I’ve been a fan of Creative Assembly since my first encounter with Shogun: Total War. That fantastically innovative game brought real-world units and tactics in a real-time strategy setting, complete with a deep and interesting turn-based grand strategy mode. Shogun was quickly followed by Medieval: Total War, and recently a new engine in Rome: Total War, which has thusly spawned one of the more recognizable and popular franchises in PC gaming.
Rome: Total War was not without its errors but due to the engine and improvements, we forgave much. Considering that Medieval improved significantly on Shogun in several areas, it was then not without cause that expectations for Medieval 2 were raised considerably. Yet, while Creative Assembly has addressed some issues, others continue to plague them. Worse, these problems have existed throughout the series and considering this is the fourth game in the franchise and the second with this engine, patience has worn thin to say the least. We’ll get to that later, however.
For those of you new to Total War, let me provide a brief summary of how the game works. After choosing a faction, difficulty level, and campaign type (short or long), you are thrust onto the main map, looking at your nation with the capital dead center. From there you can move armies and non-combat units, with the limits of their movement designated in green, you can click cities to build, repair, or retrain units and buildings. The statistics and traits of characters can be seen by selecting them and double-clicking their portraits. These screens will let you know what kind of defense and attack values a unit has, or the kind of skill a priest, spy, assassin or princess possesses.
It is on the strategic map where the player spends most of his time, trying to decide the proper course of action, making sure he has used his units to full effect and checking on movements by enemies that may threaten his cities, armies, navies, or special units. It is here that diplomacy is initiated and special characters ply their trade. Chances for success are given for spies, priests, merchants, and assassins, while diplomatic offers are guessed at, with hints ranging from “very demanding” through “balanced” to “very generous”. Armies are ordered to move, attack, besiege, or sometimes abandon sieges. Here, a graph suggests the odds of attack, though this is more useful for deciding whether to let the AI handle the battle or take the reins yourself. In bad situations, it is almost always best to take control. Victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat at the hands of an overwhelming enemy force more than once by Total War players where the AI would certainly fail.
Medieval 2 is perhaps the first game in the Total War franchise where the ability to move priests, spies, and assassins into an army is very welcome. While Rome did have this feature, in Medieval 2 it becomes particularly handy. Priests help keep your family members pious and on the straight and narrow, protecting them from inquisition attempts. Spies reveal more area around the army and help show hidden enemy spies and assassins, while assassins work to repel assassination attempts. Family members are of course important because they permit the player to give build orders in cities (unless the player chooses to enable an option permitting him to work in any city), and of course they are the only generals with any sorts of bonuses.