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ups: Animation is exciting, Gameplay long and varied, Very detailed, AI adapts, tons of replay value
downs: Multiplayer for die-hards only, requires high-end system, limited campaign out of box

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Medieval 2: Total War Review
game: Medieval 2: Total War
four star
posted by: Jamie Gergen
publisher: SEGA
developer: Creative Assembly
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ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 01:40 PM Sun Feb 18th, 2007
last revision: 09:58 AM Sun Feb 18th, 2007

Click to read.Medieval 2: Total War is the latest in the Total War Series from the folks at Creative Assembly. As someone who has followed the Total War series since it\'s inception with Shogun, I was a bit skeptical when I heard they were revisiting what I felt was a solid game in it\'s own time, Medieval: Total War. Needless to say, they obviously approached this latest title with caution and the result is a solid, rewarding experience.

Once I had MTW2 installed, I watched the opening cinematic. Creative Assembly always has an opening movie to accompany the brand touting at startup, and what I found was myself dropped into a medieval abbey, listening to a monk describe Europe of the Middle Ages. A castle under siege emerges from the pages of the book the monk is inscribing, and suddenly the vivid imagery of such movies as \"Kingdom of Heaven\" or \"Braveheart\" is before you, and the music definitely adds to the mood. From the outset it was clear: This wasn\'t going to be your average eye-in-the-sky RTS game.

The Single Player Experience

Single players are offered basically two options. The grand campaign, which is the real focus of MTW2, or the ability to fight one battle of their choice. MTW2 features several historical battles, including the Battle of Hastings and Battle of Agincourt. Each of the historical battles is opened with a cinematic sequence explaining what led to the battle, and what your objective as leader of one side is. The AI supplies you with advice during the battle, with very accurate results. Fighting as William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, the computer advisor informs you that in order to win, you must lure the Saxons off their hillside defensive positions. This is exactly what William did during the battle, changing the course of England and the British Isles forever.

You can also select the custom battle option, which allows you to choose opposing armies, the region being fought over, and assigns a point value for each side to choose it\'s units, experience, and armor and weapon improvements. This option is what I like to call the \"What-If\" option. What if the English had tried to sack Constantinople? In the Custom Battle option, you can find out.

The campaign mode is where MTW2 really shines. Out of the box, my only complaint is you are limited on your first campaign to one of 5 Catholic factions. England, France, Spain, The Holy Roman Empire, and Venice are the only factions you can begin the campaign as, and to play other factions such as the Byzantines, Mongols, or any of the Muslim factions requires you finishing at least one campaign mode as one of the five nations mentioned above. Your goal is obviously to defeat the other rival nations, doing your best to secure territory through diplomacy, marriage, or war. And let\'s not kid ourselves here, the easiest and most common way to win is to put the game\'s excellent battle engine and cinematics to work.

I began my campaign in 1080 AD as the English, William the Conqueror sitting in London with Nottingham to the north and Caen in Normandy already in English hands. Setting out, I sent an army to bring the Saxon rebels in York under my heel. The clash of steel as mailed knights met peasant spearmen at the edge of the town caught my attention. Zooming in with the very intuitive camera controls, I watched as some of my opponents went flying backwards from the impact of barded horse on their formation. Lances splintered and broke, shields clashed, swords and spears were readied and the individual battles waged around my camera. Men fell, tried to regain their footing, only to have their opponents deal death blows from above. Arrows whistled through the air, felling more men on both sides. Finally, the rebels broke, and York was in English hands.

Fast forward a few nights, a few hundred turns later, and Richard III is off to Antioch. A Crusade has been called, and the Pope, doubting the piousness of my Prince of Wales, ordered him to undertake a Crusade. The religion aspect of the campaign game cannot be overlooked. The Church is very active in your country\'s affairs, offering you missions that can lead to excommunication if failed. Excommunication in MTW2 is basically a big bullseye painted on everything you own because other Catholic nations are free to attack excommunicated nations in the name of the Church.

Total War: Not All War

As mentioned above, religion is an important part of MTW2. One has to build churches in their territories since populations revolt if your religion is significantly different than the population of the territory occupied. Priests, a special character you can recruit at churches in your cities, can roam the countryside, converting the population to your faith, and finding opposing special characters such as Heretics, Witches, etc. Defeating heretics and witches can lead to your priests becoming bishops, cardinals, or even Pope. If the Pope is from your lands, attacking rival Christian nations is much easier, as he is more likely to look away than excommunicate you for such offenses.

Diplomacy can have mixed results in this title as well. Two special characters can perform diplomacy: The Diplomat characters or your Princesses. Diplomats can roam freely in enemy territory, with only the threat of the Assassin characters to stop them. Options for diplomacy are varied, but the trade rights, alliances, ceasefires, and bribe commands are most used. Princesses have a special ability to try and lure a foreign general or Prince into betrayal of his liege through marriage. If successful, your daughter seduces her lover to your side, along with his army and territory if he commands any. I often found diplomacy only effective in calling for ceasefires in order to rebuild my armies before the next war began and to establish trade, which fills your coffers. Often, the AI will form alliances with you, only to attack you at some surprising (and often poorly timed) moment. There seems to be little reason behind some of the broken alliances. Often I\'d find an enemy fleet blockading my city\'s port, for no other reason than they ran out of movement allowance at my port. In this minor instance, the AI seems almost random in choosing when to break alliances.

(Speaking of navies, they are somewhat useful as transports and trade blockades, but naval battles are still unable to be controlled by the player. MTW2 crunches some numbers and your navy wins or loses. Obviously the size of your fleets is a factor, so the navy game is pretty much the side with the most ships wins. I found navies were much more useful for getting my Crusades to the Holy Land faster than walking across Europe.)

A new addition to the Total War series is the Merchant special character. Scattered on the map are various trade items, such as wool, coal, textiles, dyes, and lumber. Sending a merchant character to these resources brings extra money to your coffers, as they establish trade routes to your cities from the resource. Enemy merchants can try to steal the resource from you, with another number-crunching result given to you. Like the navy battles, you only see the result of these encounters.

Encountering opposing factions is handled well by MTW2. Speaking to Scottish nobles, they answer in a strong brogue. Each faction speaks in accented English, mixing in some native words as well. Playing as Spain in a custom battle, my Knights would urge their horses into a charge by yelling \"Rapido!\", for example. When placing French archers on the wall of my castle during a defense of Paris, I noticed they were taunting the enemy. I kept expecting to see John Cleese manning my walls. Little things like this add to the overall immersive nature of MTW2.

Not-so-Total Multiplayer

Multiplayer. It\'s there, and I give Creative Assembly and SEGA props for enabling it, but only a true Grognard would sit down at a LAN party or log in night after night to play a campaign with it. Being someone who used to push counters around a game board for hours on end, I found the idea of a multiplayer campaign fun, but too tedious to imagine completing. There is a \"last man standing\" mode that allows several players to duke it out in a custom battle, but the lag I experienced was atrocious: The epic scope of MTW2 makes it diffult to imagine most conventional group-play scenarios.

The A/I

The AI is very good for the single-player campaign when it comes to battles. Defending a castle, I found myself facing an army armed with siege towers, ladders, a couple battering rams, and two catapults. I lined my walls with archers and footmen to repel the invaders at the wall, and the AI began to shoot the walls out from under my men with catapults, leaving his towers and ladders safely out of reach. It was either move off the walls or die when they collapsed under my feet, so my troops moved off the wall. My men reached solid ground, when suddenly the shooting stopped and the ladders and towers went racing for my walls.

In the end, Richard III did make it to Antioch, sacked the city, and then was chased out eventually by the rebelling Muslim population. Surprisingly accurate, and damned if it wasn\'t a blast. Excellent visuals, deep gameplay, and riveting historical content make Medieval II: Total War a must play for those who are fans of real-time strategy.

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