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Mark Marrow
13 Dec, 2006

Medieval II: Total War Review

PC Review | Totally awesome.
It isn’t too difficult to lead the way in such an unappreciated genre. Total War has set the bar high for future real-time tactical games, ever since the release of the phenomenal Shogun: Total War. The sheer excitement from rallying your troops and sending them into a blood bath proved successful in being able to distract us from living our daily lives (and our eating habits on some occasions). Fortunately, every title since has managed to replicate that excitement and has placed the Total War series on the pedestal as being one of the best strategy titles around. Not a lot is different with Medieval II: Total War; it boasts one of the most well rounded and accessible experiences yet, and quite successfully occupied us for weeks. While it isn’t without one or two small flaws, Medieval II: Total War really is the best experience yet.

In this latest experience, Creative Assembly provides gamers with hundreds of years worth of Medieval carnage; allowing gamers to witness some of history’s greatest battles, the nations that populated the eras and even the discovery of America. It’s jammed-packed with historic content and quite easily extends its appeal purely based off the authentic feel Medieval II provides. The game’s campaign mode is just one area of beauty to sink your history-seeking teeth into. The campaign mode is in similar vain to Rome: Total War’s strategic map, where gamers will be able to command one of the game’s nations and set out to conquer all of your neighbouring foes. The mode progresses very similar to that of Civilization, whereby you’ll build, move and fight in a turn-by-turn basis. You’ll be able to build structures such as market places, farms, roads and castles – all of which are vital in securing better revenue, happiness amongst townspeople, defences and the ability to train certain units. Much like any true empire, building and maintaining a well fortified city is important if you don’t want to be left picking up the pieces of your dead men after a siege. Sieges are common in Medieval II, as the campaign mode requires you to conquer your enemies to progress. When trying to siege a town you’ll partake in a battle based in its city, and depending on how well fortified it is, the battles can last for minutes or hours. Before jumping down into the battle itself, you are given the choice to build siege equipment that’ll assist you in breaking down your enemy’s defences, and ultimately increasing your success of capturing the city. What’s nice is that you can also decide to starve the town out by camping outside, preventing the enemy from acquiring new food supplies to feed its men, which will help to weaken their forces before entering a battle.

The campaign mode once again works as a great distraction for gamers to spend a few dozen hours of game time trying to push their nation towards victory (which was the case with Rome: Total War, too). There are two separate sets of rules that’ll determine the length and the objectives that are needed to be fulfilled: a short campaign mode where you’ll be required to hold on to 15 regions and eliminate your rivalling nations, and a longer campaign mode that requires you to hold on to 45 regions, including Jerusalem. Just like any good nation trying to climb the food chain, you’ll be faced with a few demanding tasks that’ll need your constant attention. Certain aspects such as providing your people with liveable areas, fending off enemy forces and gaining new territory that shows you are willing to expand are only momentary compared to the demanding features such as religion, politics and war. It is a good decision too, since you’ll need to constantly juggle the needs of your people, the relationships you make with other nations and the grand daddy of them all, The Pope.

Prepare for plenty of life consuming campaign adventures.

Prepare for plenty of life consuming campaign adventures.
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The Pope not only plays a role on the game’s religion, but also controls who receives certain royalties and which nation should receive the thumbs-down (where the Pope orders for a Catholic gathering to take out an entire nation for forbidding his decisions). Throughout the course of the campaign important figures will be born into the royal family and will extend your nation’s family tree, branching out for new princesses and generals for you to command – the more generals you have, the more fights you can participate in; the more princesses you have, the further your nation’s influence spreads. There are other subtle figures such as spies that can be trained to infiltrate enemy town’s to learn vital information, eliminate key figures and even opening the gates for you during a siege. The inclusion of such special units adds a completely new layer of depth and strategy as you’ll need to sway things in your favour as much as possible, and whatever it takes to get there.

Battles during the campaign mode can be played in the typical real-time tactical (RTT) fashion where you’ll command your units in a squad-by-squad fashion and will need to employ all sorts of clever tactics to become the victor. But considering how time consuming the mode can be, you’ll also have the option to bypass these battles where battles are determined by themselves, which certainly helps progress the game a bit quicker.

Besides the beefy campaign mode, Medieval II provides gamers with a variety of other modes to dive into: custom, historical and quick battle modes. The custom battle mode allows you to play on over 30 different maps, where you’ll be able to customise as many features as possible – location, weather, season, time of day, time limit and even a choice between several winning conditions such as traditional death match and score modes. In addition, you’ll also be able to extend or decrease the amount of funds available when building your army. The historical battles are a bit more interesting than anything else on offer though, since you’ll be able to participate in some of the greatest battles in history, such as the Battle of Hastings. You won’t just take on the role of the armies in these battles, but you’ll be given what we can only guess to be identical troop numbers, location and setting as well as being given the ability to employ the exact same tactics used in such battles – they are an absolute blast to play, and just goes to show the developer’s utmost care in providing a historically correct game. Splendid. Quick battles are ideal for the gamers who want to jump in and experience are relatively short battle, hence the name. You’ll instantly be thrown into a battle where the location and units are pre-determined.

Meanwhile, Medieval II also delivers a fairly expansive multiplayer mode. Most of what is available in the single player mode is available in multiplayer too; with custom, scenario and quick start maps readily available. The most appealing aspect of Med’s multiplayer is that it's simple and accessible from the get-go. Finding other players and setting up matches is a breeze and simple for newcomers to online gaming.

Rallying the troops before sending them off to their death.

Rallying the troops before sending them off to their death.
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The battles in Medieval II are an addictive bunch, and excel in providing unbelievable amounts of strategy. You’ll need to pay close attention to all of your units; understanding their strengths and weaknesses before you send them into battle. Battles are clearly a battle of wits, as the game feels more like a battle of chess where you’ll be required to position units effectively and match them up against certain foes before unleashing their true potential. You’ll find that heavy armoured units are ideal for absorbing arrows, and spearmen are perfect in fending off rapid cavalry units – it is important that you understand your unit’s strengths and weaknesses, unless you don’t mind an easy defeat. It’s great that you can turn the tide of the battle purely based on your initiative to manoeuvre your units effectively too. You can easily be left with only a handful of units and still manage to slaughter an entire army if you are intelligent enough to frequently draw out your enemy’s weaknesses – and it’s enjoyable to do so too.

There’s a distinct variety between the nations, and the units available within them. Each nation is met with their own specialties that help them to excel on the battlefield in certain situations, but are also faced with a few huddles too. For instance, England boasts some magnificent archers and infantry units, however severely lack in the cavalry department. So you’ll need to base your tactics around these known facts, and accustom your battles to your advantage – in this case you’d likely eat through your enemy’s defences with longbowmen before they could reach your core army. There’s a nice mix between nations that helps distinguish each of them, and the tactics they employ on the battlefield, suiting the needs of different gamers. There are a couple drawbacks with the game’s battle system though, unfortunately. A few balancing issues and poor path finding mar what is generally an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Directing units can sometimes become frustrating, as they aren’t always responsive to your orders, which can usually get in the way of successfully winning battles. It’s disappointing that this is still an issue though, since the Total War series has had years to work around this exact same issue that has hurt nearly all of the games in the series. And it hurts the game severely, since it can quite often hinder the experience.

As you can tell, the game looks remarkable.

As you can tell, the game looks remarkable.
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Besides that though, everything else is superb. The graphics are outstanding and provide one of the most visually stunning games available on the PC. The amount of detail added to each unit is phenomenal and everything else down to the animation is so well crafted. It’s stunning, to say the least. And if you have a decent computer to run the game, the epic battles are even more rewarding. The audio equally adds to the game’s atmosphere and the clashes and screams of your men build up a great savage feel.

Medieval II: Total War would’ve easily been much more memorable if it wasn’t for a few questionable balancing and AI issues that sadly knock its spot from receiving a better score. It is still the most rewarding and exciting Total War experience though, and is highly recommended for any strategy or Total War fan.
The Score
Mark this one down as a high 8, only short of a 9. Medieval II: Total War is a superb game that deserves to be on the mantle in any strategy fan's collection.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Medieval II: Total War Content

Toose tells all: Makings of Medieval
09 Dec, 2006 We spoke to Dan Toose from Brissy based developer Creative Assembly about his first game, the stunning Medieval II: Total War.
Making History - Medieval II: Total War
12 Nov, 2006 We take a look at the historical aspects of the upcoming strategy title.
Medieval II coming to Steam
12 Nov, 2006 Waging war on Steam.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Sega
Developer:
  The Creative Assembly

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