Medieval 2: Total War Review

It appears that Creative Assembly is unable to fail when it comes to their Total War series. Their latest effort, Medieval 2: Total War, builds upon previous titles and comes out looking as solid as ever.

Being a Rome: TW fan, I was eager to try out the familiar strategy game design applied to Medieval Europe. The game officially spans the High and Late Middle Ages, years 1080-1530 C.E., but includes some content from the Dark Ages, as well. It includes a number of different modes to play with from the start; single player mode offers the most options.

There is a tutorial, where new players can have their hand held as they learn the ins and outs of basic gameplay, a quick battle mode, which throws you right into the action in a randomly generated, large-scale battle, and a custom battle mode, which allows the player to detail the opposing factions, battle type, time limit, time of day, terrain, and settlements involved. The quick and custom battle modes can be used in multiplayer as well, either over a LAN or via Gamespy’s network. Also making its return is the historical battle section, which contains a slew of particular scenarios from conflicts throughout history, represented accurately and accompanied by a small history lesson. Who says you can’t learn from video games?

In each of these modes, gameplay boils down to immense, dramatic, real-time strategy conflicts, with an emphasis on tactical maneuvering and using the various types of units optimally. There are many different troops, ranging from peasant militia to armored cavalry to riflemen. The timeframe involved allows for such diverse combatants, and keeps things fresh after many hours of play. It’s worth noting that troops get in each other’s way much more realistically now, so it is advantageous to avoid running your units into one another while trying to achieve your goals. As in Rome, Medieval 2 features pre-battle speeches by your army’s leader. It really is an awesome touch, drawing the gamer in and upping the adrenaline prior to combat.

The game features an overhauled graphics engine, which looks great. With lush vegetation and detailed character models, it’s a nice improvement on the past games. On the battle screen, the range of zoom is quite large. The perspective can remain at the typical RTS level, drawn far back with wide scope and small units, or the player can zoom all the way in to witness the melee as it develops — nearly at the level of the individual warrior. At any distance, battles unfold smoothly with little error, and anyone who is running this game on the same PC that they used for Rome will notice that Medieval seems to run more steadily during battle sequences, using similar settings.

Now, beyond the battle-centric game modes mentioned above is the meat and potatoes of Medieval: TW: the Grand Campaign. This is the same epic affair from Rome, tweaked and re-perfected for this new piece of software. It adds multiple layers of empire-management on top of the already stellar RTS engine, in a slower-paced turn-based strategy configuration. Unfortunately and curiously, though, the grand campaign intro is horribly ugly, and matches no other part of the game. I can only think to myself, "Why?" each time I behold the sight. It’s a good thing it’s over quickly, and it’s also good that it can be skipped should you begin a new campaign. Despite its slightly offending commencement, however, the grand campaign is a more than worthy piece of work.

In this mode, the goal is to guide one of the games’ many factions (5 of the 21 available to start) to glory by achieving particular imperialistic goals, such as wiping out key rivals and holding multiple territories. This is achieved through the careful manipulation of military and financial resources, as they apply to every aspect of your nation’s operations and growth.

New to this installment of Total War is the inclusion of religion as a key component of a developing empire. Players must be aware of their papal standing, based on the pervasiveness of faith throughout their settlements. Building churches is always helpful, and priests can even be recruited and sent on converting missions — maybe even landing themselves in the College of Cardinals. The Pope can’t simply be ignored, either, because heretics are often investigated, tried and executed.

There are a few new agents available, as well, such as merchants, princesses, and more involved diplomats. The merchants are a sort of throwback to RTS games of old, and are assigned to resources on the world map in order to generate revenue for the faction. Princesses earn the trust of other factions through marriage, and diplomats negotiate trade rights, map information, ceasefires, allegiances, etc. to make for an easier rise to power. Spies remain a part of the strategy as well, disclosing important information about opposing armies, and raising the gates of sieged settlements so your armies can waltz right in. Newly added are the mildly funny animations accompanying their infiltration of a settlement.

The greatest difference from previous Total War games is the separation of settlements into two distinct types. There are now "town" and "castle" designations, and each serves a different purpose; towns are primarily financial locations, and castles are militarily focused. The buildings available are different for each type, and go hand in hand with the aim of the settlement. Castles are able to produce more and better military units, as well as training and outfitting them, and have better overall defenses. Towns can be taxed through the nose, and provide more trading and population growth options. Any settlement can be converted to the other type, but it costs time and money, and certain buildings are destroyed upon conversion.

One last refinement to the overworld management is that the recruitment of troops is severely limited this time around — there is no such thing as a rich emperor producing a town full of heavy cavalry (my favorite strategy in Rome). In Medieval 2, the buildings and their level of development provide set amounts of recruitment availability for each type of unit. To increase the number of recruits available existing structures can be upgraded, or new buildings can be added to accommodate growth and to gain recruitment slots for the entire settlement.

At this point, I’m not sure whether I think the settlement dichotomy or the recruitment system are improvements on an underdeveloped system or simply complications and annoyances added to something that wasn’t broken to begin with. Either way, they are an implementation, and require more focused attention to see your empire flourish — there will simply be more time spent doing so. Add this to the agonizingly long AI turns, and you have a slow-going endeavor on your hands. (Luckily, the AI turn can be avoided in the options menu.)

Other than the aforementioned, the game remains largely the same as its predecessor. The GUI is very similar, but with a visual theme relevant to the era. The various screens are relatively unchanged, and the gameplay mechanics of managing the settlements is completely familiar bar a few new additios. A nice adjustment, though, is the option to make the HUD less intrusive, allowing for greater viewable area.

Gameplay during the grand campaign can be slow but is still terribly addictive. Players will easily fall victim to the "one more round" syndrome that I am personally afflicted with, and might also find themselves flying through the rounds in the early stages just to gain a foothold. The financial game is the most oppressive aspect, and scrounging for every penny is not uncommon — until your army is somewhat powerful, that is. At that point, military prowess equals financial success, and money becomes more plentiful as you conquer more territory. The old adage "it’s good to be the king" comes to mind.

Overall, Medieval 2: Total War is an excellent real-time/turn-based strategy experience and definitely warrants a look, if not a sure-fire purchase, by fans. It sometimes lacks the utterly epic feel of Rome, but manages to change the formula just enough to create a deeper venture than ever before.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Myspace
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Stumnleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Technorati
Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.