The Total War games from developer Creative Assembly and publisher Sega have earned their reputation as being some of the best strategy gaming experiences any strategy enthusiast will ever have. They’re given command of the mighty civilizations of old and lead them to build an empire that will outshine lesser nations. Total War: Rome 2, the sequel to the phenomenal Rome Total War, brought players into the ancient world to experience political turmoil, brutality, and conquest. You would lead Hellenic, Barbarian, Eastern and Latin civilizations, competing through politics and on the battlefield to build a glorious empire that would stand the test of time.
In this case however, things are rather different.
In Total War: Attila, everything that you have is crumbling around you. Enemies from all over the world are marching to your gates and you must be ruthless, aggressive, and take every opportunity there is to fight back against the coming storm to show the world how you lead your people out of anarchy and mayhem, establishing yourself as the true ruler of the entire world. Make haste and be ready. For he is coming. The scourge of God: Attila.
And he shall watch your world burn.
The game is set 400 years after the Roman Empire was established. It’s the dawn of the Dark Age and Rome is not half the superpower it once was. Numerous barbarian kingdoms, the Sassanid Empire and worse of all, Attila the Hun and his barbarian horde, are coming to displace and destroy everything the Romans worked towards.
Attila follows the formula of previous Total War games, most noticeably Rome 2. The campaign map is played on a turn-based basis. This is where you’ll manage territory under your faction’s control. Your faction, be it Roman, Persian, or Barbarian, usually begins with large swaths of territory under its control, thus putting less focus on building up armies and more on immediate attention on managing your domain which adds a sense of desperation as enemies draw closer and closer to your borders.
You’ll be constructing religions, agricultural, economic, industrial, and other types of buildings to keep the populace of each town and city wealthy, well fed, and contributing for the good of the nation. You’ll also be conducting research to accommodate your growing population, strength of your military, improvement of your economy, and finding new and innovative ways to keep your people fed. Keeping your people fed is especially important when the harsh winter hits as it renders parts of the campaign map almost uninhabitable, thus emphasizing the need to control fertile land as soon as possible.
You’ll also have to tackle your own political leaders through marriage, slandering their name, or even assassinating them. Diplomacy also plays a major part in the campaign as you maintain alliances through trade, tribute, and military actions as best as you can. All of these mechanics, while similar to Rome 2, present the campaign in a very different light from that game. You’re managing cities and building armies not for conquest and glory, but for your nation’s very survival.
Attila adds a feature to the campaign map which is the Hordes mechanic, used only by the many barbarian factions in the game. With Hordes, you’re able to move your faction around the campaign map without any towns or cities to manage. The advantage of this is that you are not burdened with city management so you can focus purely on invading your rivals. A Horde can also build encampments that act as minor towns where you can recruit troops and research new technologies.
Using Hordes has many great advantages, however there are many negative consequences as well. Your faction can’t stay as a horde forever. Your people are starving, your army has limited resources, and your faction must settle and call a place home as soon as possible. Therefore, Hordes must choose battles more carefully and strike when the time is right. Usually when enemies holding territory are outnumbered and their armies are stretched too thin to claim a new home as a prize for a victorious battle.
War is inevitable in any Total War game, hence the name. Total War games have always presented their battles on a scale worthy of any Hollywood epic. It is truly a sight to behold as thousands of men clash into each other in a brutal and horrifying display of violence and mayhem and in Attila, you’ll once again get a front row seat to witness your mighty armies do battle with the enemy.
Combat, unlike the campaign map, is played out in real time which shortens the time you have to resolve the situation, thus quick thinking and cunning tactics will decide who emerges victorious. Dozens of unit types from infantry, spear men, archers and many more are at your beck and call to bring death and destruction to the enemy. Before battles, you can organize your soldiers into various formations, putting cavalry, archers, and infantry in certain positions to allow you to make more strategic decisions on the fly. Battles are fought on land and sea as well as against settlements, with each field of battle providing their own advantages and dangers. You must be cunning, have a tactical mindset, and show no mercy if victory is to be within your grasp.
Attila also has a form of social network within the game that allows players to document their campaign and show the world how they made their own history as mighty leaders. Chronicles is a web-based application which allows players of the game to save a highly detailed log registering family trees, territory gained, battles fought, and much more. They can then share this log with other players for feedback and advice on how to progress. With Chronicles, players are able to rewrite history, and present their story of overcoming impossible odds leading them to victory.
Total War: Attila looks undoubtedly visually breathtaking. From special effects, to the buildings, weapons, armor, character models, landscapes, and everything else, this game sets the bar of visual representation. The campaign map is filled to the brim with visual details and special effects and real-time battles look even more stunning since you see all the game’s visual splendor up close.
Watching battles in Attila is like watching a historical Hollywood epic thanks to the motion captured choreographed duels. The sound production strikes gold again with brutal clashes of spears, shields, swords, and arrows along with an intense and dramatic musical score. Again like previous Total War games, the visuals and sound all work in unison to provide a cinematic, exciting, even frightening experience of interacting with the Dark Ages. It shows in full detail the ferocity and harshness of ancient warfare.
There are many more features in this game including the multiplayer where you and other players can battle on land, sea, and during sieges or even play out the grand campaign together. You can re-enact actual historical battles as well. You can also set up skirmishes with your own custom army layout, battle type, and location. Mod support like Rome 2 is sure to give way to many creative projects from enhancements to total conversions. Total War: Attila with all its features and replay value is going to make pillaging, conquering, and colonizing a very, very long task.
Creative Assembly has once again created an engrossing, deep, and exciting strategy game with stunning visuals and sound design. There’s plenty of content that will keep you returning to the field of battle with much more content on its way through CA and soon modders.
There is always recurring problems with almost every Total War game that has always hampered the amazing experience of this series and Attila is no different. Total War games have always had a problem with the AI. It’s been this way for a long time and it’s like this problem just won’t go away. Modders are able to fix most of the problems with the AI but at launch, the AI in Total War games is just plain weird. The AI in this game is thankfully an improvement from Rome 2 with the enemy putting up a brutal fight and many improvements in AI diplomacy, but there are still some glaring issues.
Units have path finding issues where they sometimes move through the enemies’ front lines even though you’ve told them to go somewhere else. Individual soldiers will break away from their units and start doing their own thing, and they’ll get stuck on scenery and become separated from everyone else and sometimes they’ll throw down their weapons and retreat even when they’ve got a fight under control. These issues will most likely be fixed by official patches and modders soon, but right now, the AI problems are very noticeable and annoying.
The game has performance issues as well with the frame rate becoming erratic especially in large battles and dropping into the single digits on the campaign map when it’s the AI’s turn.
Creative Assembly does it again with Total War: Attila thrusting the player into the early Dark Ages and presents them with an era that is epic and glorious, yet desperate and brutal. It’s a pity that this game shares the same problems that earlier Total War games have, but managing your empire and engaging in war with enemies will keep you occupied and excited for so long that you won’t be bothered with the problems this game has. Grab Total: War Attila, make your stand, ready your army, and battle against the coming storm, so that you may live on in glory, unchallenged and unmatched as emperor.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Total War: Attila for the PC provided by Sega.