I won't waste many words before I'll start with the pros and cons. I played approximately 1,000 + hours with my old retail version, but I couldn't get it running under Windows 8 (see cons). Therefore, I bought the Steam version (see cons).
1. FUN FACTOR
- The game has aged pretty well. The graphics are somewhat outdated, but there's still enough eye candy to cherish on.
- The game is fun. However, it can get boring due to restricted tactical choices and redundancy.
- There were (beware: simple past) really cool battle speeches. However, CA decided to get rid of them with the last Steam update (see cons).
2. HUGE BATTLES
- The battles can be huge, but mostly they are small skirmishes (see cons).
- Again the fun factor.
3. INTERESTING CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
- Have you ever had an inbred, heavily drunken, cowardish general who hates muslims? Send him on a crusade to free Jerusalem. Do you have a priest who is a disguised woman? Send him or her with the troops. Perhaps you'll get Francis of Assisi as ancillary after the successful crusade, and that's as early as the 1090s (see cons, under historic mistakes).
- Do you ever had a general with an ugly or unpleasant wife? Hear him talk about her in one of the great battle speeches. Oh, I forgot: CA has got rid of them with their last update.
- Do you ever had a drunken or insane general? Listen to the orders he gives to the pink elephants and pixies just before the battle starts. Oh damn, that's again history thanks to CA.
1. POOR CAMPAIGN AND BATTLE AI
- The campain AI is bad. AI factions cannot wage wars on more than one front; their recruitment is ridiculous (some armies entirely consist of ballistae); the AI army movement is a mess; even with 1000+ hours of gaming experience you won't see any massive, organized attack performed by the AI.
- The tactical options on the campaign map are pretty poor: attack, alliance, annexation. You won't see any more depth. not even to speak of the complicated medieval and Renaissance system of foreign politics and shifting alliances.
- The battle AI is a mess. Admittedly, it's not that bad as the one in Rome 2, but it's still pretty bad. Enemy archer units capable of using stakes can't use them, units shot at by artillery hardly move, or, if they move, they're running around like frightened chicken. In addition, many units break off their attack right in the middle of a charge when shot at by archers. CA just hasn't been able to come up with a functional AI here.
- Pathfinding on the battle maps, especially in the towns and cities, is a mess. Be prepared for constantly checking the movement of your troops.
- Due to the poor AI recruiting, you're mostly fighting against small, poorly balanced enemy armies. Most of the fighting are sieges with enemy troops not being able to break your siege or act in a strategic way.
2. NUMEROUS MISTAKES IN TEXT FILES
- Have you ever asked yourself why you cannot recruit Dismounted Gothic Knights in the grand campaign? Because CA has forgotten to include them in the export_desc_buildings file. Just open the file and add them manually.
- The Pope can recruit the Papal Guard, an elite unit. But after reaching huge city status he cannot recruit them anymore. The reason is CA has again forgotten to include them under large_stone_wall city in the same file. Just open the file again and add them.
- When your pike units get into melee, they suddenly draw their swords and become useless. Why that? Because CA has decided to give them swords as secondary weapons. Just open your export_desc_unit file and change that: only then do your pike units act like pike units.
- When your musket or arquebuse units get into firing distance, they start to shuffle like mad instead of shooting. Why that? Because the CA guys came up with a totally messed up fire by rank script. Open your export_desc_unit file, see under attributes and remove the fire by rank entry. Only then do your musketeers fire appropriately.
3. HISTORICAL MISTAKES
- Many units as such haven't existed at all or are poorly researched. An example for the first are the Sherwood Archers, an example for the latter are the Forlorn Hope troops. The first belong to legend, the latter are a mixture of the "Verlorener Haufen" as opposed to the main battle, the so-called "Gewalthaufen", and the "Doppelsöldner". The unit as described in the game did never exist.
- The distribution of pike units among the European powers is plain wrong. Again there's more fantasy than history to be found here. Admittedly, it's better than in the original Rome game, but it's still a bad joke.
4. GREAT, WELL RESEARCHED MODS HAVE BEEN BROKEN BY CA
- There were great mods such as Stainless Steel. Why then do I list this under cons? Because CA decided to get rid of them with the last update. As they say it was to support multiplayer battles (the same reason why they got rid of the funny battle speeches), but many players see it as an attempt to make gamers buy new CA games instead of playing the older ones with mods that are way better than the upcoming CA games. In fact Stainless Steel was seen as the way Medieval 2 was supposed to be, but now it doesn't work anymore.
- You probably can get the old mods running under STEAM, but be prepared to read a lot in the forums. It won't be that easy, especially when you've never modded before. Be prepared to CTD and worse and always have fun with modding.
5. ABYSMAL COMPANY POLICY
- My old retail version doesn't work anymore under Windows 8. CA hasn't published a patch for that. Why should they support the ones who've already bought their product? They've already ripped them off, so they can forget about them. Always address possible customers, always make people buy your products! Guess why CA hasn't come up with a patch adding the Dismounted Gothic Knights even 9 years after game release. Why should they? Critics, who probably never played the game, came up with great praise of it, so many gamers bought it. CA already has our money, so why should they listen to our complaints?
- If it's true what many gamers think, CA has broken great mods on purpose to make the gamers buying their new products such as the broken Rome 2 or the comparatively poor Empire.
- Quite a few gamers have started to advocate pirating CA games instead of buying them due to the way CA treats its customers and the gaming community. Given the poor company policy I start to think the same way.
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RECOMMEND IT OR NOT?
This game used to be great. Admittedly, it always suffered from bad scripts. But this is CA: they've never came up with an intelligent AI or good scripts. Besides, they're totally useless when it comes to historic accuracy. But the game was fun. I give 8/10 points to the old retail version.
Given that CA hasn't come up with proper patches over the last nine years and that they presumably ruined great parts of this game in an attempt to make consumers buy newer, more expensive products instead of playing this gem (probably the best title in the Total War franchise), it's pretty hard for me to come up with a final assessment. I love this game, but I hate what CA has done to it. In addition, I got so far into modding that I'm able to adapt my version to my own tastes and get rid of the more annoying mistakes CA has committed, but not everyone can or is willing to do that. Therefore, I give the STEAM version of the game in its current maimed state 5/10 points.
SHAME ON YOU, CA! STOP RUINING GAMES CUSTOMERS HAVE ALREADY PURCHASED. RESTORE THE RUINED GAME CONTENT (BATTLE SPEECHES). COME UP WITH A USEFUL PATCH! RESTORE THE OPTION TO USE MODS! IF THE RUMOURS ARE TRUE, YOU'RE RIPPING OFF YOUR LONG-TIME CUSTOMERS. FINALLY, YOU'LL LOSE THEM. I OWN EVERY TITLE OF THE TW FRANCHISE, BUT I WON'T BUY ANOTHER ONE IF YOU CONTINUE YOUR ABYSMAL COMPANY POLICY. SHAME ON YOU, CA!