When May the 3rd came, with it arrived the release of the first instalment of a new Total War series in a long lineage of the franchises’ successes, well loved by me. I was proper looking forward to playing it, especially since it was focusing on a period of tumultuous history that I find so interesting. Set in 878 AD after the Viking invasions and surrounding the struggles amongst the many kingdoms of Britannia. The land where I live, albeit now a United Kingdom (not to forget Ireland too of course).
Alas some bad planning on my part had meant that I’d be in Scotland to see my folks for a well needed break, drat. Well after my trip, I’ve finally got to put some thoroughly anticipated hours in and experienced enough turn based fun to give you my first impressions. So I’ll get right on with that considering I’ve taken a while!
I guess life will always … uhhh … find a way to get in between us and gaming for reasons both good and bad.
Developers Creative Assembly take great pride in delivering authentic story driven games, so let me join them in that tradition of theirs in my look at the fruits of their labour. Let me set the scene for you with my first experience of the game;
After arriving late back from Scotland on the 6th of May I decided to get it installed, however fate would have it that my PC would give up the ghost that very night which required no end of tinkering for my non-technical Neanderthal mind to fix it. So I returned from the homeland of my Gaelic ancestors to a battle of wit and grit (mostly dust) with my PC. I finally sat victorious on my throne with it before me, king once more and ready to enter the fray.
I was immediately at least 5 times more excited as I watched the cinematic opening scene, which does great at painting the picture of the historical landscape your saga will take place in. Stunningly beautiful and doing wonders in condensing history into an introduction that legitimately got me even more fired up to play it, which I didn’t think possible. Well they managed it, ringing true to Creative Assembly’s custom and making the game you’re about to play feel like a labour of love from the get go, combining historical facts and drama to great storytelling effect. I felt I knew it was going to be another success from that moment in my eyes.
I had a brief overlook of some of the faction choices and quickly chose who I knew in my heart of hearts I’d be choosing and had been most looking forward to playing. It was only fitting it should be the Gaels considering the lead up to this. Besides I am always eager to play the underdogs of history and half of my lineage. So I chose the ancestors of the Scots with the kingdom of Circenn.
After loading in, which I must say feels faster and smoother for me than other recent games in the franchise, which was nice and consistent throughout. I was met with another cinematic setting of scenes specific to my faction choice which again was stunning and helped immerse me further. Immediately this game hit me like a cavalry charge to the rear with just how beautiful it looked. From the cut scenes to the map and units all the way down to details in the unit cards and UI in general. Very pleasing on the eye both graphically and stylistically.
What I’ve felt playing so far is that the game mechanics are meant to make the game a slower pace, putting a higher focus on well considered strategic management and foresight. As compared with, say, the faster paced flightiness of the Warhammer series in the game. However despite this clear intent it doesn’t particularity nail it. My playstyle is always rapid expansion until I collapse from internal strife (I’m a sadomasochist I know) yet despite me clearly not playing this particular take on the game as intended I have found it to be very forgiving. I always scrape through by the skin of my teeth, even though I have essentially been playing it badly. I am playing it on normal, however a criticism from the wider Total War community so far is that it’s too easy and I would tend to agree from my experience. However I feel this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it does make it more accessible to those who may not be as good as other players or fanatics of the series but it has been announced it will be evened out with a few tweaks of balancing to enhance the difficulty with an update that is currently in Beta. So we can see how the victory conditions and overabundance of resources will be changed to address the feedback given on these issues, has to be said it’s a nice rapid response time we’ve seen, with the update coming to Beta just under a fortnight since its release.
In my game I took alliances with my kinsman surrounding me (at least those that would have me) and doing so, was quickly dragged into a war against the Orkneyjar Vikings to the North and so decided to declare friendship with the Vikings of Northmbyre to the South. My plan to over-expand had worked and I had immediately made things harder for myself. Until eventually I was surrounded by enemies as the Vikings and I swallowed up my former Gaelic allies. I felt if I hadn’t manufactured my own difficulty I would have been finding the game a bit too easy as I wasn’t really struggling except through my own engineered stupidity and even then coping (I guess that’s how I’ve survived life so long in general to be honest.)
Anyways enough of my story with the game so far let me look at the meat of the matter, so I can better explain my impressions of the game to you and tell you more of what I think.
History And Art Style
Both historically and stylistically in my eyes this game really gets it right on both counts simultaneously. The art style overall is very suited to the period and I think I’m right in thinking that inspiration has been taken from the art of the period. Such as the unit cards amongst other images, highly reflecting the Pictish stone engravings we have found in archaeological digs.
It is both beautiful and for the most part historically stylised for the era, a really lovely aspect of the game.
I have to say Total War is one of the only games in which I do not turn the music off, usually I get distracted by it and it annoys me. However the music of this game is of such high quality and thematically fitting that it only serves to immerse me further, absolutely spot on and something I’ve come to expect from Creative Assembly who have won awards in the past for their games music.
There is your usual quotes and poetic verses from the era in loading pages. The factions are historically accurate and it all feels very on the mark historically speaking. You’ve got your nice cultural bonuses and faction relevant details as well as units, giving each a unique play style, although there is less variety owing to the focus in game. But still plenty to give you the urge for more playthroughs.
Map And Settlement Design
In my earlier article taking a look at the game pre-release, I mentioned that this one was billed to be the most detailed Total War map of Britain yet, 23 times bigger than the entire Attila campaign map, despite being focussed on one of the smallest regions dealt with in any Total War game.
It feels really vast, so well detailed and geographically pleasing with regards to terrain and it’s great to finally see Britain at a larger scale, personally speaking. I feel that there is a Total War for everyone and despite them all being for me, this one in particular is doubly so because of this.
The settlements are well designed and are varied and detailed, making a nice setup for both naval and land siege battles.
Overall as previously mentioned, this is a slower paced game with a larger need for strategic foresight than is necessary in other recent titles. With a return to a more in depth take on faction management as we have seen in past Total War games such as the medieval series. Let me tell you why this is the case, what has changed and how it plays.
– Main Settlements And Smaller Holdings;
The fact that main settlements are now the only ones that have a garrison that isn’t a standing army, means that the smaller surrounding holdings in the province can easily change hand. This is something that lends towards the goal of making the game more strategic. I like this change as it means you have to be prepared and look more into the potential future, watching your enemy’s movements closely and preparing to counter with your armies. It also makes it easier to manage your economy, military tech and other such categories of settlement building keeping them separate and focused. As well as being a nice more historically accurate take on the game.
The recruitment area of the game is much more realistic in a sense. You now only recruit a certain number of a unit’s strength instantaneously and over turns more troops are trained to join the unit and make it up to full strength. This means you can’t just buy a full army over a turn or so to defend any settlements that are to be imminently besieged. Recruitment of unit types are limited and only become available again when they are replenished, giving you limited access to higher tech units. Which gives recruitment a nice balance, again adding to the strategy side of things, which I feel makes it a nice addition.
-Loyalty, Legitimacy And Food Surplus;
These three aspects are important and if you don’t get the balance right things can go wrong fast. The most important in my experience is food surplus, if you cannot feed your armies and populace things really go south fast. Legitimacy of your rule and the loyalty of your generals and governors, whilst seemingly supposed to be important, was never an issue with me. Bar one civil war which I quickly quashed. Lesser legitimacy and war fervour comes with penalties as well as bonuses at higher levels but loyalty felt a little moot. You can easily buy off your underlings with giving them estates as well as adding loyalty points through character progression selecting the right option. The family tree and character progression to me felt a little 2D but perhaps this is something that will change with the rebalancing of the game that is due?
There are only two options for stances which are raiding and encamping, you can gain further movement ability through technological advances as well as character progression. Which seems to simplify it all, streamlining it nicely and taking away the perils that come with forced marching.
The battles in this game play so smoothly and the UI is very streamlined. For example having smaller banners that reveal greater detail when needed, making the action much easier to follow and allowing you to more easily micro manage the combat.
In sieges there is the option to place barricades to create fall back points as well as choke points, I like this. However it could be more varied as to where you can place them. You don’t get the choice and there are limited options as seen below.
Instead of capturing towers as an attacker, the towers fall and are completely destroyed. I feel that they should remain as they have in other Total War games and work in advantage of the attacker to make things a little easier on them. This, in my opinion tips the balance in favour of defenders even more so than is necessary.
I have yet to experience naval battles however had the misfortune to be attacked by a superior force of Vikings by sea. Something that was quite the sight to behold. And a reason why I look forward to playing them in the future!
The only criticism I can find of this aspect is that the AI has a bit of a one track mind, at least on normal difficulty, only really attacking head on and in so doing, are easily beaten with the right balance in numbers and unit type. As well as your prowess as a general of course. Though for the most part I feel this game has given me some of the best battle gameplay I’ve had, the smoothness combined with how slick it is when it comes to managing large armies on the field is great stuff.
To surmise, this game is another great Total War game which really sums it up. If you’re a fan I feel you’ll love it, if you’re not it’s not going to pique your interest unless you’re really into the historical focal point. I wasn’t blown away beyond the art style and the chance to play a game focusing on my homeland. Which just goes to show the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Creative Assembly, it has become par for the course in their long line of successes.
I only have four criticisms of it that really come to mind. The first being that the difficulty is way too easy at present, the balancing needs to happen to make it more challenging. This may be good for those who aren’t as adept at strategy games and would be a good entry level to the series in its current state. However seasoned veterans obviously find this a bit off putting.
The second is that some of the new and reintroduced features seem a tad fickle, for example the loyalty and family tree appear to hardly have much of an impact and is easily manageable even when playing like a lacklustre fool such as I.
Thirdly, I felt the story element of the game was slightly lacking, perhaps for example in game historical battles could have been added as missions to relive the periods actual happenings if you so choose to follow that path. Although overall it does a good job of capturing the cultures and era historically and the story telling is sufficient, it doesn’t hurt to ask for more.
The final is not an outright criticism as much as it is a selling point, obviously with the scope of the game being focused on a smaller historical and geographical period the depth of this game isn’t as wide and varying as say the Warhammer series of Total War. But if you’re looking to get stuck into the world of Britannia in this period of time, it’s a solid offering that you’ll have great fun playing.
A nice more strategically minded game that does require greater forward thinking tactical foresight in your play style, despite the easiness of victory and handling of adverse situations, something that I hope the tweaks to the balancing fixes. It’s beautifully made both visually and with regards to its smoothness of game mechanics and ease of use of the very functionally streamlined UI, I would definitely recommend this game. Especially to fans of the franchise, naturally.
It will be interesting to see what updates are in the pipeline. And of course I am eagerly anticipating the Three Kingdoms instalment and will be writing on how its development is doing and what we can expect from it in the coming weeks.
Finally, I give this game over 100 wolf hounds chasing 3 Vikings…