The Total War series is perhaps the most successful series of strategy games of the past 15 years. Since the series’ inception with Shogun: Total War in 2000, the Total War series has wowed and inspired masters of strategy to do great things.
We at Up The Monitors are huge fans of the Total War series. In anticipation of the forthcoming Total War: Warhammer and how inevitably dope it will be, we compiled a retrospective of all of the important Total War games and expansions, along with our own personal favourite moments of each game.
The theme of Total War expansions being God-tier is a common one within the Total War Series: pretty much every expansion in the Total War series has been great. From Fall Of The Samurai to Barbarian Invasion, the expansion model has always allowed to build on the (sometimes not so) great foundations laid down by the expansion’s base game.
Attila is no exception to this rule, building on the broken foundations of Rome 2, the game introduced a multitude of new mechanics; building on Rome 2’s largely neglected family tree system, as well as introducing the super-fun mechanic of razing, which essentially lets you burn a settlement to the ground after a siege, as opposed to occupying it.
Attila is probably one of the most unique Total War games, whilst pretty much every Total War game before was primarily focused on building an Empire, Attila focuses upon the fall of an Empire. Taking to the field as Attila, or any one of the different flavour of Goths, the player can literally just pillage in the search for a new homeland, without the need for any of that city management bullshit.
Burning a bunch of territories to the ground as the Saxons so as to stop that dastardly Attila in his tracks.
What a piece of shit. Seriously, people woke up at 6am to play this game and most of them went back to sleep. Rome 2 was quite blatantly left half finished. The hype for the game promised millions sunk into the deepest, most expansive Total War game released to date. What we got was an incomplete, broken and ultimately boring piece of shit.
Despite the game’s many, many failings, Rome 2’s land battles still hold up and some of the more complex battle concepts, i.e. combined arms naval landings, reinforced by ground troops really show how far Rome 2 could have come if it hadn’t been rushed out.
With the Emperor’s Edition update (read: we’re really sorry the game is so bad, here’s an update to make it a bit less bad) the game is actually pretty fun – the only problem being a lack of any challenge from mid game onwards.
Pike walls. For the first time in a Total War game in just about ten years, proper pike formations are a thing in Rome 2. Skewering loads of barbarians is great.
Fall Of The Samurai
Killing people under simulated conditions is generally considered to be a fun and worthwhile hobby in western society, more so with howitzers. Fall of the Samurai is quite literally the explosive expansion (although it’s not really an expansion – living in the future is weird and confusing) to 2011’s strategy game of the year Shogun 2. Focusing on the Boshin War in which Japan’s military was effectively modernised overnight, technological progression is at the heart of victory in Fall Of The Samurai – as is blowing up loads of stuff.
Whilst the game features a similar rock/paper/scissors format to its bigger brother Shogun 2, its brilliance lies in its cold brutality. Bringing devastation to armies, simply through having metric fucktons more guns than them is a common and incredibly satisfying feat in Fall of the Samurai. The campaign map is also one of the hardest to beat in the entire total war series, as the overarching allegiances which dictate who you’re friends with become frayed, allowing for glory to be won in the face of reckless treachery.
Precluding a huge battle involving three armies on each side, one of my generals defected with all of his best troops. I still had a lot of naval bombardment and 18 pounder howitzers on my side. Needless to say he died like a dog (not that you should kill dogs irl, dogs r great).
Shogun 2 was (and arguably still is) the zenith of the Total War series. The oft-romanticised Sengoku Jidai plays host to vastly improved AI, wonderfully detailed units and gameplay so addictive that eyeing up other factions for a future campaign is unavoidable. The spirit of Feudal Japan is embraced thoroughly, right down to the design of the UI and the fog of war – not a selling point, but it makes Shogun all the more immersive.
The unit types have been scaled back from previous games in the TW series, but provide a solid base for nuanced improvements. It’s typically the same rock-paper-scissors battle: spears>cavalry/cavalry>swords/swords>spears, while bows can pepper anyone providing they don’t get charged. There are many multi-purpose units on top of this, making for a truly unique battle experience.
Defending a key strategic stronghold from a literal horde of enemies with mostly Ashigaru and a couple of elite units. The experienced Katana Samurai inspiring the lowly Ashigaru to great deeds against overwhelming odds felt like something out of a Kurosawa movie.
Napoleon was great, he’s pretty much the best general of all time and the only Total War game in his name is also up there as one of the best. It followed up on Empire’s disastrous take on line infantry warfare with a streamlined approach to the campaign map.
Whilst Napoleon only allows you to play as the five main factions of the Napoleonic Wars (Prussia, Russia, Austria, England and of course France), the game really benefits from the streamlining, simplifying the campaign map by restricting it to Europe, simultaneously making it hard as balls, especially as France.
Whilst the campaign is probably one of the best in the entire series, the battles hold up as some of the best too. Creative Assembly learned a lot from the failures of Empire, creating a tightly balanced system of combat which still allows for factional flavour, resulting in some of the most tactically demanding but satisfying battles in the Total War series.
Playing as France, utilised clever positioning, devastating cannon and a lot of elan to beat the shit out of an Italian force three times the size of mine.
A complete departure from the traditional Total War format, Empire injected a necessary renaissance of ideas into the series. Eschewing the usual ‘build till you drop’ approach to city construction, Empire and subsequent games moved into a provincial system.
The naval aspect of the game received a complete overhaul as well, due to the nature of the time period. Galleons bearing spices or gold from India or South America were the lifeblood of the European sovereignty. As such, Empire reworks naval trade, allowing one to cut supply lines to opposing countries.
Watching a battle unfold in Empire is like your own miniature Trafalgar or Waterloo (I would say Sharpe, but M&B: Napoleonic Wars holds that honour). Redcoats in square formation, the battlefield wreathed in smoke, ships exploding to smithereens before your eyes; Empire’s battles were visceral.
Eight phosphorus rounds out of a battery of Cannons.
Medieval II: Kingdoms
Some of Ireland’s greatest exports are Guinness, peat, geometric stones, Fir Bolgs, and, if one puts stock in Kingdom’s historical accuracy, gunpowder. Shitloads of gunpowder.
Kingdoms brings a new style of play to the Total War Franchise, foregoing the broad scope of its immediate predecessor, choosing instead to unleash upon the player four distinct periods of history: The European Invasion of South America, the 3rd and 4th Crusades, The Northern Crusades and 13th Century Britain.
In focusing on these periods the developers didn’t just present us with detailed geographical regions, but completely unique, asymmetrical factions. In Medieval 2 factions felt somewhat generic aside from key units (English Longbowmen, French Knights, etc.) leaving the endgame feeling like a massive game of Age of Empires. Kingdoms gives us completely unique units for each faction, and therefore unique play styles from turn one.
For example, some might say my recent founding of The Emerald Empire (straddling Eire, Wales, and the Scottish Lowlands) was dumb luck; however those English sheep know it was all down to sheer firepower, late game volley cannon and mortars wreaking havoc on the civilian populace, garrisons worn down from attrition, forced to decide between their lord and their own sorry misbegotten hides.
Smashing the shit out of the English with Irish volley cannons.
Medieval II took the Total War series into dark and bloody territory. Set in an age where religious warfare distanced faith from goodness, heresy, witchcraft, crusades and jihads all culminate in a violent struggle to become the dominant force across Europe, the Middle East and the very tip of North Africa.
What a great load of gruesome fun it is, though! As with Rome, there is an element of satisfying a higher power; in Rome it was the Senate, here it is none other than the Pope. In your quest for dominance, completing requests from the Pope increases your standing with him and solidifies your relationship with other Catholic countries (unless of course, you’re playing a non-Catholic country). The problem lies in expansion; there may well be lands you desire occupied by fellow Catholic countries, and attacking them will earn you the disdain of the Pope, possibly leading to excommunication.
However, the real fun lies in the Crusades and Jihads; travelling all the way across the map in the name of God, capturing cities along the way and slaughtering all those who dare defy you.
Bulldozing across the campaign map as Spain, with an army of mighty Conquistadores, culminating in the sacking of Jerusalem. Yeah they’re OP, but it’s fun and the Pope loves me for it.
Rome: Barbarian Invasion
Rome is great and all, but who doesn’t want to watch a big organization full of murderous assholes get rekt? In Barbarian Invasion you get the opportunity to play as the ancestors of all those barbarians you conquered with your legions in Rome, as the game takes the player to the start of the Dark Ages. Contained within Barbarian Invasion is perhaps the most fun contained within any Total War game; an extensive pool of ridiculous units and a healthy dose of the being an expansion in the Total War series.
There’s never a dull faction to play as in Barbarian Invasion either, whether playing as the storming hordes of the Huns or the Ostrogoths, the cavalry-oriented Sassanids, the stubborn defensive strength of the Saxons or the fight to bitter end as the Western Roman Empire. Barbarian Invasion is the more tightly balanced, much more enjoyable and slightly more fun younger brother of Rome.
Best Moment: Graal Knights, that is all.
If you are a fan of the Total War series, this is probably the game that got you into it. Unlike its predecessors, it actually still holds up today. That’s not to say Shogun and Medieval are bad, but Rome has the complexity and detail that we’d expect of modern games.
The main campaign saw players take control of one out of three available Roman families with the aim of taking Rome and becoming Emperor, all while fending off those pesky, uncivilised clans.
The rigidity of Roman warfare is tangible in battle with many proficient units available, and the campaign map really captures the essence of Roman civilisation – essentially, there’s a whole lot of discontent among the plebs, and you placate them with Olympic(?) games and chariot races, and hope they don’t revolt. All this while trying to outwit other Roman factions and appease the Senate makes for an incredibly immersive game that set the levels for all future Total War instalments.
Playing the historical Battle of the Teutoburg Forest as the Roman Empire and actually winning. Nothing makes you feel like the world’s best commander more than defending an ambush and changing history.