trail graphic but I think there’s a setting for disabling this.

I think the biggest disappointment with the newer generation of historical titles has been the city-building on the campaign map and the political systems. Cities now have a limited number of slots. If the player has sufficient gold, cities can be fully developed in a fraction of the number of turns it took on the older titles where only one building could be constructed at once and the only restriction was that only one set of temples could be constructed in a single city in Rome. Thrones of Britannia even has most of the building paths mapped out in advance so there’s even less choice but CA did add to this in later patches of the game. As an Irishman, I have to say that the map for Thrones was glorious. I would add a distinction for Shogun 2 as the limited number of slots actually encourages the player to specialise their provinces, a lesson I learned quite far into the game.

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Finally, there’s the politics system and I’ve never really felt that this fitted all that well into a game primarily focused on battles. The penalty for failing to manage your nation’s politics correctly is civil war which is just boring. To be fair, I found that this was easily the most boring part of the original Rome and it’s the main reason I only ever played one Roman campaign as the Julii. I find fighting “myself” in games to be tedious. I think that some leads could have been taken from games like Crusader Kings 2 to make this more dynamic rather than gaming the system and paying political opponents not to revolt.

Hopefully, I’ve made my points in something resembling an articulate manner. I don’t really level these criticisms at the Warhammer titles as I feel like there’s less of a reason for fantasy titles to be “realistic”. I don’t consider any of these titles to be bad games, I just wanted to give my own perspective on why I’ve not felt the urge to get Three Kingdoms or Troy. I do like CA and appreciate their engagement and support for the games. The above is intended to be constructive criticism and not remotely negative. I did enjoy playing Rome 2 and Empire despite the criticisms.

Zerkovich’s video:


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