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I don't know how successfully it comes across on the TV show, but the Game of Thrones book series makes the storied history of Westeros as important and intriguing as the current, rather messy state of affairs. Westeros: Age of Petty Kings, a mod for Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms, is set during the Andal Invasion of Westeros, thousands of years before the events of the series, which means now you can take part in the shaping of the turbulent continent and forge your own version of the history of Westeros.
The true, full name of the mod, it appears, is Westeros: Total War: Ages of Petty Kings for Medieval II: Total War: Kingdoms, but I get fined by PC Gamer if I use more than three colons in a single headline. I'll begin by quoting the modder directly, since he does a fine job of explaining the sitch:
Long before the rise of Valyria, Westeros was divided into countless Petty Kingdoms. In the south, the Reach is consumed by fire as countless Andal Kingdoms are drawn into an ever growing civil war. In Dorne, the deserts run red with blood and in the north four kingdoms struggle for supremacy, even as they face invaders from all sides. As chaos descends upon the lands of Westeros it remains to be seen which Kingdoms shall forge dynasties to last a thousand years, and which will fade into history.
You'd think one Stark, once, would move somewhere warmer.
I don't blame you if you're more interested in the current batch of characters from Game of Thrones than in the generations that came before them. The thing is, even though the mod is set thousands of years prior to the events we've been watching and reading about, there are still plenty of familiar names around. Some families have been in Westeros for a very, very long time, so yes, you'll still find the Lannisters at Casterly Rock, the Starks are chillin' (literally) in the North, the Arryns are in The Vale, and the Martells are over in Sunspear. What bright futures they all must have!
It's your chance to be the Lannister who never pays his debts.
There are a whopping 29 different factions to choose from in the mod, including House Reyne, The Stormkings (who have a stag on their banner, which was later co-opted by the Baratheons), plus House Bolton and House Umber in the North, and then a bunch more I've never heard of because I sort of skimmed through certain parts of the book, okay? No need to Google while you're selecting a faction, either: the modders have provided a hefty chunk of lore and history in their descriptions.
Lore-friendly and packed with info, it's like Wiki of Ice and Fire, the game.
The map of Westeros we've come to love is faithfully rendered, and though King's Landing may not exist yet, plenty of still-standing cities predate it. The source material seems to have been well researched and respected: even cities and castles that are mentioned only in passing in the books appear in the mod in their proper spots. There are quotes from historical characters on the loading screens, and you'll even get to listen to the familiar Game of Thrones theme song that I hope is legally okay to use in this mod but I'm not sure that it is. Point being, the mod is really drenched in the feeling and flavor of A Song of Ice and Fire, and I think fans of the books and show will feel quite at home here.
Not sure who these guys are or why we're fighting. But that's true when I read the books sometimes.
If you're not super interested in the politics and city building, you can of course whip up some custom battles on some familiar battlegrounds, like the Wolfswood, Golden Tooth, the Vale of Arryn, the Iron Islands, The Reach, and lots more. I pitted a bunch of Starks against a mass of Boltons for the Dreadfort, for no particular reason and definitely not to exact some sort of revenge. I also had Cracklaw Point battle the Lannisters in the wintery North. Why? I dunno. Why the hell not?
Lions versus Crabs. I know who I'm betting on.
The mod is still in development, and has a lot of plans for the future, including doubling the number of castles on the campaign map and bolstering them with both lore-friendly houses and some created just for the mod. There are also plans to add more units, including unique ones, as they're not particularly varied at the moment. Mercenaries will be added (sellswords, if you want to get all Game of Thrones-y about it), and there's an effort underway to add even more factions like the Night's Watch and the Wildlings.
Installation: Download the mod here. Again, I'll let the modder explain how to get it set up, because he does it well and it worked for me.
1) Make a copy the "Launcher.exe" from your M2TW folder and rename it "kingdoms" (if you already have a "kingdoms" you should be fine).
2) Put the Petty_Kings folder into your mods directory and DO NOT CHANGE THE FOLDER'S NAME.
Assuming you have the "kingdoms.exe" and the correctly named "Petty_Kings" then you can simply double-click on AOPK.bat in the Petty_Kings folder and it will launch the mod.
Sega used to spend their time faffing about with console boxes and a blue hedgehog. Now they spend their time more productively: publishing cool PC games (and occasionally trying to resurrect the blue hedgehog). Sometimes these many projects collide into a single, gloriously incomprehensible mess of different games and styles. It happened with the bizarrely compelling Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed - a game in which an anthropomorphic fox could lose a kart race to the football manager from Football Manager. It's also now happened with this week's Humble Weekly Sale.
The pack collects some of the publisher's more celebrated series, along side smaller projects and a collection of classic console games.
At the lowest pay-what-you-want tier, you'll get Alpha Protocol, Company of Heroes, Rome: Total War and Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit. Pay more than $5.99 and you'll also receive The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, Binary Domain, Renegade Ops, Medieval 2: Total War, and a collection of 10 old "Genesis" games. The Genesis, in case you're unaware, is what incorrect people call the Mega Drive.
The deal also includes Total War: Shogun 2, available for purchases over $14.99. In addition to supporting Sega, the money will also go towards the following charities: Make-A-Wish, Whale & Dolphin Conservation, Willow, Special Effect and GamesAid. As always, the bundle's sliders will let you choose exactly where your money will go.
It's probably one of the best Weekly Sales that Humble have run in some time. Company of Heroes, Rome: Total War, and Medieval 2: Total War are often considered among the best entries of their respective series. In addition, Alpha Protocol and Renegade Ops are definitely worth checking out for the sort of price you can grab them for here. Also, there are a few Mega Drive games - including the Golden Axes. Weirdly, there's no Sonic anywhere in sight, although at this point, maybe it's for the best.
The Sega Humble Weekly Sale will run until March 20th.
In 61 BC, Julius Caesar levied Legio X Equestris, a legion of several thousand fighting men who fought with distinction in his campaign against Gaul. They were disbanded in 45 BC, shortly before Caesar's assassination. In the ensuing civil war, the 10th Legion was raised again and fought for Lepidus, Marc Antony, and finally Emperor Augustus.
Over that 20-year period, thousands of men died or retired as veterans with lands they had helped conquer in Gaul. Equestris' individual legionaries are not remembered by history. But as a unit, Legio X Equestris were instrumental in Caesar's conquest of Gaul. Creative Assembly wants to give every army in Rome II: Total War a similar legacy, to make them more than masses of faceless troops.
And here history and gameplay merge in a really exciting way: as an army accrues victories, it will also accrue traditions, transforming a generally skilled army into a highly specialized one.
Every upgrade system in Rome II—from the revamped military and civic tech trees down to the abilities of generals, agents and armies—encourages specialization. On the macro level, military and civic developments are now divided into three subcategories (management, tactics and siege for military, economy, philosophy, and construction for civic) you can hop between at will. Teching for naval superiority or a strong farming economy, for example, is much more direct than it was in Shogun II: Total War.
But army traditions are what have me most excited for Rome II, and not just because the historical basis behind them is really cool. Traditions have the potential to completely change how battles play out by the end of a 20 (or 30, or 40, or...) hour-long Rome II campaign, because traditions outlive the poor legionaries who die earning them.
As you might expect from Creative Assembly, Studio Communications Manager Al Bickham explained the army tradition system with a historical comparison. "Think about the 101st Airborne," Bickham said at a recent preview event for Rome II. Remember Band of Brothers? He's talking about those guys: "They're all about their small unit tactics and being in enemy territory and working, effectively, guerrilla warfare. That's what they do. They do that really well. They've done that for the last 100 years, right? That's what is all about."
In Rome II, traditions extend the upgrade system used for commanding officers to whole armies. But that system has been reworked, too. Instead of progressing a general through a tech tree as he levels up, you now assign one skill at every level (with a cap at level 10). Previously acquired skills can also be leveled up in place of acquiring new ones. If you mainly use your generals to rally and inspire troops, focusing on those abilities will make them horse-mounted masters of morale.
In Shogun II, you could specialize generals by choosing a path through the tech tree, but you'd probably be wasting a few points along the way. Rome II simplifies choosing the abilities and buffs commanders bring to the battlefield. The same system also applies to Rome II's agents.
And where armies previously just grew stronger and gained morale with experience, they'll now gain their own set of specializations in the form of traditions for siegecraft, cavalry, and infantry types. Bickham detailed an example:
"I've spent six of my possible 10 points as an army's been leveling up in siegecraft and heavy infantry. Those guys are going to be city smashers, you know? They're going to be really good shots and very damaging with their onagers and ballistas and scorpions and stuff. I'll have those on my front line doing my city bashing for me."
Rome II tracks the history of each army, listing wins and losses and years in service. Armies can be renamed, and whatever symbol you set as their standard will appear on the legionary character models. And if that army is slaughtered to the last man, the traditions they bled for aren't lost.
"Say you have the 13th Legion," Bickham said, referencing a legion he took into battle at the Rezzed game conference last month. "The 13th Legion cops it. They all die. You can go back to one of your cities, you can recruit a new general, you can give him the banner of the 13th Legion, and you can recruit a new army along with that new general under the banner of the 13th Legion. Get all those traditions back. The whole idea is it's a symbol of the traditions of a fighting unit...The standard, what that army represents, is always there."
By endgame, using the right army in the right battle will be key, as even green troops can strut onto the field with 10 traditions backing them up. Bickham's city smashers, for example, could be torn apart by a heavily trained legion of cavalry. But losing an army of seasoned troops shouldn't spell disaster, either.
"It's no longer about--putting it in the context of previous games, armies were stacks of troops, and you just kind of mashed troops together, and you'd add more, and you'd build the stack," Bickham said. "I think by the end of the game you'll have some incredibly experienced guys you'll be really attached to because you've crafted them over time. They're like macro RPG characters made of thousands of men."
Rome wasn't built in a day, as slow people are fond of saying - no it took, like, at least a week. Creative Assembly seem to be taking even longer with Total War: Rome 2, their latest enormo-strategy title which is set - if my history is correct - in the late 1970s. To make the wait more bearable, the devs have started their own Let's Play series, this latest entry showing off the game's campaign mode. It's a pleasantly in-depth video, detailing the different starting choices and factions, before- cor, look at that gorgeous world map.
There's not much in the way of fighting there, but thankfully CreatAss (I promise never to use that contraction again) have recorded a more battle-focused Let's Play entry too. You'll find it below.
If you want to know our take (you do), have a read of our recent hands-on preview. Total War: Rome 2 is out September 3rd.
Jul 22, 2013
It's time for a confession: when it comes to Zelda, I'm dangerously ignorant. I could try to hide this fact from you - casually mentioning how the green dude is called Link, and thinking that would be enough to conceal my shame - but then I'd probably mess it all up by calling the Triforce, "that thing from Sword & Sworcery EP". Despite this historical deficiency, there are some things I do know: 1) Total War games, and 2) that Total War games would be much improved by the addition of magic, a weird tentacle eye-bug, and a giant Cyclopean scorpion. All of these things can be found in Medieval 2 mod, Hyrule: Total War.
This trailer marks the 3.0 release of the mod, which is available for download at ModDB. It offers 19 factions, a campaign mode, custom settlements, and four missions of a new "Hyrule Historia Campaign". While it's a nice amount of fantasy Total War to enjoy, the mod is still in development - and the final, feature complete version remains "TBD".
You can find more on Hyrule: Total War's status over at the mod's development forum.
Because fighting AI just isn't the same as taking a sword to the face of a good friend, you know? Empire: Total War has opened its multiplayer campaign beta to testers again after a long three years—here's your chance to get back in on the action.
The multiplayer campaign was first added almost a year after release, way back in December 2009, though the doors have been barred for quite some time. A new page recently sprung up on the Empire: Total War website, though, once again welcoming beta registrants.
"Shortly after Empire: Total War was released, we added in an unsupported multiplayer campaign beta," says the sign-up page. "Not everyone was able to get hold of a key for this and the application process was eventually discontinued. In response to fan requests we are, for a limited time, offering the opportunity to apply for a key once more."
So head on over and drop your email address in the box. You'll be told that the team will "be in touch," but there's no word of when. If you receive your invite, let me know what the hell's going on in there—I want to know all about the three-year party that's been raging within Total War.
We still don't know much about Total War: Arena, the PvP strategy spin-off that will pit teams of up to 10 players against one another, each controlling small units led by historical generals. We don't even have concept art to speculate over yet. But in a recent interview with Edge, Lead Designer James Russel has shared some tidbits about the game's free to play business model, and the reasoning behind it.
It may sound incredibly obvious, but Creative Assembly says it's going with free to play because they feel they need as many players as possible in their multiplayer pool. “The first is the reason why we’re doing this is to make this great multiplayer experience…to have a player population on a different level,” says Russell. Previous games in the series have suffered with long matchmaking times and deserted lobbies—something I docked Shogun 2's otherwise great Avatar mode for. Thus, it stands to reason that something would need to change for a Total War title intended to stand on the strength of its multiplayer.
Creative Assembly also reassures that "pay to win" won't be a concern in Arena. Rather, the plan is to sell accelerators that "let you level-up your character faster so you get to high-level content more quickly." Again, nothing we haven't seen before in the free-to-play space, and nothing all that unexpected. If you haven't already, you can head over to the Total War: Arena site to sign up to be informed of when the closed beta goes live.
Feb 15, 2013
Creative Assembly continue to announce Rome 2's playable factions. Today's reveal heralds the Suebi as the sixth of the game's eight factions, meaning we're only a few weeks away from the full roster. "The Suebi are an indomitable Germanic culture dwelling to the north east of Gaul. Not a single people, but rather numerous tribes sharing a common language and similar religious beliefs," says the wiki page. From the look of the above screenshot, they also make passing wolves rather nervous.
"Heavily reliant on infantry and ambush tactics, raiding is their predominant form of conflict. Lightly equipped, most Suebi warriors make use of the framea, a javelin-like spear, as swords are a rarity. Often unarmoured they carried their rounded, oval or long, hexagonal shields into battle and wore little more than simple cloaks or other garments at times."
From the sounds of things, their Berserker units will prove powerful fighters, and the Night Hunters will camouflage well in forests. "Like other Germanic factions, the Suebi are masters of forest warfare and plunder. Stemming from a confederation of smaller Germanic tribes, they have a diplomatic edge when dealing with other barbarians and excel at fighting lesser tribes who dare to stand in their way." Despite this, their isolationist stance will likely hamper trade with outside factions.
The Suebi join Arverni, Iceni, Macedon, Carthage, and, of course, Rome. But which civilisations will make up the final two factions? Place you bets... Now!
Rome II is out in October.
Feb 6, 2013
Last week, Ironclad Games’ director and co-owner Blair Fraser called the RTS genre “a dying market.” The genre convention of base building is “done,” Fraser says, and while a handful of games like Company of Heroes “may be profitable,” it’s his belief that RTSes are “very niche.”
Hearing these comments from a strategy studio we respect sparked our own discussion: what’s the state of real-time strategy? In this Face Off debate, T.J. and Evan talk about the health of the genre, and debate whether its popularity has waned to never return, or if it’s actually seeing a resurgence.
Jump over to the next page for more opinions from the PC Gamer community, and make your own arguments in the comments. Debate team captains: construct additional arguments.
Evan: Let’s be clear: this isn’t something that I or we are rooting for. We love RTSes. Command & Conquer was one of my formative games. But the decline of real-time strategy as a popular experience is indisputable. RTS has shrank from the smorgasbord of experiences it offered in the ‘90s and early ‘00s—the era of Warcraft, Age of Empires, Ground Control, Homeworld, and Total Annihilation. I don’t think there’s any hope for a comeback.
TJ: Oh ye of little faith. Well, I’m sure you expected I’d play the eSports card. So... bam! There it is, on the table. All of the most popular eSports are either traditional RTSes, or spins on traditional RTSes. Competitive strategy gaming is drawing millions of viewers in hundreds of countries. How can you say a genre that’s driving that kind of revolution is dying? It looks vibrant and energetic from where I’m sitting.
Evan: The eSports “revolution” you’re describing can be attributed to the increased access to fast, high-quality internet video. eSports is in a better state than it was in the age of DSL and dial-up, sure, but StarCraft is the only conventional RTS with any success as an eSport.
TJ: So far. We’re only two and a half years in. That’s like saying sports were dead back when all they had was Throw the Rock Through the Hoop.
Evan: I’m glad to see eSports doing as well as it is. But really, this is about what we play and pay for, not about what we spectate. It’s about how few games are being made in a genre we used to count as a pillar of PC gaming. Most RTS studios are either closing or scrambling to change their core competency. Relic released a shooter in 2011. Petroglyph laid off 19 people in December and saw its game, End of Nations, brought in-house by its publisher. Sins of a Dark Age, which was initially pitched as an RTS-meets-MOBA, just ditched a “Commander Mode” RTS component that seemed promising. And Gas Powered Games, after declaring that it’d stop adding new content to Age of Empires Online, and after laying off most of its employees, is clinging to a Kickstarter campaign that seems doomed.
I don’t want to see any of these studios shuttered. We need independent, creative groups like Gas Powered in the industry. But this is simply not a healthy genre. Real-time strategy doesn’t have enough fans to support it.
TJ: I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I would be really, genuinely surprised if there were actually fewer total people playing RTS than in the days of WarCraft III. Gaming, and even PC gaming specifically, have only gained traction since then. Huge traction. I think the fans are definitely there. If anything is dying, it’s the idea that RTSes should be given the same treatment, as shooters or action games, whose audiences have grown faster.
If anything, not enough devs have caught on to how you make and market an RTS in the modern market. You don’t spend Call of Duty money on an these things. And that’s hardly a stubborn enough problem that it would leave us without “any hope for a comeback.”
Evan: Not enough devs have “caught on” because it’s such a challenge for an RTS to make the money of a modern budget back. Again, look at Age of Empires Online. Its parent games were beloved and immensely popular. It reinvented itself as a free game. Gas Powered abandoned it just eight months after release. Very few people are playing it.
Should base-building be retired as a game mechanic? Will Kickstarter allow more studios to market RTS games directly to the people that want them?
TJ: I pin the failure of AOEO on a weak launch. There just wasn’t enough content—and only two factions? Really? If it had launched as the fleshed-out experience it became, I think it would have had a lot more success. Once the gaming masses have decided your game is lackluster, there’s not a lot you can do to bring them back.
Evan: I don’t know... if a free Age of Empires can’t make it, what chance do lesser-knowns like End of Nations have of surviving? I expect a similar fate for the next Command & Conquer, which will also be free to play. Face it: all the recent experiments with RTS have failed.
TJ: So did all the experimentations with human flight for hundreds of years. And they’ve only failed if your definition is pretty narrow.
Evan: This isn’t science—it’s business, and consumers continue to leave the genre. I think a lot of those people are flocking to a genre that was originally a spin-off of Warcraft III. Dota 2 and League of Legends are more popular and successful than StarCraft because designers realized that most people are intimidated by base building and managing a whole army.
TJ: Most people don’t play PC games (in the core audience sense) in the first place. What I’m saying is that RTS is a niche, but it’s no smaller of a niche, in terms of number of players, than it was in the glory days when it represented a higher percentage, because there just weren’t as many gamers. And if you want to talk about consumers expressing themselves, look no further than the 2.2-million-dollar Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter. That’s about as RTS as RTS gets, and it shows that there’s still plenty of vitality in the space beyond the traditional model of publishers bent on spending more than they can make back on these types of games.
Evan: Planetary Annihilation looks terrific! Like any rational human, I’m looking forward to weaponizing asteroids. But Planetary’s “success” is still just 44,000 people. Compare that to another recent spiritual successor made by another small studio—MechWarrior Online, which made 5 million dollars through its pre-order program. Mech games aren’t exactly mainstream—publishers have been afraid to back them for a decade.
Calling RTS a niche is accurate, I guess. But compared to the “glory days,” as you’ve labeled them, I think the genre as it exists now is a clump of lifeboats that’ve escaped from the capsized Titanic.
TJ: You’re comparing apples to robots here. Pre-orders and Kickstarter aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’m not arguing that RTS is as lucrative a genre as, say, shooters or action games. But there are plenty of people on those lifeboats to start a thriving island society. Which is arguably what PC gaming is: a series of thriving, passionate communities.
Evan: Perhaps that island society of yours can gather enough resources to build a second base, tech up, then construct air units. I hope they won’t have to resort to cannibalism.
For more opinions on PC gaming, follow Evan, T.J., and PC Gamer on Twitter. On the next page: more opinions from the community.
Here’s what folks on Twitter wrote back when we asked the following:
@pcgamer no way its dead. It's the best genre by far and the crowning area of pc dominance.— Hilander (@Canisrah) February 4, 2013
@pcgamer We may never see another Age of Empires, but we have Planetary Annihilation, CoH, DoW, SC, and MOBAs. Gimme Homeworld 3!— Josh B (@Branstetter87) February 4, 2013
@pcgamer not dead, but shrinking. By listening too intently to the hardcore crowd, fun simplicity has become overwhelming complexity.— Ryan Aleson (@TacticalGenius) February 5, 2013
@pcgamer RTS genre is alive more than in past, just look at Planetary Annihilation – one of the most funded games on Kickstarter!— Adam Wayland (@AdamWayland86) February 6, 2013
@pcgamer It is a genre in decline in terms of IPs and also game scale. Dying not necessarily but more like small and established.— Alexander Lai(@Lex_Lai) February 4, 2013
@pcgamer It's dying because of the repetitive formulas that every new game has. It's like the state of MMOs, no MMORPG can compete with WoW.— Jesús Jiménez-Lara (@MrVariaZ) February 4, 2013
@pcgamer RTS is not a dying market. It is, was and always will be a niche market. Some people them but most people hate them— Chris Thieblot (@christhieblot) February 5, 2013
@pcgamer Single player games are dying, RTSes are dying, adventure games are dying... nobody tell Valve, Uber, or Telltale!— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) February 4, 2013
@pcgamer Traditional RTS games translate poorly to consoles, and few devs making PC exclusives outside major franchises.— Eric Watson (@RogueWatson) February 5, 2013
@pcgamer I love my rts games. There the first games I ever played and I don't plan on stopping any time soon.— Scott Ratter (@napatakking) February 5, 2013
Jan 28, 2013
Total War: Shogun 2's add-on release schedule has shown a remarkable dedication to historical accuracy. First there was the Rise of the Samurai, then, inevitably, the Fall of the Samurai. Now comes the Bundle of the Samurai, giving you the chance to get a 2-for-1 deal on Samurai with Total War: Shogun 2 Gold Edition.
Gold Edition contains Shogun 2, both Samurai-centric add-ons, along with almost all of the game's DLC packs. The exception is the Blood Pack, presumably for rating reasons. No pricing details as of yet, but the Gold Edition is due for release March 8th in Europe and Australia, and March 5th in the US.