Passing the test of time: Total War series retrospective

Total war, by definition, is a no-holds-barred type of conflict. These battles disregard rules of engagement, restricted weapons, and territory – basically anything civil. After all, you don’t know what man is capable of until you strip him of everything and watch him try to survive. Creative Assembly’s Total War series breaths this essence with each of their current nine titles (including Rome II coming out September 3rd).

These turn-based strategy games work with two components: empire management and tactics on the battlefield. In the Total War series, it’s not always about who has the bigger army or who’s stick is bigger; it’s about outsmarting and outmaneuvering your opponents on and off the battlefield. Can you set up an ambush? Would it be better to take your foe on in the middle of a field? Did you bring siege equipment to take the fortress? Did you property scout the region? Are your agents in place? These are all questions you want to ask yourself before engaging your enemies.

Once you pick the location for your fight, that’s when tactics come to play. You’re not going to run your cavalry in their phalanx, you're going to have to flank those spearmen. On the battlefield, you’ll want to know your strengths and the enemies’ weakness. The great Sun Tsu once said, “Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” It’s one thing to notice your foe’s plan but it’s another thing to respond with an audible tactic.        

In this franchise, you take control of an empire/faction/country and must expand through conquest, diplomacy, culture, and trade. As the games become more modern, they tend to become more complex and in depth. Just comparing Rome to Rome II is practically night and day. Gameplay includes city improving, controlling spies and dignitaries, raising armies, crushing cities, and strategically taking over the majority of the map. There are nearly endless strategies, and you just need to find the one that works for your play style and faction.

Shogun charge

Back in 2000, Creative Assembly came out with the first of this future franchise, Shogun: Total War. This was the flagship that blazed the path for all future Total War games. Taking place during the Sengoku period in Japan, you must take your armies and unite the splintered Japan to become Shogun. Through spearman, cavalry, archers, and samurai, you’d crush your foes and dominate all of Japan with honor. In 2011, the sequel Total War: Shogun 2 released. With a huge multiplayer, specific factions, and water combat, this game was a true modernized version of the original with numerous new features.

Two years later, after the original Shogun was released (2002), Medieval: Total War was released on PC. Similar to Shogun, the map is segmented into powerhouses who you can play as. Unlike Shogun, the map is of Europe and not Japan. With brand new units, the turn-based strategy game plays similar to Shogun. New factions and militaries mean new tactics and new hurdles to master. Medieval II: Total War came out in 2006 with mad religion and family heirs. You turn your boys into powerful generals and marry your daughters for diplomacy all while the Pope gives you constant s@#4.

Keeping the European theme, Rome: Total War takes place during, yup, the period of the Roman Empire 270 BC – AD 14. Using the technology, weapons, and strategies of the time, this Total War game added a similar flair to a new time period. You play as one of three Roman factions who must unite Rome and conquer Europe. Once again, agents and families bloodlines come to play.

On September 3rd of this year, Total War: Rome II will be released. Similar to Shogun II, this game is an upgrade to the original Rome. With tons of factions and without the need to conquer a faction to play as it in the future, Rome II takes the series to the most complex and detailed height the franchise has ever reached.     

Using the same equation that works, Empire: Total War (2009) takes place in the early modern period. As the most modern of the Total War games, this game functions far more on gunpowder units and less melee as previous titles. With grand sea battles and colonies, this title added elements never before in the franchise. These aspects played a role in Napoleon: Total War, released in 2010. This title in the series consists of four campaigns, two of which follow Napoleons’ career. Resource management and technology come to play on a large scale as you nearly conquer all of Europe under France’s banner.

Medieval Total War 2 France vs England

For iOS, Android, and PC, Total War Battles: Shogun was also released in 2012 for those who needed Total War on the run. This more simplistic version of the Total War series takes place in Japan and uses hexagonal movement. Your troops consist of samurai, archers, cavalry, and ninja troops. Allowing for 1v1 local multiplayer hotseat matches, players could take their skills against one another.

With Rome II coming out September 3rd, the wait for more Total War is coming to a rapid end. For a solid thirteen years the Creative Assembly team has been pumping these titles us for our enjoyment. If you feel like you’ve missed one of the past games you can always download them on Steam and/or wait for them to go on a Steam sale. War is hell, but this franchise makes it that much more enjoyable – you may even learn a thing or two about history in the process.