Medieval II: Total War
Go On, Have A Guess?"
"Napoleon: Total Wart'?" "Nope." "Mutant Space Monkeys: Total Wart" "Sorry, wrong again." "Mods Vs Rockers: Total Wart" "Give up, dunno."
"It's..." drum rolls, fanfares, really need a piss I'm so excited - "Medieval total War" it was about the extent of my conversation with ZONE'S commander- in-chief Sefton about the imminent announcement of the new Total War game, a discussion that concluded with me jigging around the room in a urine-streaked stupor, while Sefton called security to have me removed from the building.
If you've played any of the Total War games before - most notably the latest instalment of the series, Rome - you'll understand my spontaneous impersonation of an incontinent Michael Flatley. Maybe you're even doing one yourself right now. After all, these pages are dripping with visuals so luscious they'd prompt even a 90-year-old arthritic drunk to rise from his seat and dance around his colostomy bag from sheer delight But as you're about to find out in this, the world's first-ever look at the latest instalment of the all-conquering Total War series, Medieval 2 isn't just a visual feast - it's also packed with meaty goodness in the ganieplay stakes, too.
Ramping It Up
Having appeased Sefton with flowers, chocolates and enough cash to put down a deposit on a new house in his native Yorkshire (0.20 in real money), he re-instated me as the man chosen to speak with Bob Smith - project director of the Australian CA team behind Medieval 2. And so, with medieval torturing tools at the ready - just in case he wouldn't talk - I met up with said Smith for an afternoon of interrogation and song. Actually, was pretty much just interrogation, though I did have a rendition of Killing Me Softly ready, just in case the thumbscrew didn't work.
"Our aim is to improve upon the gameplay of Rome and bring its awesome gameplay to tlie medieval era, while raising the spectacle of the Total War series to a whole new level" Smith told me. "The period is renowned for , huge castles, lots of armour, colourful flags and heraldry. We're raising the bar right across the board from the campaign map to the historical and multiplayer battles. The overall structure and gameplay will be similar to Rome's, but it'll also incorporate some elements from the original Medieval such as the Pope and the Crusades."
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess you've probably already taken a sneaky peek at the rest of the pages of this preview, drooled lustfully on the pages and maybe even contacted your bank manager to discuss the possibility of a loan to cover the cost of a new graphics card. Well, for starters, you needn't panic if your machine's still packing a 'more mature' 3D card, because just like its predecessors, Medieval 2's titanic battles will be massively scalable to cater to the power of your PC. And even though it's still too early to talk spec specifics, Smith seemed confident that Medieval 2 is set to be every bit as friendly to OAP cards and processors as Rome was.
But what about If you've already taken out a third mortgage for a PC that'll enable you to play Medieval 2 in all its glory? What's in store for you? Well, for starters, Medieval 2 is doubling, yes, doubling Rome's polygon count "The amount of detail in some of the textures is amazing, right down to the names of programmers inscribed on gravestones in the churchyard," enthused Smith. "We've stripped down and fully refurbished large chunks of the Rome engine. The methods for building and rendering cities and units is completely new, and the combat animation system lias been heavily revised."
Oh, but wait my slavering friends, we haven't even got to the good bit yet Far from it Y'see, up till now, Total War has been the largest most realistic, adrenal-soaked cauldron of warfare ever to grace a videogame, where gargantuan armies batter each other into fleshy piles until one side stands victorious, knee-deep in every blood type under the sun. But there's always been one problem with this - all of the soldiers looked the same. Which is fine if you're making an RTS about Star Wars Episode U. but not ideal when making a historically accurate war simulation. All that however, is about to cliange.
"In Medieval2, we're removing tlie armies of clones that have been evident in the Total War series and many other RTS titles, and are introducing some individuality to the soldiers, in order to make battles more realistic and immersive,'' continued Smith, clearly eager to avoid an encounter with the rack I was busily constructing ($34.99 from Ikea). "In Medieval 2, units are made up of soldiers that are individuals Each model is now made with several heads, bodies and limbs The engine combines these together to make each man far more individual. On top of this, there are also multiple variants for shields and weapons, so each soldier has character and each unit of men looks and behaves like a realistic group of soldiers."
I continued the relentless interrogation and soon uncovered perhaps the single most exciting info nugget of the afternoon, just as I was finishing erecting an iron maiden. "The combat is far more intense than in Rome, with the men realistically swinging, blocking and throwing combo moves," Bob Smith revealed. "More than that fallen foes may even be dispatched with a devastating finishing move."
It's almost too good to be true. Gone are the mindless, hacking soldiers of Rome, replaced instead by warriors who attack each other with the brutality of a Millwall fen after closing time. "For example, a swordsman might swing to the left then to the right before following up with a stab to the stomach that'll knock his opponent down," continued Smith.
"He might then spin around and deliver a merciless finishing strike to the enemy while he's lying helpless on the ground." A spearman meanwhile, could apparently concentrate on jabbing and trying to keep the swordsman at range. If he gets too close, he could actually throw the assailant back with a shield barge, then run him violently through with a spear.
"You'll see these kind of moves being executed all over the battlefield and as soldiers fall, you'll see those still standing continually scanning their surroundings for their next kill. Touches like these make the huge battles so much more realistic and immersing, whether you're zoomed in on the front line or looking on from a distance" And if that's not enough to get you excited.
Smith also revealed that you can look forward to combatants gradually acquiring layers of blood on their armour that's spattered from their vanquished foes.
Now Here To Run, Now Here To Hide
As well as the skirmishes themselves, terrain has always played an integral part in ensuring Total War's gritty realism. But just when you thought this already monumentally lifelike battle simulator couldn't possibly get any better, another sublime addition comes along to prove you wrong. Through the use of impassable obstacles, Medieval 2 looks like it could raise the realism bar by yet another notch.
Up till now, Total War battlegrounds have only ever been seriously constricted by the boundaries of the map. Whether schlepping over flatlands or rolling tree-covered hills, your armies could move almost anywhere with little or no constriction. But this luxury of being able to retreat without too much thought for your surroundings will now be a thing of the past "In general, there'll be more terrain on the battlefield, with impassable cliffs and banks, walls and hedges and more buildings," beamed Smith. "The wise commander will be able to use these features to great advantage to protect his flanks and front as well as to disrupt enemy manoeuvres. Mud , could also be a problem for heavily-armoured troops, cavalry and infantry, so well be reflecting this in the game, too."
Fire And Water
The Creative Assembly's outfit in Australia is also ensuring that the excellent innovations from Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion are being translated into Medieval2, including horses and lightly-armoured troops having the ability to swim across rivers in order to attack enemy lines.
Also making a welcome return from Rome's debut expansion pack are the nighttime battles, which Smith promised would be even more spectacular this time around thanks to fearsome cannons that'll be able to cripple cities and ravage them with flames. "Not only will these night battles be glorious spectacles, there'll also be tactical nuances to consider," he professed. "The ability to fight night battles is a character trait and Generals without the trait will be at a disadvantage. Artillery is also less effective under a blanket of darkness."
Lost At Sea
If there's one disappointing piece of news about Medieval 2, it's that it'll still be bereft of real-time naval battles. However, from what Smith told me, this isn't so much an omission as a determination to ensure that when Total War does eventually incorporate sea-based battles into its already towering arsenal of war modes, it'll be every bit as captivating, thrilling and entertaining as its on-land counterparts.
"Creating full-scale 3D naval battles is a huge task. Creating them to a standard that befits the Total War series is an even bigger one," he explained. "We decided not to include them this time. Naval combat will be handled similarly to the system employed in Rome, but it'll be polished and tweaked."
Game Of Two Halves
Writing articles about Total War games often feels like a two-part process. That's because these titles are actually two games of equal quality - 3D real-time battles and the campaign map - wrapped up in one sublime package, and Medieval 2 is no exception. So without further ado, let's move on and see what Smith had to reveal - with a little medieval-style coaxing - about the second section.
"The campaign map will be busier, with several new types of agent including merchants, princesses and priests." he began. "These will afford more opportunities for non-military interaction with the other factions. To compensate, there's a new recruitment system and castles will require less management than cities.
"As such, you'll face a fundamental choice with each settlement You can develop it as a castle and emphasise the military, or as a city and emphasise the economy. As the game develops, cities will become more important but re-developing castles will be costly, so the transition will need to be carefully managed."
Of course, the medieval period wasn't only notorious for its bitter land disputes, humongous fortresses, subterfuge, betrayal, brutality and inhumanity, but also for its religiously-motivated wars, most notably the Crusades. And while this feature did play a part in Medieval, it seems that it'll play a far more prominent role here, with the Pope himself calling a crusade that w all catholic factions can choose to join. Tlie faction that captures the target first gains considerable prestige and wealth, and you'll also need to keep on the Pope's good side. However, whet the old codger dies - for whatever reason -you can don your religious robes and vote in the election of a new one - and getting one of your own cardinals elected will help in securing good relations. "Organised religion isn't the only concern though," says Smith, "as there are also heretics and witches spreading chaos and superstition" Better start stockpiling that firewood...
One of the pitfalls of making a sequel to a game as comprehensive as Medieval is the prospect of making the two games campaign maps too similar, but CA Australia is clearly doing an admirable job of avoiding a prevailing sense of deja vu in this follow-up. Medievalfc hugely expansive campaign map, which encompassed Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor, will now be even more impressive thanks to the addition of South America to Medieval 2.
Initially, these far-western lands will be hidden from you and the squares of the Atlantic Ocean will be impassable. However, later in the game, you'll be able to develop the technology to cross the ocean, discover America and battle with the Aztecs. You have to watch your back though - what the Aztecs lack in military technology they more than make up for in bravery and sheer numbers. So, while the Americas are there to be conquered, tlie Aztecs aren't likely to welcome unwanted visitors.
Feast Of Features
Like a prom queen covered in jam and swimming in a vat of money, Medieval 2 looks almost too good to be true, yet given Tlie Creative Assembly's pedigree, it's close to impossible doubting it can deliver a supreme RTS experience. With the careers of Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Robert ratted out Mel Gibson' the Bruce and Henry all set to feature in standalone historical battles, along with a reprisal of Shogun: Total Waft video clip assassinations - each carrying multiple outcomes - and natural disasters and plagues threatening to cripple even your most well laid plans, we can't wait Add to that the all-new yet to be announced multiplayer features (not even an impromptu rendition of the Roberta Flack classic could break Bob Smith's granite-like resolve on that one) and revamped trading elements that'll include monopolies and hostile acquisitions, and Medieval2 is looking like it could take another giant leap forward from its predecessors and maintain the irresistible momentum of a series that never ceases to amaze. And if Medieval 2 does fully live up to its promise, then the Total War series could be on the brink of becoming totally untouchable.
Urban sprawl - Medieval-style
Towns and cities are set to take on an even greater strategic importance in Medieval 2, with CA determined to make full use of the hulking fortresses of the period. Unlike the previous games, where cities were almost always stuck in the middle of giant fields, Medieval2's settlements will be built around the environment meaning you'll be able to incorporate cliffs and slopes into their layouts.
This'll also have a major impact on siege warfare, as attacking an elevated stronghold will create a whole new strategic dimension to the bloody proceedings. And as if that wasn't enough, castles will have multiple rings of defence, with each obstacle needing a different approach. So you might well find yourself blowing a hole in the main wall (all structures will now crumble far more realistically), then using a siege tower to penetrate the second one, before sending your pluckiest (or most stupid) unit to capture the gate, in order to breach the third barricade. Bring it on.
The sound of music
BAFTA winner at the helm once more
In a series as comprehensively impressive as Total War, it'd be all too easy to overlook the massive contribution that Jeff Van Dyck's masterful soundtracks have played, with each tune perfectly capturing both the context and atmosphere of each game's period.
Rattier than taking the easy option of simply re-using his BAFTA-winning soundtracks from Medieval and its expansion packs, Jeff is composing a completely new set of tunes to keep time to your slaughtering exploits. However, unlike Rome, where the musical accompaniment depended on your faction, Medieval 2 will mould its aural output to the location you're fighting in, meaning that even towards the end of a long campaign, you're unlikely to be reaching for the iPod.
Download Medieval II: Total War
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP