Medieval II: Total War Review

Medieval 2: Total War shows how polish, innovation, and perfection of a certain formula can make a really great game, even if it uses the same general idea time and time again. Total War games are all similar, and all of them are very deep strategy games. On top of that, they’re just damn good. Both critically acclaimed and loved by strategy fans, Total War has been a constant stream of good strategic gameplay. Starting with Shogun Total War, then heading into Medieval times, to the Roman era, and now back to Medieval again, Total War has covered a lot of periods that most strategy games leave behind in favor of sci-fi or modern premises. Total War isn’t boring, or overly realistic, and in fact it makes the warfare of these times very fast paced and exciting. 

While this game has been around for awhile, this review is better late than never. If you are strategy fan you owe it to yourself to give this game a spin, especially if you are a fan of the series.

The graphics have a truly epic scale, which only few games can hope to achieve. They even manage to get some nice look textures in, which is amazing when you see so many units on screen. What’s more is the movement and battle animations of every unit are far more detailed and smooth. You zoom in, and the battles occurring are far more interesting and unique than ever before. In fact, I find myself zooming in a lot more, enjoying the little conflicts going down below. The battlefields are massive in size, which allow for some interesting engagements. The different terrains and areas you fight on also have a direct effect on the battle. Nothing sucks quite as much as having to attack a position on top of a mountain. Ouch!

The attention to detail just isn’t on the battlefield, but on the turn-based map as well. The interface has also received some minor updates, and it seems far more streamlined than ever before. However, things aren’t all peachy. When you’re dealing with so many details, like looking textures, and unique animations all on-screen at the same time, something happens. And that is FPS drop. Sadly, Medieval Total War 2 demands a lot out of your PC. Anything less than the bleeding edge and you’re not going to be able to enjoy all the fancy shader effects, amount of detail, and other graphical features.

The sounds in this game are really spot-on. In battles, the ambience of warfare is in full swing. The sounds of arrows piercing through the wind, of cavalry mounting a full charge, or the crashing booms of your artillery all add together into the slew of battle. The music that goes along with the battle also set a perfect tune, and it really makes improves the gameplay. Being able to immerse yourself in this historic period is a lot of fun while you’re commanding your massive armies.

Music plays a key role in the turn-based map and on the menus, too. It’s a very pleasant sound, making the game a bit more exciting to play through. While it’s not groundbreaking, again it really makes you more immersed in the time period. Its pleasing music is a great addition, through and through. Voice acting is also well done, with a lot of variety and dialogue throughout the game.

The game can be a bit overly complicated at times. In turn based mode, you’re greeted with quite a few menus and sometimes coordinating attacks or implementing a strategy can be difficult. Still, once you get the hang of things, everything starts falling into place. Though there could be a bit more streamlining in the turn based mode, strategy fans will appreciate the level of detail more than they’ll curse a few menus.

The same is the problem for real time battles. The camera seems to be a bit less funky than before, however it’s still pretty high on the funky scale. Too much time is spent to adjusting the camera for optimial RTS coverage, and even still when you’re commanding big armies you wish you could zoom out more. It’d almost be nice to zoom out as in Supreme Commander, and replace units with icons. That’d be great in setting up initial strategy, or managing massive armies. The mini-map is frustratingly useless, since even a unit with only a couple survivors will appear as the same icon as a unit with full strength. It’s also really tiny, so you have to zoom in to get any sort of detail – and then it’s not useful for watching the whole battle.

Still, these complaints are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. You are still able to control the battle fairly well, and some of the frustrations with controlling armies are more due to the realistic nature of the game than the actual controls. After while you’ll become familiar with the flow of battle, and can focus less on the camera and more on commanding. A major plus is the ability to quickly zoom in and view the battle up close with your middle mouse button, which is a lot more fun to do with the improved visuals and animations.

The core game starts you by playing in the turn-based mode, where you command your new empire. As you setup your cities or castles for economy or war, you’ll eventually start bumping into other countries. Open warfare seems to be the end result many times, however it’s quite feasible to conduct in friendly trade, and even become allies. Still, it all boils down to war, and commanding your armies in turn-based mode is very important.

One of the big differences in Medieval Total War 2 is separating cities and castles. Castles allow you to focus on building a vast army, and upgrading them to higher levels. Cities allow you to focus on earning the money you need to fund your growing war machine. You really need to find and fine tune the balance between city and castle, but once you do you’ll be reaping the rewards.

Once you get your army setup in turn-based mode, it’s time to start expanding your borders. Once you get in an engagement, a few things can happen. You can choose to retreat, auto-manage the battle, or take control of your army in real-time mode. A lot of the times you’ll be finish a battle in auto-manage, especially if you don’t want to be playing the same campaign for months. However, if you choose real-time mode, this is where the game starts to come full circle.

All your units you’ve setup in turn-based mode are faithfully recreated in real-time mode. Along with your units, the terrain, surroundings, and even city are identical to the turn-based mode. This is fairly impressive, and it helps dictate where and how to attack in turn-based mode. You start the engagement by setting up your initial groupings, formations, and ranks. Once you start the battle, you can immediately see where the enemy is located. A lot of different strategies, planning, and thinking happens at this point. Do you rush them with your cavalry? Or do you try to win the archery battle? Or would it be best to flank them with your cavalry while everyone else heads in head first? There is tons of variables and tactics to use, and everything that happens in battle reflects in the turn-based mode.

Once the battle is over, you’ve hopefully won. Generally an enemy will turn and attempt to retreat out of there, but your men will attempt to capture as many enemies has possible. Captured enemies can be ransomed, executed, or released, and your decisions make an impact in-game. Your successes on the battlefield also translate to experience upgrades for your armies. More importantly, they increase your general’s command rating; make armies under that general more powerful. Other factors like unit preference, if you hire mercenaries, or if engage the enemy in certain conditions; you also improve various skill sets. You can become a more powerful a cavalry general, mercenary general, or a good defender, for example.

Overall, the balance between real-time battle and turn-based management hits the spot. You get a little bit of RPG flavor as your generals get different traits and vices. You get a lot of RTS loving in the real time mode. The management aspect gives a true sense of commanding an entire civilization. Overall, it’s got a lot of aspects to it, and they mix those elements together very nicely.

The game is huge, and can seemingly take forever. If there is any complaint about the Replay Value, it’s that the game is too long at times. A campaign can take you weeks to finish, only to setup a new campaign as a different faction under different rules. Then you’ve got another few weeks to put into a campaign, which could take months to finish if you fight all your battles. 

If you get tired of the turn based side of things, there is plenty of historic battles to be fought. This historic twist to the battles is nice, and the battles feel quite epic. On top of that, historic battles are pretty tough, so winning them feels like a big accomplishment. You’ve got to earn your victory. In addition, you can play skirmishes against the computer. These aren’t too exciting, and mainly I’d stick to campaign. Finally, you can go online, but so far that experience wasn’t too fantastic for me.

To be honest, I just stick to the campaign mode. It can be setup in multiple different ways that really shake up your gameplay. The game allows you to really dig your teeth into some deep, strategic content.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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