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At its best, the Total War series casts a spell over you. Your empire rises from nothing, surrounded by enemies who are poised to trample it into the dust. Each decision on the strategic level is a gamble on the immediate future, where “one more turn” isn’t just a stepping-stone to a new upgrade, but a perilous step onto thin ice. Each time you take to the battlefield is another do-or-die moment, a possible Hastings or Austerlitz that can open the road to conquest or plunge you into a desperate fight for survival.
But the Total War series has also been defined by massive, abrupt swings in quality. While the series has been on a linear trajectory in terms of graphics, the quality of the games underlying those vivid battlefield vistas has varied wildly. Total War at its best is interactive Kurosawa and Kubrick. At its worst, it’s a middle-school history textbook as told by Drunk History and filmed by the cast and crew of The Patriot.
So before the series (temporarily) leaves history behind for the grimdark faux-history of Warhammer fantasy, let’s put into order the times that Total War was at its best and why sometimes its lows were so very low. We’ll save the worst for last, because if there’s one thing that every Total War fan loves, it’s an argument over which games were the biggest disappointments.
Until Total War: Warhammer comes along from Creative Assembly, the most ambitious and comprehensive Warhammer fantasy strategy game is a colossal mod for Rome: Total War called Warhammer: Total War – A Call to Arms. Over the course of five years, a high school student and a handful of volunteers tortured and twisted the aging Rome: Total War engine into becoming a full-fledged Warhammer game.
Powered by an obsolete engine even when the final version was released a couple years back, and soon overshadowed by the news the Sega had acquired the rights to make a Warhammer fantasy game on PC, A Call to Arms could be seen as a classically quixotic modding effort. But if you look past the dated graphics, you’ll find that A Call to Arms might just be the most faithful adaptation Warhammer fantasy will ever receive on PC. It is a sprawling, ambitious, and scarcely-coherent effort to bring every ounce of Warhammer fantasy lore to life as a Total War game – and in doing so it captures the spirit of the old Warhammer fantasy universe better than official games might ever dare.
Let me hear you say it
(Cleopatra, comin’ atcha)(Cleopatra, comin’ atcha)(Cleopatra, comin’ atcha)(Cleopatra, comin’ atcha) (more…)
Napoleon: Total War, which was sort of Empire: Total War Strikes Back, is free to download and play on Steam this weekend. If you enjoy yourself you’ll be able to buy it with a 50% discount off the normal pice as well, which is jolly good. The offer lasts until Sunday 17th June 5PM GMT and has started right now, even though it’s not the weekend yet and you most likely still have to go to work tomorrow. You can read what Quinns had to say about the campaign-focused sort-of-sequel over yonder and it’s worth remembering that some modding support was finally added last year. The timing coincides with the anniversary of Waterloo in case you were curious.
A source of what could gently be called discontent amongst the Total War community of late has been the lack of modding tools for the most recent games. Empire, Napoleon and Total War have all been bereft of official utilities to alter and add units, maps et al, which was partly a result of the relevant files being compressed and thus tricky to edit. At last, the Creative Assembly have found a way to open things up a little more – releasing the complete, original, unpacked raw database XML (data from tables) and XSD (table structure and field properties) files for both Empire and Napoleon.
We follow any lead if it’ll take us to a story, including our own comment threads where Creative Assembly’s Craig Laycock writes to say that they’ve launched their new Total War Forum. “I couldn’t/could care less!” depending on what side of the pacific you’re on, you may say. But if you do, says Creative Assembly, you get a personalised War Room where you can see stats from your campaigns, battles, achievements and HOW MANY YOU HAVE KILLED. “Pah!” someone will say, inevitably. All right, says Creative Assembly, if you do, you get a free unit for play in Napoleon. “Is it a Hussar? I love Hussars” says the Hussar fanciers. “It’s the 10th Hussars!” says Creative. “Huzzah! Hussars!” they say, and rush off. “What’s a Hussar?” says John Walker before resuming weeping.
Craig! Mail us next time! In other notes – er – I have a Creative Interview I really should transcribe. Soon! Honest!
So, the next Campaign for Napoleon: Total War will be in Sunny Spain. Top level features? New 32-region campaign map, a playable Spain and new agents (Priests, Guerrilla and the fancy-underwear-devotees of the Agent Provacteurs). You’ll find the full press-release below, which leaves me just time to say “Napoleon? Short fella, yes?” to wind up the historical purists before I press “Post”. My work here is done. (more…)
Creative Assembly seem pretty determined to court back all the guys who got a bit antsy with them about the state Empire was released in. Napoleon scrubbed up well, which seems to have upped the good will quotient, and now as an extra thank-you-please-thank-you, they’ve chucked out a free DLC pack for it. (more…)