Medieval: Total War
Despite its all-round unrivalled excellence, there is one aspect of Creative Assembly’s BAFTA award-winning Shogun: Total War that perhaps held it back in terms of multimillion sales: the fact that it was set in medieval Japan rather than medieval Europe. Not that we’re complaining but, understandably for most, it’s far easier to relate to a knight in shining armour than it is a samurai in hakama or kataginu - leaving aside the problem of pronunciation. Similarly, how many of you can have claimed to have seen Rashomon or Seven Samurai? How about Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves? Exactly.
No matter how many billions more will buy the recently renamed Medieval: Total War on the basis of its setting, the signs look good that gameplay-wise the game will build upon its predecessor’s solid foundations. For those who missed it, Shogun was, of course, a delicate blend of Warhammer’s epic table-top battles, mixed with a healthy dose of Civilization-style turn-based complexity. A potent mix for sure, and one that worked perfectly. It’s no small complement when we say that Shogun was the most important strategy game since Dune 2 and, if we dare carry the analogy further, Medieval could be to Shogun what C&C was to West wood’s ground-breaking first RTS.
"We’ve kept the basic premise of Shogun: Total War but completely redesigned the gameplay to make it suitable for the period," says Michael de Plater, creative director of The Creative Assembly, on die differences between both games. "The 3D battlefields are now as varied as they are spectacular to look at - with everything ranging from deserts to lush European landscapes. Sieges have now become an important part of the game and the 12 playable factions each have their own unique units, tech trees and strengths/weaknesses, with more than 100 different unit types in 1 total, from Knights Templar and Bedouin Camel Warriors to Brigands,! Archers and Peasants."
What Is This Castle Called That Stands Hard By?
One of Shogun's few weaknesses and conversely Medieval's greatest single innovation, is the game’s castle battles. As well as towering stone keeps and forbidding ramparts, the whole lot will be fully destructible, with players able to field mangonels, siege cannons, trebuchets and ballista.
"Siege warfare was a very important part of Medieval warfare, and we’ve dedicated a lot of time to making castle sieges an incredible experience," offers de Plater. "Players will also be able to custom-design their castles by adding defensive features, such as catapult towers, palisades, and outer walls. In the earlier periods, the battlefield is dominated by knights and heavy cavalry. Longbows then make their mark and, towards the end of the game, gunpowder and heavy artillery will heavily affect the gameplay - and ’ the castles."
Shogun campaign veterans will I remember how important it was to keep generals and heroes alive, and in Medieval we can expect a similar 'honour' system, with monarchs, their heirs, dukes and lords now boasting RPG-style character development, which, as de Plater says, "accrue various vices and virtues that reflect their actions". It seems a local lord crazed with bloodlust, as well as ruthless in combat, may well spark off a rebellion.
But it is the familiar as much as the I new that will ensure Medieval takes over from Shogun as the wargame of choice for PC strategists and, while the 3D real-time battles - again featuring countless thousands of troops across far more varied terrain - will be just as' epic in scope, the turn-based element of resource management, diplomacy, I research and espionage seem to have been significantly ramped up to mirror the game’s far more varied spread of warring cultures.
"Part of the popularity of Shogun: Total War was the fact that it combined turn-based and real-time strategy," explains de Plater. "The 3D battles have much more meaning to the player if they’ve been involved in creating those battle conditions through their own strategic decisions. All manner of non-combat units will feature, as princesses, bishops, heretics, i-finders, famous artists, and ralphilosophers (scientists).
These characters can trigger religious wars, negotiate treaties, create famous works of art or make incredible scientific discoveries," he adds.have much more meaning to the player if they’ve been involved in creating those battle conditions through their own strategic decisions. All manner of non-combat units will feature, as princesses, bishops, heretics, i-finders, famous artists, and ralphilosophers (scientists).
These characters can trigger religious wars, negotiate treaties, create famous works of art or make incredible scientific discoveries," he adds.
"There are also new strategic changes such as the ability for armies to be transported across the sea via ships. One of my favourite new features is that each territory on the strategy map is now geographically accurate - and the border over which you attack that region will determine the nature of the battlefield that you fight on. So, if you attack a region from the north, the terrain may be mainly mountainous (and hard to capture) but attacking the same region from the south could result in a flat lowland map. This adds another level of strategy to the turn-based game."
Though a full online campaign option has been ruled out for the sequel (as it eventually was for Shogun), it does little to diminish fervour for the game among PC Shogun fans. Today, Shogun still remains the benchmark for wargamers and there seems little to challenge it, at least until Medieval comes along. Having not yet had the chance to play the game first-hand we could be going slightly overboard, but from what we’ve seen we can safely say that Medieval will be the strategy game of 2002. All that remains is to try and predict what Total War scenario we can expect in 2004. Unfortunately, it’s out of our hands, though we don’t mind - it’s bound to be another unrivalled epic.
Download Medieval: Total War
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
The dark ages are nearly upon us. Within weeks of reading this, half of the game playing world will be locked in rooms, lights dimmed, immersed in the wanton slaughter of Medieval: Total War.
But until that auspicious day arrives, you're going to have to satiate your bloodlust with these rich tapestries of limbhacking and eye-gouging. OK, so you don't quite get to see that of detail in the epic clashes of Medieval, but it’s hardly surprising considering the vast numbers of soldiers milling about the battlefields.
What you do get, though, is four times the level of detail of its glorious predecessor, Shogun: Total War. While this doesn't allow for individual eyes to be shot out a la King Harold (Hastings is one of many battles simulated here), it certainly makes troop identification a hell of a lot easier. Remember squinting as you tried to distinguish between all those little flagcarrying guys in Shogun? A thing of the past dear fnends, because each class of soldier now wears his own distinctive get-up. Bedouin camel nders in their white robes, Turkish Janissaries with their distinctive plumage, English Royal Knights with their plate armour, lances and flowing banners - these feudal chaps knew how to accessorise.
Best of all are the siege engines and other fiendish contraptions, including cannons, mortars and trebuchets. These bad boys smash holes in fortress walls, carve swathes through enemy ranks and generally cause enemy headaches.
We haven't had so much fun since Martin Korda got his left nut caught in the mangonel.
Now i'm not going to lie to you - after all, it's no secret. I loved Shogun: Total War. It was the first game that allowed the unwashed, sun-starved masses of the world's gaming community to experience PCbased war on a gargantuan scale. From the confines of its desk-bound grey box, it threw out previously unhinted-at challenges, cerebral conundrums that would vex the vacuous denizens of the world of 2D isometric RTS mundanity, and liberate those sickened by a genre riddled with stagnation, pitiful shortcomings and odious predictability.
Magnificent 3D vistas rolling into a seemingly never-ending horizon, air resonating with war cries of those already condemned to death as they charge towards seemingly unmovable enemy hordes. That's what Shogun was all about. Not endless resource collecting and mindless base rushing, bereft of any need for strategic nous, prevalent in the kind of products pedalled by every street-corner developer intent on boarding the ever flagging C&C rip-off train. Those who to this day scrabble around like starved birds for scraps, as they devour every last crumb the gaming public unquestioningly throws at their grubby feet.
Shogun was a revolution, and as with everything groundbreaking, it instilled fear into the 'don't like change' majority, who shunned it as though it were a leper, heads turned away in case its infectious genius were to captivate them and draw them away from the familiarity that infested their hard drives. But the brilliance of Shogun, now some 30 months old, has lived on, touching enough people's hearts and wallets to warrant a sequel, Medieval: Total War. So bow down and pay homage. The King has returned.
The Saga Continues
Chapter two of the Total War saga sails west, away from feudal Japan to the powder keg of Medieval Europe. Starting a few short years after Harold cried: "What arrow?" at the Battle of Hastings, it spans a near 400-year period from 1087 to 1453, encompassing Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa in its colossal game map. In comparison, Shogun was a mere microcosm of Medieval's immensity, a precursor to a far steeper challenge which stares menacingly back at you from your monitor here.
Now, without wanting to take on the appearance of a slapheaded history professor who skulks around university libraries, reading thrillers like 'Tosswig's Guide To Medieval Agricultural Practices (1100-1218)' and boring the shit out of disinterested students - a little historical background if you please. The 400-year period recreated here is famous for its brutality, political intrigue, border instability and religious fanaticism. Do you love your King unquestioningly? No? Right lads, string 'em up by their intestines from the nearest tree! It was a time of crusades and ethnic hatred. Never-ending war, marital allegiances, inquisitions and espionage. All of which added up to one gargantuan ruck. It was basically conquer or be conquered, and survival, let alone prosperity, wasn't easy. Not easy at all.
As with its predecessor, Medieval's main campaign is partitioned into two distinct sections, the turn-based Riskstyle campaign map, and the stunning, fully 3D RTS combat levels. The two parts are not only monumentally diverse, but so clinically detailed that they could happily stand proud as games in their own right, as both are packed to busting point with sublime gameplay. So let's tackle them one at a time. Which one do you want first? Risk? Is that a nod I see? Right. Risk it is then.
Risky Stylee Part
First off you've got to choose a faction, with your choices varying depending on which one of the three periods you choose to start off in (Early, High or Late). Then it's off to war to knock some heretic or infidel skulls together and impose your will on a quivering peasantry, whose sole goal in life is to grow enough yams to support their 17 scurvy-riddled children throughout the winter months. This is done by moving your troops into enemy provinces, and either taking control of the battle yourself (patience I'm getting to that bit), or having the computer automatically resolve each conflict. However, there is another way which doesn't involve just wading in mindlessly, scimitar flailing. You see, you can be diplomatic as well as violent. Yes. diplomatic. You know, bullshitting to everyone you come into contact with in order to get what you want. An alliance you say? Sure thing, comrade (you deformed skin-diseased oik). Using your diplomatic pawns (emissaries, seductive princesses, paid-for top-dollar whores, you know the score) you can forge allegiances with any nation on the map. Of course you can break these at any time and charge in unannounced, massacring the unsuspecting populace, sacking their cities for loot and leaving their twig homes in flames while gutting their men and forcefully inseminating their womanfolk. Sounds like fun (so says Dave - the sicko).
Do that, if that's the path you want to go down. You evil bastard! I bet you're the kind of person who'd sell their mother for a handful of festering pork scratchings, wouldn't you? Never mind... What Medieval does superbly is reflect your actions in the way the rest of the gameworld views your king and generals. Massacre innocent Catholics and the Pope will excommunicate you, leaving the door open for all your previous Catholic buddies to have a go at wiping you out. Break too many alliances and no one will want to be your friend, shunning you at G8 summits and secretly mocking you behind your back for being a poo-poo head. Conversely, if you brutally massacre anyone who opposes you, your Dread rating will soar, meaning obedience won't be hard to come by, and enemies will fear you more than a young boy would a boarding-school headmaster in a deserted dorm.
Ships and trading routes also make a debut, although they are somewhat limited as there's no real-time combat options for naval warfare. However, along with a multitude of technological, agricultural, building (including castles) and economic upgrades, the strategy map offers a diverse tech-tree and plenty of economic decision in terms of what to build, where to build it and in what order. You'll also have to deal with your fair share of revolts, conspiracies and assassination attempts if you're to survive.
Now, if you're shaking with fear at the thought of all this, relax. Stop being a pathetic simpering coward and get a grip before I come round and slap some sense into you. And stop crying, you're smudging the ink. That's better. Now for the good news. If you don't fancy handling any part of the turn-based campaign bar the building and shifting of armies, then you can simply get the computer to do it for you. Simple. Easy. So now there can be no excuse for anyone to fear Medieval for being overly complex, not even you, you great poopy-panted cry-baby.
The Combatty Part
So, onto the meat of Medieval. The war bit. The bit where you get to indulge every sadistic and Wood-loving bone in your hate-filled body. Much remains the same from the killing fields of Shogun, although there are several nuances to tax your battlefield prowess - or lack of it if you're a tactical idiot. Most notably castle battles. Proper castle battles. Well, kind of anyway.
In Shogun, castle builders always forgot to build a door. Imagine the conversation: "Let's go over the castle checklist shall we Kenji?'' "OK boss." "Walls?" "Check." "A place to house the troops?" "Check" "Anything else we need?" "Nah." "OK. let's go and catch the Sumo." That wouldn't happen in Medieval. Here, strongholds are monstrous constructions. Towering into the sky like mountains, they come packed to the portcullis with archer towers, which rain down death on the artillery teams trying to knock holes in the walls for your army to mass through.
However, it's certainly not the definitive word in siege warfare, and you often end up simply pulling back your troops to avoid the arrows before a decent-sized hole is created to run through. Fortunately, on the harder levels, the enemy will send out troops to destroy your siege weapons, creating a fine line between moving your troops away from arrow range and leaving your mangonels prone to attack.
Soldiers Have Feelings Too
Creative Assembly has certainly been thorough in recreating each country's landscape. Denmark is all flatlands, Asia full of deserts and southern Europe very hilly. Weather has also been well replicated to reflect each region's climate, and can significantly influence your tactics. Rain reduces the accuracy of arrows, and heat and sandstorms will make heavily armoured soldiers flag very quickly. Terrain advantage is also pivotal to a battle, such as height bonuses for archers. Every soldier-type has a role, a strength and a weakness for you to exploit. The tactical subtleties are endless, and it's this feature which still distinguishes the Total War series from just about every other RTS. Troop morale is shown through simple, yet informative descriptions, be they 'Happy that the flanks are covered* or 'Worried by the amount of friendly casualties'. To top things off. you even get to execute captured enemy soldiers during each battle, and you can watch the carnage of conflict unfold from up close with a modest zoom function.
Nowhere else is the sheer thrill of battle replicated with such ferocity and energy as here, where realism pours from every blood-smattered pore like sweat from a fevered alcoholic. This is where Medieval's true genius lies, and with more than 100 units to send to their deaths, the replay value is near endless. And that's even before we get to the Al. which once again is little short of fiendish (although on very rare, random occasions, enemy troops will stand right next to your forces, stocalfy admiring the landscape as you gleefully make mincemeat of them). To top things off. the unparalleled atmosphere is further enhanced by a stunningly evocative soundtrack from BAFTA winner Jeff van Dyck and some bloodcurdling sound effects. The 3D battles then, are unrivalled. But before you drown in a flood of euphoria from all these superlatives I've been liberally throwing around, there is a big but for you to consider.
Now don't get me wrong. Medieval has indeed displaced Shogun from the summit of strategy gaming, a war sim with no equal. But it could have been so much more. Ultimately. Medieval is a beefed-up version of Shogun, extending many of its ideas and regurgitating countless more. And you just can't help feeling a little cheated by this. We've waited more than two years for a sequel and what's here simply isn't enough of a leap forward. More of a determined shuffle actually. There are so many ideas that could have been implemented but simply aren't here (see the Missed Opportunity panel). And it's disappointing. So. a must-buy? Yes. The next chapter of the RTS revolution? Definitely not. Regardless of this though, it's still the ultimate strategy gaming experience, which will capture your heart like a rapacious Spanish Inquisitor. The King has returned. Long live the King.
It's been two years in the making, and while Medieval: Total War is a much more intense and strategically involved game then was Shogun: Total War, there are still enough problems to keep this latest game from earning a permanent spot on my hard drive.
Like its predecessor, Medieval manages to blend real-time and turn-based strategy into a gaming system that works. But this latest game, set in a period of time from 1087 to 1453 rife with war, adds much more variety in the unit types and factions a player can pick from. What makes this game so unique is the grand scale in which the battles take place, allowing players to control more than 10,000 men in a single army.
The game is broken down into two parts: The heart of the game plays like an involved game of Risk, with gamers moving units and taking over provinces on a screen that depicts countries and continents. This turn-based part of the game has been greatly improved from Shogun, making players manage a plethora of new details, helping to upgrade the Total War franchise from a simple game of Risk to the type of full-on strategy game you could spend weeks playing. The second element of the game is the battles. Unfortunately Medieval relies on the original engine for this phase of the game, so while it's still fun to maneuver your 2D troops around the 3D landscape the graphics leave a lot to be desired.
Multiplayer, for some reason only allows players to go head to head in battle. In other words there is no turn-based strategy in multiplayer, instead you pick your armies and duke it out.
When I heard that Medieval: Total War was coming out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I thought for sure they would finally fix what I considered to be the biggest downfall in the original game: multiplay. To my chagrin, they didn't. Total War is a fun game to play alone and has great potential for replay, but don't count on it fulfilling your online gaming needs.
Snapshots and Media
- Age of Empires
- Civil War Generals 2: Grant, Lee, Sherman
- Civilization II
- Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Warlords
- Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
- Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty
- Empire Earth II
- Empires: Dawn of the Modern World
- Imperium Galactica
- Lords of the Realm II
- Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds
- Moonbase Commander
- Panzer General II
- Rise of Nations
- Rome: Total War
- Shogun: Total War - Warlord Edition
- Space Colony
- Star Command: Revolution
- Star Trek: Away Team
- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
- Starfleet Command III
- Total Annihilation
- Warcraft 2: The Dark Saga
- Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness
- Warcraft III