Games based on historical accounts have never been this reviewers 'cup-o-tea'. More often than not, those games based in historical fact were completely accurate down to almost every event, but also completely boring and unplayable, even down to the smallest portion of its gameplay. Fortunately, the latest venture from the British based videogame think-tank Creative Assembly have come up with a title for the PC gaming platform that incorporates both true life historical accounts with high quality gameplay into one solid gaming experience. Medieval: Total War is the proof behind the proverbial pudding, providing an exceptional strategy based game with all of the historical trappings surrounding the medieval times to make even the biggest history buff happy.
Set between the years of 1095 and 1453 AD, Medieval: Total War is a real-time strategy game, taking place directly after the end of the timeframe known as 'The Dark Ages'. Different from its brethren in the RTS gaming genre, however, Medieval actually consists of two games intertwined into one: a unit driven, 3-D engineered battle oriented strategy game and a more encompassing, classical styled board game (a la Risk). The 3D battlefield game is typical for with your high grade RTS games, where players assume complete control of their armies in various combat scenarios. Players can issue orders directly to their units, set up battle formations, adjust the tempers of their units, etc. The other portion of the game consists of the meat of the gameplay found within Medieval: Total War, where players control almost every other aspect of the game from a map view the gaming world. Here players can manage resources, place armies and units, set up trade routes, move diplomatic units, and set up long term gaming strategies. If you can imagine a game that is part chess and part Risk, it shouldn't be too hard to understand what the designers of Medieval: Total War have created.
Players have the ability to command up to 12 different world powers from within the European, North African, Mediterranean, and Euro-Asian spheres of influence. Among these include the Turks, the French, the Russians, the Danes, Byzantines, and even the Egyptians. Each playable kingdom or nation has its own special set of attributes, units, and battle strategies that allow for maximum diversity when it comes to the overall gameplay of Medieval: Total War. For example, the British have the ability to generate such unique units as Welsh Longbow men, and have the easiest defense capabilities of their home territories due to the fact that Britain is an island, removed from the mainland of Europe. The French, on the other hand, share quite a few borders with potential enemies, forcing them to turn to the route of diplomacy more often than outright war, though they do have a large resource base in order to create weapons needed for swift and deadly action. On the other side of the world, the Russian empire stands almost on its own as a world power without the threat of its neighbors encroaching upon its territory…that is, until the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan decide to pay a visit, as the books of history have shown us will eventually happen. Again, each empire found within Medieval: Total War gives a unique and historical perspective to the art of war, commerce, diplomacy, and resource management that can be found between the 9th and 13th centuries, adding immensely to the games replayability.
Easing novice and advanced players into the game alike, the designers of Medieval: Total War thankfully have added very intricate tutorials for the game that make learning the system a breeze. Split into two different sections, players are given very detailed in precise walkthroughs of the games' sometimes difficult controls and strategies. The first section give a complete overview of the 3D battle system, allowing players to experience first hand combat scenarios through 8 various levels: Unit Positioning, Tactics, Formations, as well as Basic and Advanced Defensive and Offensive strategies. Each level contains a step by step guide as well as an applied learning scenario. The second half of the tutorial allows players to learn the ins and outs of the Campaign portion of the game, giving players various backgrounds and scenarios surrounding command structures, map strategies, troop placement, etc.
After the tutorials and walkthroughs, players can jump right into the fray by choosing from the one of the 5 other gaming modes. The Quick Battle mode allows players to engage in a computer generated 3D battle scenario at the click of a button, while a Custom Battle gives players a choice to engage in a fact based historical battle (the famous British Battle of Hastings, for example) or a full blown historical campaign (i.e., the 100 Years War). The Multiplayer mode speaks for itself, allowing players to engage each other in a full blown, war torn campaign, or just engage in a singular and grand battle across both the internet and LAN setups.
The mainstay of Medieval: Total War, however, lies within its Single Player Campaign game, giving PC game players the largest number of options, setups, and replayability. Four skill levels are available to choose from, giving strategy players of all experience levels the opportunity to test their meddle with a comparative form of computer AI. From that point, three historical periods are available to choose from, each with its own start up point, accurately depicted events from the history books, technology levels, and unit availability. The Early periods allows player's to experience the start of the noble feudal system prevalent throughout most of Europe, following the heels of the renown Dark Ages. The High period continues after 1200AD, giving rise to what will become the great nations that continue to exist even today, not to mention the rise of chivalry and Golden Mongol Hordes of western Asia. Beginning in the 1320's, the Late period surfaces, giving way to fully fledged empires with long stated hatreds and animosities towards the other. Again, time is the factor here, with historical dates dictating territorial holdings, alliances, technology levels, and other political and socio-economical standings at the start of the single player game.
Surprisingly, we found the gameplay surrounding Medieval: Total War much more enjoyable and even addictive than one would initially think a historically based game would be. For starters, the game does not force players into reliving the battles and campaigns of the history books. Players are free to go about with their kingdom and available forces; waging war, brokering political deals, or minding their own business is all up to the players' complete discretion. At one point, we found ourselves bored with building up forces on the games tech tree after about 50 years of game time, and began a campaign of terror across the continent from our castles in Britain. In little more that 15 turns (each turn equals a year) we had decimated the forces of the French, the Turks, the Germanic tribes, the Poles, and even conquered the holy lands of the Vatican. If King William III and his forces had done just that back in 1240 AD, the world would be a much different place than it is now, we assure you.
As stated before, the battle portion of the game consists of a true 3D system allowing players to view the various battlefields and units from different positions, etc. Camera control for Medieval: Total War turned out to be a little more clunky than similar styled games within the genre, making it difficult to move around quickly and effectively. The other game controls were also a tad bit on the more difficult side as well, but thanks to the in-game tutorial and practice, we were able to get the gist of things after awhile. Interesting enough, the majority of the game does not revolve around the 3D battle portion of this particular title. Instead, players will find that most of the decisions and overall gameplay time will come in the form of the board game aspect found in Medieval: Total War. It is from here that players control troop production and placement, fortify defenses, establish and control resources, and parlay within the political and social sphere. Players can even choose to bypass the 3D battle portion of the game altogether, allowing the computer to generate battle results based upon troop positioning, the size of said forces, weather conditions, and available weaponry.
The graphics engine the visuals found within Medieval: Total War is solid, however, giving the game a very sharp rendered look during the battle scenes. The backdrops of the battlefields have a very realistic look and feel to them as well, not to mention the historically accurate and detailed work found on each and every unit, castle, and weapon found in the game. The painstaking work and research that went into the aesthetic designs and historical backgrounds found within Medieval: Total War is completely evident from the very start, deserving much recognition.
Overall, we found Medieval: Total War to be an
extremely well produced and entertaining outing for the PC strategy gaming
genre. The mixture of board game and 3D battle strategy proved to be a positive
one, giving the game much more depth and replayability than with other similar
titles within the same genre. History buffs will no doubt enjoy the complete
accuracy that the makers of the game went to great lengths to insert into
Medieval: Total War, from the weapons, arenas of conflict, and even specific
regional strategies and combat styles. Fans of strategy gaming will also be
enthralled with the boundless amounts of replayability that this game offers,
giving them over 10 different armies to utilize, almost three continents to
battle within, and over 300 years of Medieval technological development to
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