Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: November 14, 2006
It is the 11th century, and the once-mighty Roman Empire has long since fallen. The world has been swept by an age of religious fanaticism which dominates over reason. Allegiances wear thin, and differences in religious beliefs threaten to engulf the whole world in total war. This is what Creative Assembly has brought us in their newest installment of the Total War series, Medieval II: Total War.
The Total War series consists of historically based strategy games that feature turn-based campaign modes, combined with real-time tactical battles that display upwards of thousands of individually rendered soldiers on the battlefield. As with previous Total War offerings, your objective in the campaign mode is to conquer a predetermined amount of territories in addition to holding zero or more specific regions, depending on the faction you are playing.
There are a total of 21 playable factions in Medieval II. At the outset, you only have access to five of them, but as you conquer other factions in campaign mode, you gain access to them as playable factions. Each faction has bonuses and units that represent their historic specialties and war styles; a few examples of these are the superb long bowman of England, the formidable cavalry of Spain, and the powerful Venetian gunpowder units.
Medieval II retains the award-winning gameplay that made its predecessor so incredible, while managing to improve on the formula in a number of ways. There is a campaign mode, historical battles, and skirmish battles which can be played against other players or against the computer. Although it is not as revolutionary in comparison to Rome: Total War, it does build upon and evolve the concepts from the previous offering.
A major difference in Medieval II is the introduction of two separate settlement types: cities and castles. Cities hold more people and produce larger sums of income from trade, but they cannot produce knights or archery units. Castles limit the population size to a smaller number than cities, but they allow the production of many military units.
The amount of armies in a city you can train or retrain per turn is determined by the population and the tech level of the structures. This is in contrast to Rome: TW, which allowed you to train one unit per turn and retrain up to the max queue size of 10. The use of agents has been expanded upon with the addition of priests and merchants. Priests spread religion, which can quell unrest in your regions and spread unrest in opponents regions, while merchants can trade resources to increase your income.
Religion is a major addition to the campaign mode. There are a number of religions in the game, including Islam, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and pagan religions. Priests can be trained to spread your religion to other regions of the world, and religious unrest affects the happiness of the population and can lead to revolts, if left unchecked. The Pope is also a key factor in the campaign mode; every faction has a standing with the Pope, and he gives missions throughout the campaign. Completing these assignments will improve your standing with the Pope, while ignoring them will decrease it. If your standing falls low enough, you will be excommunicated and considered an enemy of the church, which in turn incurs a negative effect on the happiness of your people. The Pope can also call for crusades to reclaim territories from the infidels of the Middle East. When you choose an army to join the crusade, its upkeep is reduced to zero, but if the army does not keep making progress toward the crusade goal, troops will abandon the cause.
Battles are fought with the expected array of medieval units, which include knights, archers, crossbowmen, spearmen, siege weapons and a number of other units. In the later stages, you gain the ability to produce basic gun powder units. The campaign allows you to manage settlements and their economy, engage in diplomacy with other factions, produce troops, utilize specialized agents, and expand your empire. When your troops engage enemy forces, you have the choice of playing out the battle in a real-time tactical fight or letting the computer automatically generate the battle results. The latter option is useful when the odds are significantly in your favor, as it will save you time by not playing battles which you could easily win. For the more evenly matched fights, leading your forces into battle is the wiser choice.
Medieval II has an incredible amount of depth in the gameplay. Health, happiness, economy, and religion are all factors that must be managed with your settlements, and agents can be hired to spy on the enemy, assassinate enemy leaders, or spread religion. Generals of your army have various stats which include chivalry, dread, command rating, loyalty, and piety. Although you'll spend much of your time on the campaign map planning your overall strategy, much of the enjoyment comes from playing out the real-time battles. There is an impressive amount of units that you can produce and bring to the battlefront. Many of those units have special abilities or formations that can be utilized, such as the longbow archers that can put stakes in the ground for added protection against cavalry, the mounted knights that can use a wedge formation for increase striking power on a specific point, and siege weapons that can launch fiery projectiles.
My only complaint with the battles was that the A.I. occasionally seemed a little lacking, especially when I had siege weapons raining down death on them and they still held their ground and didn't attack me. It wasn't really a problem most of the time, and the A.I. seemed to fight with a decent level of competency. Overall, the multitude of options and great battles combine to form a wonderfully splendid experience. With so much included in Medieval II, a full campaign can easily last 40 or more hours, so an option to play a short campaign was wisely included.
The audio for Medieval II: Total War is nothing short of superb. The game features great voice acting, with different accents to accompany the varying factions, and the music is well composed and provides a lofty atmosphere for both the battles and campaigns. The game selects battle music tracks based on what is happening in the battle. While both armies are standing opposite each other, the music is silent; as your troops march towards the enemy, pompous tension-building music is played; and when you clash with the enemy, the music swings into fast-paced tracks. The limited edition version of Medieval II also includes a bonus disc with the game soundtrack as an added boon.
Medieval II: Total War delivers in every aspect, and the graphics are no exception. With sufficient hardware, the game displays some of the most impressive visuals in the strategy genre and truly brings the battles to life. The look is similar to Rome: Total War, but Creative Assembly has improved upon it in several ways. One of the more noticeable differences is how each soldier in a unit is rendered with a random selection of arms, legs, heads, and torsos. This allows for nearly every soldier to have a unique look, as opposed to the mass of clones in previous Total War offerings. Individual crests and faction symbols can be seen on the tunics and shields. The details in the battles are simply amazing: soldiers can be seen swinging swords and blocking attacks with shields, troops will fall over when struck by arrows, and people can be trampled by horses and elephants. The end results produce some of the most awe-inspiring battles that have ever been depicted in a video game.
Medieval II features online play for up to eight players with skirmish battles. It is understandable why you cannot play the campaign mode in multiplayer, as it would be rather infeasible to finish a campaign in a reasonable amount of time. In future Total War titles, it would be interesting to see a rendition of the campaign mode that could be played in multiplayer. You can also play custom battles, where you can choose which faction to play as and fight against.
Medieval II: Total War is one of the best strategy titles released this year, and it is a must-have for strategy fans. The beautiful visuals and the turgid music and sound coalesce to create epic battles. It has aspects that will appeal to both turn-based and real-time strategy enthusiasts. In addition, the title features plenty of historic lore and informative details about the medieval era, which is sure to satiate one's appetite for knowledge. The action may be a bit slow for some people who are more accustomed to twitch RTS offerings, but Medieval II has more than enough depth to make up for it.
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