Enter the newest title from the Total War people, the latest in a line of exemplary titles stretching back to Shogun: Total War from long ago in 2000. Each addition to the series has built upon the same basic winning formula, incrementally upgrading the graphical fidelity and adding or refining aspects of the gameplay. This latest title does something subtly different than the tradition, though, in that rather espousing a new era in which to fight (the Japanese pre-Shogunate era was first, medieval Europe second and pre-imperial Rome third), it is instead a remake of a previous title, in this case the second game in the series: Medieval: Total War.
So what have they done that they didn’t do in the original? Well, as always if you are an aficionado of the series you’ll know that they probably stick to the original concept as much as possible, and this is true. What this means is that playing this game feels much like playing the previous three so if you have become sick of that type of game then expect no revelations from MTW2. It is a solid Total War title through and through.
In terms of graphical fidelity there have been some massive improvements. High dynamic range lighting has been added, and the individual texture quality of your soldiers has never been higher. As a result battles look more epic than ever, although one small gripe this reviewer had was the lack of blood and gore. It would have been nice if a catapult payload tore up a unit into little bitsy pieces but, alas, this is not the case. What is nice though is that it seems that the total war series has finally come around to the individual pairing up of soldiers on the battlefield, meaning that when two units clash the warriors from both sides will match up and fight it out, complete with realistic death blows. All this works to make the game considerably more visually appealing.
On top of that, the settlements you fight in and around in the game have been markedly improved, both in scale and design. They truly look like realistic settlements of that period now, and having a massive bloodbath outside the front gates of a huge foreboding castle is truly something to treasure, in this reviewers opinion. The sheer scale of maps has been increased, which allows for such structures to be placed in them, and combined with their filial improvements to terrain rendering and decoration battles feel more real than ever. One thing the reviewer noticed is that through the course of the game the enemy and your own forces seem to spend more time fighting inside settlements than you would have spent during past Total War titles. Whether this is by design to show off the new architecture, or a simple coincidence of the improved AI, the reviewer appreciated it.
As far as the actual combat game play goes, it is identical to the previous three titles. Here is one area where the total war people believe they excel, and refuse to budge an inch. One thing we would have liked is occupying buildings a la Imperial Glory, or entrenching formations and such.
Siege warfare could have been greatly expanded on as well, perhaps to levels seen in the Stronghold series. But no matter, as one thing is for sure: as far as crashing 300 knights into the side of a massive infantry meat grinder and watching the ensuing chaos goes, Total War always wins hands down.
On the main strategical map game play is still very similar to MTW classic and other Total War titles, though the influence of Rome can definitely be seen. In Rome: Total War you had the senate, and in this you have the Papal establishment, both of which issue regular general missions that you can perform for rewards and favour, or ignore for the alternative.
On top of this they have added crusades/jihads and excommunication to the mix, which add some interesting gameplay. A crusade/jihad is a general target given to all Christian or Muslim factions respectively, and which asks everyone to attack a specific target in a special war. Once joined, a member nation can recruit special crusade/jihad mercenaries which allow them to bolster their power considerably, while leaving the movement leads to fairly severe penalties.
The storyline of the times is fairly well developed. Instead of the three era approach adopted in the original MTW, in this the time period extends over the entire age. Over time advancements are discovered that open up new opportunities and game play modifications, which adds to the overall richness of the game in our opinion, although the semi randomness of such things can derail some players' tactical plans.
Of great importance are the several advancements that eventually unveil and allow access to the new world, a new continent in which to fight. This is a great new addition to the original formula, and we found extending our empire to the foreign shores most satisfying. Other great events like the Mongol/Hun invasions from the east can prompt a sudden shift in any aspiring emperor’s ambitions.
The sheer disk space required by MTW2 is staggering. One of the first things you will notice when opening the box is that it comes on no less than two DVD’s, and has a minimum install of 11 gigabytes! We had to remove quite a bit from our boot drive just to install the game. Initially this prompted despair, as large disk space by games is usually a sign of bloated code and an art-obsessed management team. However, fear no more: in the case of MTW2 most of the space used goes into the million or so animation videos available for every little event in the game.
Remember when in Shogun if you tried to assassinate an enemy there would flash up a little video with multiple scenarios showing how your ninja went about the kill? And the ending would change between successful and non successful? Well, MTW2 has at least five gigabytes of these videos. Apart from the different videos for each type of event, it also has variations based on locale, perpetrator and victim. This is hard drive useage we like to see, useage that only serves to enrich the game.
In conclusion, MTW2 is a worthy continuation of the Total War franchise. It sticks to the same basic formula that has made the series great, while managing to add enough new aspects to differ it from its predecessors. The increases in graphical fidelity have been performed with panache, allowing users of somewhat dated systems to still enjoy the experience, while introducing enough new shiny bits to keep the game competitive with other new releases. The hours of gameplay provided and replay ability is supremely high, making this a title you can’t discard in a night. In short, Medieval: Total War 2 is an all-around armchair general's masterpiece.