Friday, 12 September 2008

Medieval 2: Total War Review

In medieval Europe, everyone is a potential enemy: no one can be trusted. Which surely is a valid, if slightly unorthodox excuse to go to war with your neighbours, no? The Pope disagrees with my logic, however, and would much prefer that I was bashing muslims. A little xenophobic, perhaps, but beggars can't be choosers.

The world of diplomacy is such, and always has been. For some strange reason, the majority has never really liked war-waging, world-conquering dictators. But being yet another game with war in the title, M2TW demands you go at odds with that majority, for everything in the game revolves around military conquest. You build your economy to support your disorganized rabble of reluctant peasants and knights who get all over excited and orgasmic at the sight of blood. Diplomacy is a tool to convince other factions that you are not actually as much of a warmongering megalomaniac as you first appear, and that in fact, an alliance would be lovely. The royal family is there to lead your armies into battle and give rallying speeches prior to each battle to make your forces feel all warm, fuzzy and brave. The Pope is a barrier to stop you killing the French, unless you want to get yo ass crusaded. But if you had a hat like that, you'd have half of Europe hanging on your every word too. No, really.

The selling point of the Total War series is, and always has been the large scale battles, with thousands of troops bopping each other with longswords. The presentation of these centrepiece battles has been greatly improved in M2TW, with the 'clone' soldiers of RTW replaced with plate-clad knights, each of whom are now rendered in M2TW's fancy new graphics engine. The brilliance is in the subtle touches: the grubby looking peasant units, who are visually and statistically improved as you equip them with better armour; the diligently polished helmets of your hierarchally superior knights. The fighting itself has also been improved. Zoom into ground level and you will see the armies not taking it in turns to poke each other like in RTW, but clashing swords, knocking each other over and then giving them a good stab to the gut to make sure. Even the general's speeches have been given an overhaul. Gone are the misplaced and (I'd like to think) historically inaccurate American accents of Roman generals, and the I-woke-up-with-a-sore-throat Barbarian accents, and in their places are slightly more accurate region-specific accents, which vary depending on who you play as. They also seem realistically egoistic, with one of my generals describing how brave he was several times in the same speech.

Battles aside, the campaign map looks much the same graphically as RTW. The only differences I noticed was that when fully zoomed out and looking down on the map, the Alps and the Pyrenees looked artificial and maze-like, whereas RTW's alps looked more natural. If I were to stop being royally picky for a moment, I would spot no difference. What you can do with the campaign map now, however, has had a few minor additions. One such addition is merchants, who are controlled like armies and diplomats, but control resource deposits that they can raise variable amounts of moolah from, depending on their skill level and the resource in question. Princesses work much like diplomats, with the obvious bonus of being much more attractive (and seductive?), and being able to marry either to seal an alliance or bring new relatives into the royal family. Assassins and spies both make a return, the latter being able to stalk any other unit, the former being able to murder any unit. Both the assassin and spy now have short movies to show the success or failure of their mission, an omission since Shogun: Total War which now makes a return. While being entertaining to watch, and in some cases even humourous, the handful of movies tend to get samey once you've seen them a few times.

Diplomacy is a part of the game which sees a lot of use, yet even in this fourth iteration of the Total War series, it is still very basic. You never really trust your allies, and alliances themselves seem pointless. Rarely will you find yourself fighting alongside them, and much of the time even if you want to stay friends, they will backstab you with no warning but a menacing grin. The choices in the diplomacy screen are also limited, and it feels as though the diplomacy system was almost completely forgotten. Although in M2TW it now shows you faction reputation, relation to you, wealth and strength, it still feels like far too little.

City management is the final front you must master. Build roads, markets and ports to increase your income, and military buildings to improve the soldiers available - it's all joyfully self-explanatory. Managing your income, while upgrading your cities to cope with your citizens needs and having to keep your neighbours and the Pope happy all at once, however, is not so simple. Alas, such are the drawbacks of being a King.

While perhaps a little inaccessable and intimidating for some, Medieval 2 manages to balance battles and economic planning for the same remarkably well. It keeps what could so easily have been a daunting and over-complicated game in a relatively simple interface. I'm tempted to think that anyone other than Creative Assembly might have passed off the battles alone as a full game and still got away with it, yet CA also give you the control over the state itself.

Score: 9.5/10

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