Medieval: Total War - game review
“... the knights' troops hitting each other on two slopes with the mutual impact of their lances, the crunch of armor and the clash of swords made a bang and thud that you could hear him for a few miles in the area. The husband pressed on the husband, the weapons crashed with a crash, the points pointed at each other were hit in the face. In this confusion and tumult it was difficult to distinguish the brave ones from the weaker ones, the brave ones than the women of the lesser, because they all seemed to hang in one crowd. And they did not retreat at all from the spot, neither one gave way to another, until the enemy, thrown from his horse or killed, rum opened the victors. When the lances were finally broken, the arrays and arms on both sides clashed so strongly that only the axes and spearheads on the shafts, knocking against each other, made a terrifying sound like hammers beating in forges. The riders, crowded in the crowd, only attacked each other with their sword, and even then the strength and the personal bravery prevailed ... "
This fragment of the description of the Battle of Grunwald by Długosz fits perfectly into the atmosphere of the newest strategy of the British company Creative Assembly - Medieval: Total War. The game is a continuation of the famous series of Shogun: Total War, but this time the authors took to the workshop not Japan, but medieval Europe - not without reason, as historically this period was a practically uninterrupted series of conflicts in which various cultures, strategies and war schools.
Medieval is a game that is quite unique in that it consists of two separate and completely different parts, each of which can be treated as a separate game, although on the other hand both perfectly complement each other. One of them is the strategic part, played in turn-based mode on the map of Europe divided into provinces. The second is the tactical part, which is in fact an excellent RTS with a 3D view. Importantly, the player is not forced to combine both modes - a fan of "turn games" can only play in strategic mode, and RTS in tactical mode. For this reason, I decided to treat them separately, although I give them the final conclusions and the assessment jointly.
This type of gameplay is available in the Campaign mode, which we can play in several ways, depending on the medieval period in which we start the game (early, peak and declining are available) and the victory conditions (military domination or famous achievements, including conquests less important than e.g. achieving a high level of development or conducting a successful crusade and regaining the Holy Land). First, we have to choose from a dozen or so available countries that we will play - and here is the first pleasant surprise, Poland is available in all periods! There are about 20 nations in the game, but some (eg Hungarians or Russians in the early period) can only be controlled by computer AI. Each country starts with a small army and a few provinces (e.g. in the case of Poland it is Małopolska and Silesia), characterized by several factors, including available mineral resources, commercial products and, above all, the level of tax revenues. And here all the fun begins - the first decisions are whether we invest in the economic development of the province (agriculture, mines, merchants, port, etc.) or whether we focus on military production and the rapid annexation of neutral provinces neighboring us, the occupation of which does not risk causing a long-term war. These decisions are not easy, because a very extensive "technology tree" means that in order to be able to produce good units, you need a lot of money to expand the province, and a lot of time, because more advanced buildings take many years to complete. In turn, economic development without the military force to support it can be an irresistible temptation for our neighbors.
Fortunately, neighbors aren't just a threat - diplomacy plays an important role here, and a successful alliance or marriage is often more important than winning the battle. More than one province will also pass from hand to hand not thanks to a military campaign, but to bags of gold given by our agent to a corrupt commander of a local garrison. In general, agents of various types are very useful here, e.g. emissaries offer alliances and marriages that cement them, spies report on the size of troops and the level of development of the province. Assassins, especially experienced ones (because agents gain experience for successful "actions", which improves their effectiveness) - like killers, nothing better to cause chaos in a neighbor than the murder of the ruler was not invented (although we are sorry if they catch him and sing at the torment of who sent him ), and sending an experienced inquisitor to a foreign Catholic province is real dirty - his love of burning pyres guarantees that few of the enemy generals will survive the judgment of the Holy Office. Agents also play a useful role inside the country, primarily fighting foreign agents - with the possible exception of the aforementioned inquisitor, whose pyromania forces him to burn at the stake of our commanders as well. Religion is a very important factor in the game - a captured province with a different religion will not be loyal for a long time and will require lower taxes and a large garrison to prevent a rebellion, although with time, with the help of bishops or mullahs, most of the population will understand their mistake and abandon the path of heresy . In turn, for Catholics, the fight against infidels, especially Muslims, may win the favor of the Pope, and even financial support for a crusade (although, for example, Poles cannot initiate crusades according to the history of crusades). On the other hand, the fight against Catholic brothers is a straightforward path to excommunication, with painful consequences. Excommunication does not threaten Muslims and Orthodox countries, but they cannot initiate crusades - Muslims have Jihad, or the Holy War, for this.
Of course, neither diplomacy nor agents can replace what constitutes the main content of the game, which is simply war. And in war, as we know, success or defeat is determined by the strength of the army and the skill of its commanders in the art of war. Medieval: TW offers a real colorful spin when it comes to the number of troop types available - I counted 115 of them, not counting fleet units or agents. This does not mean that we will be able to build them all - some of them can be formed only in specific provinces (e.g. Scottish highlanders or Swiss halberdiers), others are available only to specific countries, others require a specific historical period and related to it discoveries, for example, without gunpowder there will be no units with firearms. Units vary in size and armament, and are characterized by a multitude of factors, some of which, e.g. morale, armor, and weapons levels, can be increased by building the appropriate buildings, but the weapon level can only be improved in a few provinces with iron deposits. The level of experience of the unit is another important element that has a large impact on its behavior in combat - veterans are usually more effective and less prone to panic than rookies, although the characteristics of the commander in charge of a given unit are equally important.
Here we come to another very interesting, almost cRPG part of the game, i.e. the commanders. Characterizing their coefficients affect not only their own unit, because the most experienced commander in the group becomes the commander in chief and has influence on all units under his command. The importance of commanders extends beyond the battlefield, as by giving them the title of governors, we extend their positive (or negative) impact on the economic sphere of the province, and after building appropriate buildings, e.g. the Chancellor's Office, over the entire country. In addition to factors such as command, loyalty, and management ability, our commanders can have a whole set of advantages and disadvantages. Some of them are inborn, although sometimes they do not reveal themselves immediately (an agent is helpful in discovering them), for example, after appointing a promising general governor after a few years, we can discover with horror that his greed deprives us of most of the taxes due, and the revocation of the previously granted dignity may end in an open revolt of the interested person. Other features, on the other hand, are acquired and result from the course of his service - a commander fleeing from the battlefield may gain the "Coward" trait, losing the respect of his subordinates, and developing his province will become a "Builder" or "Great Builder", multiplying the income and satisfaction of the inhabitants. There are a huge number of such features, somewhat reminiscent of Fallout perks and traits, which determine the unique "personality" of each general.
All the properties of the commanders described earlier also apply to the most important of them, i.e. our ruler (depending on the state, it can be a king, caliph, emperor, etc.) and his sons. However, they also have an additional feature, which is aging, which sooner or later leads to the death of the ruler and succession. If he has managed to get male heirs (daughters are quite useless and their main role is getting married) then that's fine, otherwise the best thing that can happen to us is civil war, and the worst is the premature end of the game. It must be admitted, however, that rulers are lousy boys and if we do not recklessly endanger the lives of young princes, then we should have a whole herd of them, although not always best suited to rule the country - once playing English, my king's three eldest sons were, in the order of cowardly homosexual, lazy pedophile and a madman with an unhealthy attraction to his daughters. Needless to say, without waiting for such a "promising" dynasty to develop, I sent them into battle, from which they returned as dead heroes, and the fourth son, the youngest and wisest, took power as in a fairy tale.
When writing about the strategic part, one cannot fail to mention the huge work that the game producer put into ensuring historical fidelity - from the names and borders of provinces, through the types of units, cities (Wrocław as the capital of Silesia is a nice change after the ubiquitous Breslau until recently), and even events historical, which influencing the course of the game are also a mini-textbook on the history of the Middle Ages. For example - if we build a university in Krakow, we will get a note about the significant impact that the establishment of the Jagiellonian University had in Europe, and the position of Poland will strengthen.
In fact, the whole strategic part can be accused of not much - maybe the only thing is that sometimes the excess of units and agents on the map obscures the picture of the situation and a bit burdensome micro-management, if we have a lot of provinces (although most of the tasks can be transferred to the computer, it will perform them, like a computer, correctly but without panache). But now about something else, because during the game sooner or later (rather sooner) there will be a moment when our troops will meet in some province with the enemy's army. We can then stay in turn-based mode by selecting the automatic resolution of the battle, but when we decide to take command personally, it begins
Here, the fight takes on a completely different dimension, one could say "close and personal". Perfectly modeled in 3D landscapes, corresponding to the nature of the vegetation, topography and even the weather of the area where the battle is fought, are the background to the struggle of our units, each of which consists of several dozen or even several hundred individual soldiers. Their behavior is controlled by the computer, so that when, for example, we order a unit to attack, after engaging the enemy, the fight turns into many micro-skirmishes, which, thanks to the free camera, we can observe quite closely. Then we see precisely modeled figures, armor and costumes in national colors, historical coats of arms glisten on the shields, and the whole dynamic and in motion - archers raise their bows from which a wave of arrows flew towards the enemy, crossbowmen are kneeling behind large shields, busily winding crossbows, several pikemen have separated from the main human crowd is trying to knock a lonely knight off his horse with a sword ... Meanwhile, clouds of dust from under the hooves of a galloping cavalry unit draw the attention of the catapult crew, already a huge boulder flies in the air, strikes seemingly inaccurate pieces of the ground, but bounces and nothing a giant bowling ball falls between the riders, throwing the bodies of people and horses sideways ...
Now let's try to imagine it multiplied by the scale of the battles, and this is a huge scale - we can command up to 16 units, each up to 200 soldiers, which gives 3200 people plus the enemy's troops, reinforcements, our and his allies' armies. In total, this can give even over 20,000 individually behaving soldiers on the battlefield, which the computer does not "forget" even after death - the places where the most fierce battles were fought can be recognized by the piles of corpses.
Of course, there is no silence on the battlefield - the shouts of commanders and the clash of weapons are mixed with the groans of the wounded and the terrible neighing of dying horses, all in a full surround, which for lucky people with a surround sound system can make you nervous when you hear the pulse of the charging from behind your back. heavy cavalry. The whole is complemented by music in the atmosphere of the era, different depending on the place of the battle and changing the rhythm and pace, adapting to the events on the battlefield. All this makes us turn viewers into battle participants - instead of the recently overused word "realism", I prefer to write here about the unique atmosphere created by Medieval: Total War. However, even the best audio-visual side will not be enough if it is not supported by appropriate gameplay. In this area, the game should not disappoint even the most demanding strategist. The key to victory, according to the teachings of Sun-Tzu, is to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of one's own and the opponent, to adapt to them and to the terrain of the battle plans, and to flexibly react to the changing situation. What sounds trivial is not easy to implement when, as in Medieval, we have dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that could affect the fate of the battle. Units have different combat value and use, pikemen, for example, form an impenetrable wall for charging cavalry in a compact formation, but they do not do so well against infantry and in attack. Losses caused by archer fire can be reduced by dispersing the unit, but then it becomes easy prey for the cavalry. Flanking and attacking from the flank or from behind is the best way for even an opponent with high morale to collapse and pass behind. Knights, on the other hand, tend to charge without orders, heavily armored troops are slow and tire easily, even the best Templar knights can go to pieces when their horses smell camels - this is just a small piece of knowledge that a good commander must have. There is also terrain, hills that are easier to defend than to attack, forests where an ambush can hide an invisible army, rivers where enormous forces can be restrained on the bridge by a handful of daredevils. And the weather - in foggy and rainy Scotland our archers and crossbowmen will be ineffective, not to mention firearms, and in the scorching rays of the desert sun, heavily armored Western knights tire and lose their strength very quickly.
Medieval battlefields would not be complete without chateaux, castles and fortresses. Medieval creators did not forget about it: TW, letting us try our hand against various fortifications - depending on the level of development of the province during the siege, we can encounter practically everything, from a small gord surrounded by a wooden palisade to defense behemoths, with many lines of curtain walls, towers equipped with ballistae, catapults and even cannons, barbican to protect the gates, etc. The latter, without the entire army of siege artillery, are practically impossible to get.
Finally, a few warm words about computer AI - he is a really good and demanding opponent, he uses the terrain and cover, he will flank without mercy and attack the exposed flank, he will also gladly cut off and eliminate our commander-in-chief, which will cut the morale of the rest of the army. Sometimes it is true that he will make an incomprehensible decision, but these are really rare situations.
The tactical part is available not only in the Campaign mode - we have direct access to it in Custom Battle mode (also as multiplayer) and in very interesting Battle and Historical Campaign modes. These are very faithfully recreated the most famous battles of the Middle Ages, connected with each other in the Historical Campaign mode, often by the person of the chief commander. Here we encounter, among others such historical figures as Joan of Arc, Richard the Lionheart, Barbarossa and Salladin. There are a total of 23 historical battles available, and there will certainly be new ones, because despite the lack of a scenario editor, the included map editor plus some effort allows you to create your own battle (like Grunwald, which we have made available for you on our FTP). Anyway, the authors of one of the upcoming patches promise to include a full editor of battles and campaigns. Finally, a word about control - simple, pleasant and intuitive, a great possibility of combining units into groups, which we can impose formations, e.g. "frontal infantry, rear shooters, riding on the wings" (historical formations used by various nations, including period) makes us control the battlefield all the time, being able to focus on planning and observing the activities of our troops.
The game is completed with two very good tutorials, one for the strategic part and the other for the tactical part, and the aforementioned map editor. It is also worth mentioning that thanks to the transparent structure of Medieval: Total War files it is susceptible to "modding", i.e. creating add-ons and introducing changes - recently there is even a discussed "total conversion" mod among fans, which changes the game into the "War of the Ring" based on Tolkien world ". Finally, a few words about the hardware requirements - basically the screen resolution is the key here, in 800x600 the game was doing very well on the PIII 700 / 256Mb / 32Mb GeForce 2 MX, in 1024x768 it was good, but there were occasional "cuts", and in 1280x1024 on this It was very difficult to play with the hardware itself. On the other hand, the Durons are not very welcome - on Duron 800 / 256Mb / 32 Mb GeForce 2 even in 800x600 M: TW was practically unplayable.
So, are we dealing with an ideal game? Probably not, because there are probably no such games, and the authors, when announcing the release of the patch, are probably also aware of minor flaws. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Medieval is an outstanding game, to which a strategy lover will probably come back many times. The game could also be a great help in schools, definitely making boring history lessons more attractive. I am writing "could", because it is time for a spoonful of tar in a barrel of honey, that is the location and the Polish edition. In fact, I could skip it, because the Polish distributor, Licomp Empik Multimedia, completely "let go" the topic. There is nothing to detail about the price of PLN 169, it is known that it puts every sale. However, the lack of localization is a real mortal sin, considering that the game is completely prepared for it, and the polonization could be performed by any owner of the game who knows English and has such a technically advanced tool as Notepad. And I do not get the arguments that "it's all Activision's fault", because the company certainly does not act to its own detriment, and if it made such a decision, it was because no one from Poland wanted / was able to provide it with reasonable arguments showing that such a decision will commercially kill the title. As a consolation, in the box we will find a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, instruction in Polish and a map of medieval Europe from the Kapmpania mode.
Despite the fact that for the reasons described above, the game will probably go unnoticed in Poland, Medieval: Total War is for me a sure candidate for the honorable title of "Strategy of the Year" and one of the best games I have ever played. I recommend it to all lovers of strategy and not only.