The Best And Worst Total War Games

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At its best, the Total War series casts a spell over you. Your empire rises from nothing, surrounded by enemies who are poised to trample it into the dust. Each decision on the strategic level is a gamble on the immediate future, where “one more turn” isn’t just a stepping-stone to a new upgrade, but a perilous step onto thin ice. Each time you take to the battlefield is another do-or-die moment, a possible Hastings or Austerlitz that can open the road to conquest or plunge you into a desperate fight for survival.

But the Total War series has also been defined by massive, abrupt swings in quality. While the series has been on a linear trajectory in terms of graphics, the quality of the games underlying those vivid battlefield vistas has varied wildly. Total War at its best is interactive Kurosawa and Kubrick. At its worst, it’s a middle-school history textbook as told by Drunk History and filmed by the cast and crew of The Patriot.

So before the series (temporarily) leaves history behind for the grimdark faux-history of Warhammer fantasy, let’s put into order the times that Total War was at its best… and why sometimes its lows were so very low. We’ll save the worst for last, because if there’s one thing that every Total War fan loves, it’s an argument over which games were the biggest disappointments.

Total War: Shogun 2

Claim to Fame: Of all the Total Wars, it’s the Total-est.
Hidden Flaw: Secretly conservative and unambitious

If you could only play one Total War, if you could only have one for your desert island exile, it should be this one. Shogun 2 is where all the series’ best ideas have been gathered into one game, and married to a gorgeous aesthetic inspired by its setting. And with its Fall of the Samurai expansion, Shogun 2 also turned into the best gunpowder-era Total War.

All Total War games have had impressive graphics for their time, but Shogun 2 remains beautiful even today. Its look owes more to films like Kurosawa’s Ran and Kagemusha than to reality, and gives each battle a vivid, dreamlike quality that’s unmatched by any other Total War. Once the battle is joined and the last reserves have been committed, Shogun 2 is a game where you can just zoom to ground-level and watch individual sword duels play out amidst all the lovely carnage.

The series’ return to Japan and its self-contained strategic context also solves a lot of other problems. The factions are all roughly balanced because they are from the same civilization and share the same level of development. The narrow and mountainous geography of Japan also gives the perennially hapless campaign AI a chance to succeed.

No other Total War game does a better job combining the fantasy, the history, and the game design. This is the series at its very best, its arrival at a goal it started chasing with Shogun and Rome.

Total War: Attila

Claim to Fame: Tries (and succeeds!) new ideas
Hidden Weakness: It’s about as balanced as Caligula

After Rome 2, it was hard to be optimistic about the future of Total War. Shogun 2 succeeded because it took a couple good ideas from Napoleon Total War and ignored just about everything else the series had tried since Rome. Was the future of Total War just going to be repackaged hits?

Attila takes a look at that trend and veers off in a new direction. It changes the basic rules of the Total War series in order to do justice to the death of the Roman world. Cities burn, regions are devastated, and an endless onslaught of nomadic tribes attempt to burrow their way into the Roman empire and carve out a place in the sun. Meanwhile, Roman generals turn against successive emperors, and the Huns hit like a tsunami.

Attila might be the most inventive and exciting design Total War has ever had, particularly at the strategic level. For once, dynastic politics don’t feel like a waste of time, and the different types of factions give the game a real “clash-of-civilizations” feel. And unlike the original Barbarian Invasion expansion for Rome, Attila gives the non-Romans their historical due so they aren’t just interchangeable hordes descending on the fading light of civilization.

That said, there’s no other Total War game where you can feel the darkness drawing-in the way it does in Attila. It lends a real sense of gravity to those battles. Lose a battle in earlier Total War games, and you suffered a setback. In Attila, a lost battle likely means that a city and its inhabitants are about to disappear. No pressure.

Medieval: Total War

Claim to Fame: Perfects the early Total War design
Hidden Weakness: There’s not all that much to that design

In its second outing, the Total War series attained near-perfection. I’m still not sure a more balanced Total War game has ever materialized. The Risk-style map is easy for the AI to manage, and the different starting positions of each kingdom and empire allows for some true AI superpowers to form and challenge players late in the game.

To this day, I have an almost Pavlovian distaste for all things Byzantine because of an especially painful game in which they slowly, inexorably rolled my English empire back from Poland and Egypt all the way to the Channel. Yet those bitter memories are tempered by all the apocalyptic battles we fought along the way as my increasingly beleaguered armies fought a doomed holding action across Europe against the tide of imperial-purple death.

The other thing Medieval did brilliantly was portray a world completely torn to pieces by religious strife. Jihads and Crusades marched back and forth across the Mediterranean, each a terrible force in the right hands but driven by a ceaseless need for conquest that almost invariably led them to disaster. The logic that governs other military campaigns (most importantly, knowing when to stop) doesn’t work with militant religious expeditions. So huge armies of zealots march to their death repeatedly over the course of this game, throwing the game into chaos.

The role of the Pope in Medieval: Total War also deserves special mention as one of the most enjoyably infuriating villains of any strategy game. Just when things are starting to go well for a Catholic ruler, the Pope can always be trusted to screw things up for the next ten years, which makes Medieval a pretty good argument for the Peace of Westphalia.

Medieval is a triumph of simplicity, and it took a decade for Total War to come close to matching it.

Napoleon: Total War

Claim to Fame: The greatest hits of the horse-and-musket era
Hidden Weakness: Has very little to do with actual Napoleonic warfare.

On the heels of the disappointing Empire, Napoleon did two things to right the listing Total War ship. First, it got specific about its era. Rather than being a vague pastiche of 18th century warfare, it focused on the armies of the Napoleonic wars and the career of the man who gave the era its name. That makes for a better and more manageable strategy game than Empire but, it also means something far more important: extravagantly detailed military uniforms!

Napoleon still doesn’t completely come to grips with warfare in the horse-and-musket era. When the campaign begins, none of the foremost powers of Europe have figured out that you can have two and even three ranks of soldiers firing simultaneously if the guys in front take a knee. It takes years of research for someone to have this idea, apparently. Grenadiers also throw grenades at close range, which is Total War at its most endearingly literal.

But it doesn’t matter because Napoleon is such a beautiful, wistful game. The lighting is more dramatic than in Empire, giving all the action the look of the great oil-paintings that memorialize many of the pivotal moments of the Napoleonic Wars. Smoke billows and hangs over lines of blue-coated French soldiers, soldiers march into battle to the sound of fife and drum, and waves of cavalry dash themselves against dense squares of infantry.

After the unfocused Empire, Napoleon gave people what they wanted: huge, bloody battles between fabulously-dressed European armies and the chance to play through one of the most astonishing military careers in history. With its Peninsular War DLC, Napoleon also helped establish a trend of odd, experimental expansion campaigns that would eventually help the series to break new ground with games like Attila.

Continue reading about the best Total War games on page two.

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127 Comments

  1. Soulstrider says:

    To be honest nowadays between Rome vanilla and Rome 2 vanilla I would pick Rome 2 in an heartbeat. Though Rome with mods is definitely better.

    Also uh, this sentence “Rome 2 version of Egypt appears to be on loan from Age of Mythology. ” Uh, aren’t you mixing up with Rome 1 where you had the silly hollywood Egyptians? Rome 2 seems fairly well grounded in reality, with an Hellenic looking army supported by some native auxiliaries.

    • Silent_Thunder says:

      Rome 2 with DEI is arguably better than Rome 1 with EB, horrid loading times nothwithstanding.

  2. LuckyLuigi says:

    I could not disagree more. Empire was a complete mess strategically and only Rome 2 is worse. Shogun 2 is best, then Rome (with total realism mod) and then Medieval 2. THIS is the holy trinity.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Given that you have the same games at the top and bottom, it actually sounds like you could disagree a lot more.

      • PhilBowles says:

        Shogun 2 as the best TW game and Rome 2 as the worst are probably the least contentious claims that can be made about the series.

      • wengart says:

        Rome 2 and Rome are different games.

    • hamilcarp says:

      I think you read the list backwards.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve only played Empire, but only briefly. I enjoyed the combat, but detested almost everything about the strategic map. I do own a bunch of the other games (got them in a Humble bundle or something), but my bad memories of Empire (and my ever increasing backlog of other games) mean I’m unlikely ever to play them.

    • Viral Frog says:

      That’s a shame. Empire was absolutely horrendous, I agree. The Shogun games, however, are a couple of my all time favorites that I’ve ever played in this genre. Not giving them a go because of a bad experience with Empire is doing yourself a major disservice!

      • Zephro says:

        Eh, even Shogun 2 has a terrible strategic layer and abysmal campaign AI. It’s just hidden behind everything being neat mountain passes. I’m not sure that it actually provides a better campaign experience or just one with lots of plaster over the cracks.

  4. LennyLeonardUK says:

    My opinion (for what it’s worth):

    Shogun 2
    Napoleon
    Rome
    Attila
    Medieval 2
    Empire
    Medieval
    Shogun
    Rome 2

  5. Elicas says:

    Medieval 2 that low on the list? Blasphemy!

    Shogun 2
    Medieval 2
    Napoleon
    Rome 1

    Shogun 1 and Medieval 1 get a free pass from being ranked compared to the newer stuff, they’re too old to be compared fairly.

    Empire, Rome 2 and Attila are all dogshit kebab levels of shite.

  6. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Empire was actually my favourite TW (and I’ve played them all since Med2 except for Attila), simply by virtue of the period it portrayed. Yes, uniforms were a bit of a mess, but by virtue of the historical setting there were tactical layers that you just didn’t find in any of its predecessors. Do you form your 60-man squad into two lines, providing incredible impact at the cost of rate of fire? Do you use four lines, sacrificing striking power for resilience in the face of melee charges? Do you simply use your dragoons as light cavalry, or as mobile infantry?

    A lot of these ideas were refined and much better represented in Napoleon, but their introduction in Empire gave it, for a good long while, the most interesting tactical engagements of any TW game – in my opinion, anyways.

    • ryth says:

      Empire was certainly a favourite of mine as well, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see how awfully flawed it is, it certainly deserves to be near the bottom even if I enjoyed the hell out of it.

      • Jediben says:

        Empire had the best shoot bang artillery of them all, and Napoleon the bestest boars. Shogun 2 boats are rubbish.

      • Archonsod says:

        I wouldn’t say Empire had the worst flaws. The AI in the original medieval might have been able to handle the strategy map, but couldn’t fight it’s way out of a paper bag. I recall many campaigns where my general was the only unit I bothered to field – and they still routed an AI which seemed to have no concept of how exhaustion, terrain or morale worked. Medieval 2’s main innovations to the formula tended to be needless busywork (merchants being a good example) which somewhat spoiled the campaign far more than the dubious AI, and the return to the rock-paper-scissors combat mechanics of Shogun 2 make it’s battles about as interesting as watching paint dry (although they finally seemed to get the naval battles into shape).
        I think I’d probably go with Atilla > Napoleon > Rome > Empire > Rome 2 (Emperor edition; it’d be lower without it, but I think the map flaw covered in the article is about the only criticism post patch) > Shogun 2 > Shogun > Medieval > Medieval II (to be fair Shogun and Medieval are probably interchangeable at this point; I recall spending more time with Medieval, but memory isn’t what it used to be).

        • ryth says:

          Gasp! Medieval II as the WORST? That actually makes me wonder if you should immediately admit yourself to the hospital for inspection.

    • matnym says:

      Ditto. Of all the TW games I’ve clocked most hours in Empire. Rome is a close second, partly because it was the game that introduced me to the franchise.

  7. ryth says:

    I am never the person to log in and comment about a list being wrong, but man is this list wrong — even if we say that you can’t judge modded versions of the game.

    Medieval 2 with Stainless Steel and Rome with Realism are easily #1 and #2 of this series, with everything else a good distance behind and obviously Empire and Rome 2 at the bottom, respectively.

    While the original Shogun and Medieval were great for their time, they don’t stand up at all now, unlike Rome and M2 which are still emminently playable and engrossing.

    Shogun 2 and Napleon are both fantastic but just don’t offer the same scope and sense of gravity that M2 and Rome do, but they are great and certainly the best of the bunch on the combat front.

    I cannot comment on Atilla because R2 left such a bad taste in my mouth I can’t be bothered to ever buy another CA title.. (he says until Warhammer comes out to rave reviews).

    The one upshot of Rome’s awfulness was that it gave me my “twice shy” moment of pre-ordering…

    • UndrState says:

      ^This exactly .

    • Montavious says:

      Medieval 2 was hands down my favorite too. Its the one i still play to this day. Shogun 2 was fun, but theres something about Medieval 2 that has kept me hooked all these years.

    • mrpier says:

      Medieval 2 with Stainless Steel is the correct answer for best Total War.

    • GernauMorat says:

      Medieval 2 modded really is the best of the pre-Attila bunch. Attila itself I’ll have to put above it because it actually works unmodded, and is interesting, both in its settings and mechanics. Currently fighting a genocidal war against Byzantium as pagan Aksum (Ethiopia).

    • animal says:

      I always loved Rome 1, probably the one I played most of all. Medieval 2 sort of makes people in general frown, and I can understand the confusion. I hate the western campaigns, but you fire up as the Egyptians on higher difficulty and you get crusades called against you along with a ton of Mongol invasions along with the normal gameplay, that turns it into a lot of fun. Rome 1 is still better though (especially since you can still play as the Egyptians for some variety)

  8. dsch says:

    I prefer the original Shogun and Medieval because the 3D campaign map is a fundamental, catastrophic failure of game design, the definition of doing something because you could and not because it’s a good idea. The 3D campaign map is essentially empty and represents nothing without falling into absurdity while adding nothing of strategic interest.

    The best of the 3D Total Wars is Empire, which apparently still hasn’t been forgiven for its dodgy release. It actually does a very good job of conveying character and progression and there is great diversity in the way the game plays: if you start out as a European nation, you go from old TW cav flanking at the beginning to getting more out of line infantry manoeuvre as they get better, and when you hit the East you’ll have to adapt again to the melee focussed armies, while the endgame offers lots of variety for heavy artillery. Throughout the game, the tactical subtleties of artillery placement (terrain, crossfire, friendly fire, etc.) are unmatched in any other TW game.

    • jalf says:

      YES, listen to this person!

      Medieval will always be my favorite because it had a strategic game that added to the game, rather than watering it down.

      I don’t want the strategic campaign to be a full-fledged game of friggin’ Civ. I’ve got Civ for that!

      Medieval was brilliant for having a simple map that gave the player important decisions to make, without cluttering it with garbage.

      (It was also brilliant for the setting, the varied factions and units and everything else as well, obviously, but the map was really an overlooked gem, not because it was amazing, but because it was tight and focused and didn’t detract from the Total War-ness of the rest of the game)

      • dsch says:

        Don’t forget the music and sound design of MTW! And the hilarious traits that unfold over time as your heir’s sexual proclivities become weirder through the decades. And the mouseover text on attributes (like the one for 9-star generals, “He conducts battles like symphonies …”).

      • Skodric says:

        I liked the fact that the battle fields were BIG, much larger than those that followed in Rome(which I still play).

        And Sean Bean was in it. And the battle music didn’t have to be turned off after five minutes.

        And Viking Invasion was fantastic.

        • C0llic says:

          Another vote for the first Medieval as top here.

          When we look back, the stale campaign AI began in Rome with its over complicated, pretty (and at the time dog-slow) map, along with the slow rot of interesting, working tactical battle AI (to be fair though, the battle AI was still pretty decent in Rome when it worked). The systems in Medieval were complex enough to be interesting, challenging and simple enough to be meaningfully used by the AI.

          Starting with Rome, too much extra stuff has been added. If any series has truly degenerated due to feature creep, it’s the Total War series.

          Just imagine what these games could be if they’d kept an abstraction like the old paper maps (which was great actually, and far more immersive than the 3D ones they have now), simply improved the diplomacy and campaign war making, and just added full 3d tactical battles with noticable iterative improvement to the AI.

          It’s a shame because I’m sure a lot of younger people won’t have played the first two games, and if they do now, the dated graphics will be a hurdle they’ll have to get over.

          • wengart says:

            I dunno, I played med1 a bit and the tactical AI leaves a lot to be desired.

            I feel pretty safe in saying that the AI in Shogun 2 is infinitely better than Med1.

          • Kong says:

            Medieval is at the top of my list.

            For that one magic moment, when my city guards were completely surrounded. I wrote them off. Minutes later they were still fighting, I watched their valor go up to 6 or 7, 8, and when the battle was won, had reached 9 (or ten?), less than 20 men standing. The battle was won. They will forever be remembered.
            A singular event in all of my Total War experience.

            I still have not managed to play more than a couple of turns of Attila. I doubt it will surprise me in any way.

          • Seboss says:

            I wish Medieval 1 would be remade with the Shogun 2 tactical gameplay and AI. I’m glad somebody mentioned the Viking expansion, it was fantastic. I’m that close from reinstalling it actually.

  9. Stuie says:

    This article is obviously out of touch with the current state of Rome 2. It is probably first or second at this point in terms of gameplay. Holding its shitty release against it after all this time is just plain childish and spiteful. The article (and most hateboys) like to ignore the fact that Rome: Total War is a fantasy game in its vanilla state, with so many unhistorical elements thrown in that it is ludicrous. But whatever, go on hating what it easily one of the best Total War games available.

    • melancholicthug says:

      I still remember release version of Rome the first. It was awful. But everyone was stupified by the shiny graphics to really notice.

    • PhilBowles says:

      Rome 2 made too many fundamental design missteps for this to be true (and I have played it post-Emperor Edition). The basic philosophy underpinning the game that “more TW is better TW” is fundamentally flawed: the economy was broken and hasn’t been fixed either in R2 or in Attila.

      It appears no one considered the fact that you don’t make a game you can win with three full stacks better by allowing you to field a half a dozen by turn 20.

      You don’t make a game that constrains said army development through the need to build up an economy better by ditching any need for economic development and adding so many regions that you can run those same full stacks and more … by turn 20.

      And you don’t make a campaign that suffers in the later game with the repetitive nature of full-stack-on-full-stack combat (especially given highly stereotyped AI behaviour) and late game snowballing by removing the early game half-stacks-and-smaller gameplay altogether and extending the duration of the campaign with the need for excessive numbers of provinces, while allowing you to snowball from – you guessed it – turn 20.

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        Couldn’t agree more, @PhilBowles

      • PhilBowles says:

        Having said all that, I won’t disagree that Emperor Edition made a lot of improvements: the province building chains are no longer the no-brainer paint-by-numbers (literally – pick a colour and spam it was the pre-EE way to “specialise”) affairs they were before; playing hard factions on Legendary no longer feels like playing the Maratha on Normal in Empire; and settlement income was toned down so that snowballing doesn’t happen quite as fast. The result is that Rome 2 is now a playable Total War game. The problem is, it will never be a good Total War game.

  10. Werthead says:

    I think there was a mistake with the M2 listing:

    Claim to Fame: MODS MODS MODS MODS

    Also, the Kingdoms expansion was awesome. But really, that game shines through the things you could do with it, the last TW game which permitted new campaign maps and total conversions (which is why it remains popular to this day), plus it still looks pretty damn good. Through the mods, it’s also the best Lord of the Rings video game ever made.

    • Baines says:

      Medieval 2 almost deserves a free pass entirely because it is the primary game that modders modded. Even if later titles might have improved upon it in some areas, they never saw the wide ranging extent of mods that Medieval 2 saw and continues to see.

  11. somnolentsurfer says:

    As someone who’s not played a lot, but been meaning to give Shogun 2 a proper go for ages: Fall of the Samurai?

    • JimmyJamNYC says:

      I’ve played every TW game except Attila and I think S2: FotS is the best of the bunch. I only wish it wasn’t limited to the tiny island of Japan. I get so bored with that map but at last check I have 776 hours invested into S2 and I only play FotS since it came out.

      If you think you like the TW genre, but want guns and cannon, really I can’t recommend it enough.

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        Daily reminder that we never got the Victorian era Total War game that FoTS’ mechanics seem to augur. :(

    • Scelous says:

      Holy Christ was Fall of the Samurai good. It was sooooo good. It’s the only Total War game that I really got into, despite trying with all the other TW games.

    • Unruly says:

      One of my friends only got Shogun 2 “because Japan!” but all he ever plays of it is FotS. I think I got him to play a single multiplayer standard campaign, and he outright refuses to play RotS.

      I can understand why FotS is his absolute favorite, because there really isn’t anything better than having a fleet of 26-gun ships dropping a massive bombardment onto some tiny little 2-layer fort packed with troops and watching them get scattered to the wind. But at the same time I wish we could have played a few more co-op standard campaigns.

      • Lord Byte says:

        I actually preferred RotS. The campaign was really well-structured, and had a much better balance in units.
        FotS was fun but far too imbalanced to not be a total push-over.

        • Unruly says:

          I didn’t care for RotS myself, but that’s because the political game was such a massive slowdown. Pretty much every province you hit has an opposite allegiance to you, and it takes far too many turns to swing things around. So it’s either leave a massive garrison behind to keep order, which stops your army in its tracks, or spend years of game time hoping that your agents can swing the populace your way beforehand and that the enemy doesn’t stop it with their own agents. It just killed the momentum for me.

  12. Hyena Grin says:

    Rome 2 may have been a bit of a mess, and felt like there were at least a few teams working asymmetrically on the same game, but I had a lot more fun playing it than Shogun 2.

    Shogun 2 had great design, and I still admire their commitment to artistic vision, even if it’s a bit cliche. But the fact that every single faction was basically the same with a couple of minor tweaks and a special unit or two, just killed it for me. The lack of variety that games like Medieval 2 offered (and Rome 2) just made it feel a lot more like ‘map-painting’ than ever before.

    So yes, even if Rome 2 was a mess, the ability to fight the Gauls or the Egyptians and have those two experiences be completely different, renders it a more fun game to play. Could they do better? Yes. Is Shogun 2 better? In a lot of areas, yes, but not in the ‘fun to play’ area. Which, arguably, is the most important area. Sometimes I feel like when we’re ‘rating’ games like this, picking them apart for flaws and quality of execution, we stop seeing the forest for the trees.

    Just my opinion.

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    JamesTheNumberless says:

    I did enjoy the Total War games for the campaign stuff rather than for the battles, but then I discovered Paradox and I haven’t been back since. Next to Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II Total War’s campaign mode is a dull repetitive grind with a stifling presentation of history and few goals other than “get big”.

    Warhammer looks very interesting but if it’s just the same old stuff reskinned (again) I’ll have to pass on that too. What I really wish hope they do for Warhammer is make the bloody battles actually fun!! Then I’d be able to overlook the campaign’s shortcomings because I’d not be playing it for that.

    • melancholicthug says:

      Well honestly you could say somewhat the same of CK2’s combat: just get this number high enough (troops), click there and wait a while. It’s dreadful. They really should have a tactical, turn based battle mode, wargame-style.

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        There is a bit more depth to CK2 and EUIV battles than that, like flank commanders, terrain, and the strategic situation like which side can more easily funnel in reinforcements. Also, a game of CK2, with all the depth it has on offer, which lasted from Charlemagne to the fall of Constantinople is already a very, very long undertaking. Imagine how unmanageable it would become if you had to manage all or even some of your big battles! I think it would put a lot of players off to be honest, even though I would personally love to see it tried.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Absolutely not. The moment you give the player control of battles, it no longer becomes a game about diplomatic posturing and nation building, and one about winning the battles. It’s not unheard of for the slightly above average wargame player to be able to wipe the floor against 3-1 odds, and because of that all the overmap realities in the world can be thrown to the wind when you just know “I can win the battles anyway”.

        Total War and Paradox games are both great in their own way, but combining them would only make them less than the sum of their parts.

        • Silent_Thunder says:

          It becomes one about winning the battles*

          Damn RPSs lack of edit comment.

    • PhilBowles says:

      In fairness, it’s only recent entries that have made much attempt to make the TW campaign more than a glorified way to recruit bigger armies and link battles to each other. The series’ predecessors are, after all, games like Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, which was just a computer-based version of the tabletop game with a map system added to tie the battles together.

      I remain unconvinced that trying to make the campaign more than that was the correct way to go – hence the virtue of such simple systems as the Medieval 2D maps (for all that that meant you didn’t get to make decisions about where in the landscape to fight battles, and couldn’t choose to defend a river crossing or set an ambush in the woods). The TW campaign layer by its nature will always be much shallower than anything in a dedicated strategy game, since it still revolves around the same two very basic goals: make money, and use that to support an army.

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        JamesTheNumberless says:

        Yes I agree with you, the way I want to see Total War going is making the battles more enjoyable for the average player. Just getting through the tutorials in Rome 2 is paintful, units and formations are horribly unwieldy, everything takes such a long time to start happening and if you don’t set things up exactly right you’re brutally punished.

        This may be all nice and realistic but it means I start every new Total War game resolute about getting into the battles this time, and after a few of them I give up and concentrate on the campaign, which turns out to be the strategy equivalent of a cardboard backdrop.

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      JamesTheNumberless says:

      My point was not that the battles are better in Paradox games, but that I don’t particularly care about battles. I want grand strategy and I used to play Total War games for this, rather than for the battles. My point is that the Paradox games really expose all the shortcomings of Total War’s campaign mode.

      However, I do wish CA made the battles faster paced and more fun, then I’d be more interested in Total War… Actually what I really want CA to do is make a sequel to Alien:Isolation but that’s a topic for another comment thread :)

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        I feel the same way as you. Probably why I like Empire more than most, and why I am not at all bothered by the limited number of armies in Rome 2.

        Before I discovered Paradox TW was my favorite series, but now I can’t get exited about it anymore.

      • Zephro says:

        I do like battles. The thing that Paradox do a lot better ironically is making it fun to wage war, a total war even. Organising your troops to fronts, managing your man power, setting objectives, nailing out a peace treaty. All the “war” stuff is just deeper and better than anything Total War ever managed, except controlling the battles. Even then from a campaign point of view battles in Paradox aren’t quite so one sided (sometimes they are), you can normally fall back and regroup. Total War battles 1 side gets annihilated, nobody ever has 5% casualties and falls back to lick their wounds.

    • Zephro says:

      I think Paradox games have clouded my vision. As I tend to see Rome 1 and Empire as much better than everyone else and don’t rate Attila in the slightest.

      Rome 1 was adventurous, interesting but flawed. Which is a game description I tend to love. Medieval 2 is really conservative in doing nothing new except MORE SHADERS and to me represents CA failing to show any ambition. Empire they tried it and failed badly. But then Shogun 2 and Napoleon just ditched having new ideas and went back to a really conservative formula. Shogun 2 just hid the fact they’ve done no work on the AI by setting it somewhere that’s full of mountain passes.

      The campaign maps suffer for having lots of annoying busy work but things feeling like they have no depth or consequence to them. I still can’t conceive of why my barracks can only train guys with sharp weapons and I need a different building in a different province to train archers…. just why? Units always progress in this really rigid and kind of silly way. I can no longer train limitanei for some reason, but they ought to make up the cheap bulk of border guards, but no everyone is now auxilia palatina, which is nonsense.

      I think the comparison with Paradox isn’t that they are directly equatable. But that paradox games have moved so far in the same time period, reducing annoying busy work, refining ideas, being adventurous etc. Which shifts your expectations of how the strategy layer ought to work. So Rome 1 was good at the time, Rome 2 feels really old fashioned. Even quite basic things like the UI just feel archaic in Attila.

  14. shyguybadman says:

    Please CA…bring us Empire 2

    I loved Empire but it was so annoying to play/clunky. But then Napoleon came along and all was right with the world.
    Empire needs to be done….with an entirely spherical map. All theatres of war. Then there will not be enough time in the world to play this most exciting game of games and true Total War.

    • Premium User Badge

      JamesTheNumberless says:

      Just play EUIV ! :)

    • panzermoi says:

      Yes, CA make a modern version of Empire: Total World 2, that would be great!

    • Zephro says:

      Once they hire someone to mend the AI and go off and play EU4 a lot.

      As the battles are the important thing I’d want to see the 18th century progression from long lines of troops to armies organised by division and corps. With the AI being in charge of different Corps etc. Rather that some old school RTS tech tree of unit upgrades and new buildings unlocking new troop types.

  15. DeusExMachina says:

    W in T actual F?
    Medieval 2 is the best TW games only because its mods.
    I agree Shogun 2 is awesome but man, this list is a mess.

  16. Humppakummitus says:

    I bought Empire on release day, which was a disappointment to say the least, especially the AI.
    After a long break, I bought the Total War bundle to see how things have improved. The AI drooled on itself in the bloody tutorial in Shogun 2, endlessly moving a unit back and forth between the castle courtyards while my archers happily shot all of them. I gave up.

  17. eocar89 says:

    I am really surprised about the list! what surprises me more is shogun 2 the best, and I see many users agree. I really dislike shogun 2, no difference between factions, saga’s historycal issues at their best (small nations with infinite money= at least 3 full armies for even just 1 city big nation), I found it completly unplayable. Usually the old ones are considered the best (especially rome and med 2), but I would also add Rome 2, of course it was a completly crap when out, but it got many patches and is nearly perfect now. Attila is too confusing, battles are chaotic and random, Napoleon too boring. I would also give a special mention to Empire: vanilla was bad, but with minor factions revenge mod is one of the best total war. Of course it is my opinion, but I am really suprised! Shogun, Attila and Napoleon in the first 3 places! As for modded versions, definetly Rome with Europa Barbarorum and Medieval 2 with Bellum Crucis!

    • Archonsod says:

      Depends on whether you prefer symmetrical or asymmetrical games to be fair, and from the author’s comments I suspect they’re firmly in the symmetrical camp. Like you I’d be in the opposite. Unfortunately it tends to be like Marmite – people tend to have a strong preference for one over the other and I’ve never met anyone who’s truly happy with both.

      • IshuTwar says:

        This fight over Marmite vs Vegemite is foolish! When it’s very clear that OzEmite is far superior!

      • wengart says:

        Shogun 2 does have a boring set of samey factions, and the setting is pretty cliche, the map is a set of simple corridors, and you will spend much of the game murdering different color Ashigaru.

        However I am willing to forgive it for the general quality of the tactical battles and strategic AI.

        Shogun is the TW game where the AI can generally do well in tactical battles, and give you a run for a portion of your money. It is also the TW game that consistently created tense strategic choices for you to make.

        True it did all of this through a certain amount of blandness, but! It was the first time I really felt challenged by a TW AI since I played Rome: Total War when I was 12ish.

  18. badmothergamer says:

    I was a huge TW fan starting with RTW. I even have almost 900 hours in ETW. The problem with the series is simply a lack of progression from CA. It’s still the same old game only with fancier graphics and an AI that fluctuates between better and worse than the old games.

    The original selling point was a strategy game where you could actually fight the battles. This worked well when most strategy games were fairly simplistic. Now we have options like CK2 and EUIV that have a ridiculous amount of depth. Meanwhile, TW’s campaign AI and depth hasn’t improved in a decade so all CA is really selling with each iteration is prettier battles.

    I have zero interest in Warhammer so I’ll be skipping the next release, but I’m hoping the following game is either Empire 2 or Medieval 3. The two biggest improvements I’d like are a more in depth campaign and a battle AI that knows how to deal with walls. (though I understand this may have finally been fixed in Atilla).

    • Zephro says:

      The AI in Attila still hasn’t moved all that far to be honest. I managed to win as the Western Empire as the Eastern Empire declared war on me while all of their armies were in Egypt so I just took Constantinople while their troops went back and forth repeatedly across the Mediterranean. The AI can only cope by setting a massive asymmetrical challenge to the player or just arbitrary buffs.

      Not like Paradox games as they’ve moved light years in the last decade.

  19. WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

    My list, for what is worth (ordered best to worst)

    Rome I (+BI)
    Shogun II (+FoTS)
    Medieval I (+VI)
    Medieval II (+Kingdoms)
    Empire
    Napoleon
    Shogun I (+MI)
    Attila
    Rome II

    I’ve played so much of the first Rome in the last eleven years, these days I just play it and its mods to poke around how the underlying game works. I still think it’s the best one, and find myself mildly bemused by claims from others that it has become clunky, aged poorly, or was never good in the first place. People evidently value different aspects of these games, as the people who actually like that piece of crap Rome II make manifest. Personally, Rome I is my favourite synthesis of a responsive tactical engine (Medieval 2’s is much slower and has more tacked on that it doesn’t need), unit variety, art design, music and campaign pacing. I love the way every corner of the map feels unique, and the way that pike phalanxes, Polybian legions, Marian legions, barbarian armies, Scythians (in the Roman terminology sense, not just the faction) and Kataphractoi/Parthians all required different understandings of how to command them in order to make them work. I also feel that it’s between R1 and Kingdoms for which TW game has the best music, with R2 again being the worst. The only mechanic that I really feel doesn’t work properly in R1 is squalor, which reduces the player role to merely acting as a judicial depopulator for the sake of public order. Roma Surrectum II handles this much better. Other than that, I feel that the other mechanics were ruined by future titles, with the exception of Shogun II which I feel to be just as well designed and even better balanced, and only gets bumped down to number two spot due to the rather samey factions, though little can be done about it without turds like the Ikko Ikki being introduced.

    One more thing, to the Rome II fans especially though I also had to endlessly say this to Empire fans back in 2009: Almost no-one still dislikes R2 because it is unpolished, buggy or unfinished. Almost all TWs suffer somewhat from these problems, heck Shogun 2’s load times are downright unnacceptable. The problem we ‘haters’ have is with the design of the game itself, most particularly of the strategy map. Everything, from the research tree (itself a stupid idea in a game set in classical antiquity) to the ludicrous provincial buildings system which results in endless tedious busywork, to the gradually incrementing bonuses or maluses of 1-2% that are impossible to keep track of, to the stupid instant diplomacy that was pinched from Empire (and doesn’t work or make sense for the period anyway), to the unintelligible political system or the unimmersive and gamey way that provincial management is handled (examples include arbitrary province-wide public order, bonuses from conquering 3 or 4 provinces purely because the game deems them linked even if they had never before that date ever been conquered, and my personal favourite: “public order: -20% [hard difficulty]. Ah yes of course, the plebs hold Caesar to higher standards than all those mere trainee n00b Caesars, it seems!) Also the mass system is still broken and troops can’t hold formation as they ought to, but I’ll leave that for another day.

    • PhilBowles says:

      There’s merit to many of these comments, though it seems unreasonable to hold a game to account for its difficulty settings based on an idea of realism (the real world doesn’t have opposing forces that are stronger or weaker based on their difficulty level either). But I don’t see how you can argue against features that represent nothing but tedious busywork and still want diplomat agents back.

  20. UndrState says:

    I haven’t really enjoyed anything post M2TW …

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Have you tried Fall of the Samurai? (standalone expansion to S2). I found it scratched some of the Medieval 2 itch, though I couldn’t articulate why in so many words. I do agree that the old games have a magic that the Warscape games just don’t have, the engine just feels different, and to some of us much better.

      I prefer GoldSrc to Source for very similar reasons. I just prefer the “feel”

  21. Freud says:

    The TW game I enjoyed most was Medieval. I think the move from a map where you had fixed territories where you could only move from one to another to the open map has hurt the series. It’s exposed the A.I and there are a lot of weird bottlenecks built in to help the A.I.

    I liked the old board game style map better.

    • PhilBowles says:

      The bottlenecks to help the AI are surely a positive thing? It was a particular virtue in Shogun 2, since the landscape of the setting naturally lends itself to bottlenecks and settlements that are hard to attack from multiple sides.

      The almost completely open map of Rome 2’s Grand Campaign was, I suspect, a major reason the AI in that game appears to be so poor in comparison.

  22. Jeanwulf says:

    Medieval Total War 1 was my all time favourite. My only problem with it was how long it takes to build anything, and the period requirement for building certain units if an advanced building was already made.

    I actually was unable to enjoy Medieval 2 for at least a month of having it due to all my muscle memory and ways of thinking from no1. I absolutely miss the importance of Accumen and allocation of Titles.

    Like, no other total war game has titles. Every other one has this absolutely awful system where if you leave the dude in the castle the dude degenerates unless he starts off good, or has a school in the city.

    It also has the biggest number of tiers and units, though makes it super hard to construct fleets because they take 3 years at minimum.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      BI had titles, though it was somewhat hacked in with the seal of that title appearing on the character as a retainer. If the seal wasn’t given to another character while the first character was alive, then the title dies with him.

  23. PhilBowles says:

    Shogun 2: A not-so-hidden weakness is the naval combat, which was atrocious and made worse by (a) trying to fit combat conducted almost exclusively between archer-ranged patrol boats onto a map that had to accommodate caravels and (b) the AI’s obsession with sending ships one at a time to raid trade routes or attack, combined with such atrocious naval AI that you had to fight the battles rather than autoresolve.

    Medieval II, I’d say, should be above Rome 1 – while the engines were identical, the Papal political system was better-implemented than the Roman senate, there was at least slightly more attention to historical detail (despite awkward use of anachronistic names), and there was some semblance of balance between the factions.

    And while it should probably stay where it is, I think Empire deserves more credit than it gets for its strategic approach – it had a tech tree that actually affected the way battles play as time goes by, unlocking abilities and formations for core units rather than just stat upgrades or new unit types. Given how static tactical gameplay can be and the duration of a TW campaign (particularly in recent entries as Rome 2 and Attila both removed the early game phase of slowly building up small stacks and extended the length of the campaign), this added much-needed dynamism to the series. It essentially introduced the province system used by Rome 2 and Attila. Its political system, while not great, actually had a meaningful impact on gameplay (something otherwise only true of the Medieval games).

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      It’s swings and roundabouts on the historical accuracy front, I think. Medieval 2’s units, armours, colours and especially standards were a lot better than Rome’s, but Rome had the benefit of including several powers (most notably the Romans, but also the Diadochi and barbarian confederacies) that actually did conquer equivalent 50 provinces and forge a world empire, and if there’s the odd nonsense faction like “Britannia” then you can somewhat forgive it. In Medieval 2, the size of the world means that the province allocation is totally nonsensical and very low resolution(England is formed of “York Provice”, “London Province” and “Nottingham Province”, for instance), and it just feels like what would be a huge historical achievement is just the prelude to a greater campaign. England could conquer all of France, something that it only did once very briefly under Henry V, who is lauded for the feat to this day, but still only have barely scratched the surface of the European Empire that it has to form in order to attain the victory conditions. Was any European Kingdom actually logistically capable of forming a whole-continent empire in the thirteenth century? Not by my thinking.

      We also have utterly ludicrous castle designs that were neither practical as fortifications nor did they look anything like proper stone fortifications (and those crenels! What were they thinking?), as well as the fact that full armour plate can be seen right from turn 1 in the general’s bodyguards in 1066, and is fairly ubiquitous by the late twelfth century, which is beyond absurd.

      Rome’s historicity is certainly more obviously wrong (and Hollywoodesque) but it is at least evocative. Medieval 2 strikes me as having been designed in a hurry by a group of designers who didn’t have a sound grasp of the period they were trying to convey. Medieval 1, by contrast, I thought was mostly fine.

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        Edit for clarity, of course no barbarian confederation ever conquered an area the size of the Roman Empire, I was just pointing out that they with one eye half closed one could, bearing in mind what other Germanics did many years later, imagine them at least carving something out for themselves. Why would, say, The Two Sicilies do this?

        • PhilBowles says:

          Victory conditions are an absurdity in all TW games – one might construct an argument that they make some sense in the original context of Shogun (and its successor) because the map represented an area that genuinely was contested by all factions. But expansion merely for the sake of expansion isn’t common in history and very few nations – even those that ultimately built empires – have ever had any grand objective to conquer or wipe out another, let alone control the world or whatever portion of it any given map represents. That’s as problematic for Rome as it is for Medieval, especially when considering factions like Egypt and “the Greeks” which, despite ample opportunity, rarely extended far beyond their borders.

          And of course the inclusion of playable British factions (however defined) in both Rome games was an absurd vanity by a British company; none of these groups even appeared to have designs to control the island, let alone expand overseas.

  24. photoheathen says:

    I’ve been playing these games since the literal beginning, but since Shogun 2 my interested has dropped off significantly.

    I miss being able to edit a text file to make factions playable, instead of buying a dlc. And I miss incest……

  25. Silverhood says:

    For multiplayer, the original Medieval was the true king. I spent hundreds of hours fighting online opponents in 3 vs 3 and 4 vs 4 battles.
    Medieval 2 takes the prize as best game for me though, purely based on the mods. The Third Age Total War mod is a thing of true beauty. It plays better than even modern TW titles, and keeps me going back for more when I long ago tired of Empire, Rome 2 and Shogun 2. When I get bored of that, there’s always Stainless Steel, and the recently released Europa Barbarorum II. I just bought Attila on Christmas sale, and it’s nice, but it’s not rekindling the spark.

  26. Goosemangamer says:

    Best in series.

    Shogun 2
    Medieval 2
    Rome Total War

    I still play all of these and IMHO they encompass the best of the core systems. The AI issues in Rome and Medieval 2 still come up but for the most part have been mitigated thanks to the great mod community.

    Mediocre

    Napoleon TW
    Attila TW

    These games represent CA trying to redeem botched releases. Napoleon sometimes succeeds with it’s narrower focus and is fun in MP. Ultimately though the AI just isn’t good enough.

    Attila just adds features that should have been included in Rome 2 at launch.

    Shameful Display
    Rome 2
    Empire

    Rome 2 remains a total disaster. Shame on CA for not patching it with the features added in Attila. Horrible UI, magic transports, stripped features and poor immersion.

    Empire sometimes seems compelling for a moment until some game or immersion breaking bug inevitably occurs.

    Rome 2 i

  27. Zenicetus says:

    You’re probably going to get some blowback from people whose opinions are colored too much by what mods have done with the various games, especially Medieval 2 and the original Rome. But I agree with the rankings if we’re talking vanilla game with final patches and DLC.

    Well, maybe I’d put Empire down at the bottom just for what they did to what should have been Golden Age of Sail nautical combat. And thanks for mentioning that, by the way. I think maybe a lot of people don’t realize what a mess they made of that, and yes, it was because the devs explicitly said that people would be too stupid to handle “real” sail combat.

  28. C0llic says:

    To get this out of the way; Medieval should be at the top of the list! For the same reasons it was placed so high here. I did also enjoy shogun 2 a lot, and Rome was of course very good, but in retrospect it was the start of a downward slide in spite of all the interesting things it added.

    I skipped most of the rest of these after the bitter disappointment of Empire, with Shogan 2 being the only exception. I may have to check out Atilla at some point though.

  29. Trithemius says:

    Rome (1) had the fantasy/ancient Egyptians; Rome 2 had them as a Ptolemaic Successor State and fewer chariot archers, etc.

  30. Duke Flipside says:

    This list seems almost back-to-front…

  31. Reiver says:

    Mods! They define the total war experience for me so much that I can’t even really begin to rank the vanilla games. I now don’t even attempt to play vanilla. Two battles in S2 was enough to have me searching for a movement and kill speed mod.
    For this reason I would put Empire bottom of the pile. As much as I tried and for all the great stuff added or tweaked, the game was just so fundamentally broken that it was unable to give me a campaign where the enjoyment overwhelmed the frustration and annoyance.

  32. Unruly says:

    I have to say, I’m glad to see Medieval 2 on the lower end of the list here. Maybe I’m just not the target audience for that particular game, but I couldn’t stand it. All I can remember is that, regardless of what I was actually doing, the Pope would threaten me. And unless I stopped everything I would have war declared on me by everyone all at once within a couple turns. Trying to fight the Moorish invasion coming up from Africa? That’s a Pope yelling. Trying to join a crusade? That’s a Pope yelling. Capturing the Vatican, killing the old Pope, and installing my own Cardinal as the new Pope? You bet your ass that’s a Pope yelling, even though, you know, he was your best friend until about 2 seconds ago and you still control him.

    I was completely unable to do anything at all because of that single mechanic. It was either “stay with your starting lands and never expand” or “get the entire Christian world turning against you because you sneezed.” Considering that this was my first experience with the Total War series, that’s a pretty shitty way to start things off. And if you ever tried to bring that up in a forum or something, the discussion always went “Get mods! Mods make it work!” If I have to use mods to make a game remotely enjoyable, then it isn’t a good game.

    Though, to be fair, the multiplayer battles were fun. It was just the entire core game that was shit.

  33. Haplo says:

    I love the Total War series. My first game was Rome Total War the first, and after that I went back to play Medieval 1, then proceeded to get all the games up to Shogun 2. Embarrassing amount of hours have been poured into each one; in fact, my Steam hours count the most popular games on my account being a mix of Total War, Paradox grand strategy, and Civ.

    For Christmas I was gifted a lovely new computer with a lot of muscle, a far upgrade over my old lovely computer. The new one was able to play all of the modern games I wanted smoothly and at high graphics levels. This meant I could go back and more fully enjoy Shogun 2, which ran, albeit grudgingly on my old computer. I ran through a campaign as the Oda and had a great time. It’s a very beautiful game.

    Then Rome 2 went on sale for -cheap-, like 20 bucks including some DLC. I had some prepaid cards from Christmas, so I decided what the heck, I’d give it a shot. I couldn’t play Rome 2 on my old PC, and the responses I’d heard about Rome 2 had been miserable, so this was basically the only real situation in which I’d buy and play the game.

    So I have, now. Ran through a campaign and started on another. And I’ve decided Rome 2 may be my personal favourite of the lot.

    I’ll put out my reasons here. It’s worth noting that as I never played it on release, I don’t have any experience with the whatever-mess it was then. All I have to go on is how it’s presented in the Emperor Edition. Furthermore it’ll also be obvious that some of these tickle my own personal preferences.

    For starters, the strategic military stuff.

    The Army/Legion system.
    Cities now produce garrisons of their own from buildings, and instead of armies being just a collection of units, they’re now their own organisational body which remains constant. There’s limited numbers of them that grow as you become more powerful. An army is always led by a general, and if the general dies a replacement is shipped off to it immediately.
    I love this system. I really deeply love it. I love having my armies be named bodies which gain their own traditions and have little histories of their leaders and conquests. I love that when a war is declared you have to start pulling your forces over instead of just raising new ones. I love that there often never seems to be -quite- enough of them to cover all your frontiers, meaning you have to rely on a city garrison holding out.
    I also feel it makes wars more decisive. When you knock out an enemy army, then that’s at least one turn to reestablish it, then several more turns for them to rebuild it up to full strength. Similarly, if/when you lose an army it can become a national crisis. Rebuilding them takes effort, and the game encourages you to establish some provinces as ‘military focused’, meaning you can’t just raise that army anywhere. It gives you a real sense of shouting ‘Varus, give me back my legions’.
    It also allows for some annoyance-reducing things that have been with the series for ages. As I said earlier, generals are instantly posted to the army, so no more waiting around for that one general to reach the army. Secondly, it allows for the current ‘stance’ system, which allows you to put an army into one of five stances (forced march, raid, ambush, fortify, normal), which would probably become highly cumbersome in the old system. I really, really like stances. I especially like the Forced March one, which allows an army to haul ass at the risk of being caught highly unprepared if attacked. In essence, it finally allows Total War to simulate the idea of an army marching quickly through friendly territory, but taking it more slowly and carefully in enemy territory. It is also essential in actually making the legion system work- if legions had to move at normal speed across your empire, it’d be rather painful. This is why I did the lazy thing in games like Medieval 2 of just building new armies near whoever I intended to invade next. As an aside, I certainly don’t feel that the space between settlements in Rome 2 is -that- large. In fact I don’t feel like it’s any longer than in any of the earlier games. Legions being able to move faster in friendly territory thus is a big improvement, and when it comes to actually attacking, I’ve usually found any slowness to be due to enemy resistance; once their armies are broken it is usually a fairly quick march across their settlements.
    A few little additions here which are just general quality-of-life improvements. For starters, I like that once you secure some quality iron and build blacksmiths/armorers, you can then promptly upgrade your forces wherever they are. That wasn’t in Shogun 2- in fact I don’t think Shogun 2 let you reequip or upgrade existing units at all (I may be wrong). If you had a province producing quality iron, only units produced in that province would get the better armour/weapons. Similarly I like that, in the Roman faction at least, you can upgrade your manipular units (Hastati/Principes/Triarii) into cohort units. It means for maybe the first time in Total War, I’ve had a unit which I started the game with, and has gone on to play an active role right up to the end of the campaign.
    I also like that armies don’t need navies for transport; they can just depart from any beach or harbour and go from there. I prefer it this way; I never really liked having to build a single bireme to transport forces around, myself.
    I also like that the Roman faction has a full auxiliary system allowing you to recruit hoplites from Greece, elephants from Africa and horsemen from Spain. Neat.

    That’s honestly the biggest and most decisive element for me, and it’s an important one, but the other ones I’ll cover quickly:

    The city development system I can take or leave. I like it, but not any better than earlier systems. It does feel a bit lightweight but I do like that it’s spread out over several regions, and that there’s a really pleasant approach to encouraging efficiency due to all the overlapping bonuses. I also like that you can convert a building from one type to another in the same class.

    The political system is basically nowhere near as developed as the sort from a Paradox game, but by the standards of Total War it’s a decent improvement, to the extent that it encourages a sense of nepotism and even potentially ‘deliberate’ mistakes when it comes to rival generals. I think it could do with some fleshing out and solidifying, but I think it works overall.

    The diplomacy system…? It works. I dislike that they’ve let borders become porous for armies instead of crossing a border being an instant declaration of war (I dislike porous borders) but otherwise the diplomacy system seems alright. The enemy factions, at least, seem to appreciate when they’ve been beaten much more than in previous games- potentially I’m just glad to have it after spending so much time tangling with Rome 1 and Medieval 2’s execrable diplomacy.

  34. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    I actually feel like Rome I is the worst in the series (and i’ll copy one of my older comments over here to make that point). The first Shogun: Total War greets us with very foreboding and athmospheric Japanese music, looking at a carrion-strewn battlefield. The menu is a parchment that opens, whilst animations in the background reflect that of japanese art (specifically in regards to how perspective and 3d is handled). The tutorial throws Sun Tzu at you and is actually genuinely hard for a first time player, reflecting the difficulty of winning a battle properly and teaching you the importance of terrain.

    Diplomats and your servants speak proper Japanese, whilst following Japanese customs, such as never turning their back on you in your throne room. You have a throne room! With an adviser speaking in wisdoms and in riddles whilst he subtly advises you to, say, attack more often. The foreign diplomats (the Portugese and the Dutch) meanwhile speak to you in absolutely horrid Japanese where it is clear that they had to rehearse their lines – which again makes perfect sense. They also come across as very rude, not being accustomed to the Japanese diplomatic customs that have gradually grown on you. Your units on the battlefield speak Japanese. The maps themselves were highly detailed hand made maps for each province. Assassinations had their own several minute long animations, showing intriguing murder weapons, having interesting soundtracks, being quite bloody, and were the reveal was not known until the final moment several minutes in, making them hair raising affairs.

    An additional CD comes with extensive documentation of the actual history at the time, turning any person from a totally clueless person into someone who is quite knowledgeable about the sengoku-jidai and the concept of Bushido, something which most westerners don’t know anything about. The game just oozed atmosphere and it felt great to immerse in a historical yet obscure setting, whilst the AI and the battles were top notch.

    ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THIS is present in the original Rome. For the sake of having “full 3d battles” every single inch of atmosphere was thrown overboard in favour of an engine that had only slightly prettier graphics at the cost of all the immersion, and at the cost of the AI, which has never reached the heights of the first instalments.

    All the thematic stuff was gone. The music was generic overly dramatic stuff. Hardly any films, and the ones that were were far, far uglier then Shogun’s. No latin. The roman faction (which is your only option in the beginning!) is vastly overpowering the other factions right from the get go, whilst Shogun emphasized brave and skilled generals overcoming impossible odds. In Shogun, victory was an achievement. In Rome, victory was inevitable.

    And let’s not even get started on the historical inaccuracies… There is simply no worse offender in the series, CA later took a few pages from the excellent Europa Barbarorum book.

    I have absolutely no idea why the game was lauded so much, but I do feel that Rome 2’s failure was in part due to the first game just being so… weak.

    Back when I first wrote this (slightly adapted) comment it was appended to the Total War: Atilla hands on article back in january 2015. There I made the prediction that if CA could re-establish a sense of theatrics and theme in their Attila installment they would have a very strong game on their hands. ‘Lo and behold! They did.

    (I haven’t checked out the latest patch yet though, it apperently does rebalance the main campaign game quite a bit).

    • Zephro says:

      Eh I felt that Attila still fails despite more dramatic flair and Rome 1 was still good as it was trying things and attempting to create a dynamic campaign. Also Rome 1 contained the dynastic politics and civil wars that define Roman history in my mind.

  35. shocked says:

    My conclusion from the comments is that Rome I is the best and essential TW game, perhaps only beaten by the fantastic Medieval 2, although that hadn’t the same magic as its predecessor Medieval, which is clearly the highpoint of the series, as is Shogun 2, which, although perfect, was even improved by FallOfTheSamurai. Of course none of those titles came close to Empire, the best game of all of them. And while these old games play in their own league, Attila really takes the crown. Rome 2 is shit though (unless we talk about the Emperor edition, which many consider to be the bestest TW game).

    In any case: the stupid list is wrong.

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      kfix says:

      You could not possibly be more objectively wrong with your totally biased opinion, I have a long list of correct FACTS that prove you incompetent and also dangerous which I could totally write down here if I thought it would do any good but it would be throwing pearls before a sows ear, in conclusion you are wrong and you smell bad.

  36. FabriciusRex says:

    Creative Assembly lost all their credability with the realse of Rome 2. Follwing months of marketing and what essentialy came down to be false advertising and blatant lies they realeased a broken game (thats 50 Euro I’ll never se again, thanks CA!). And not only that. What Creative Assembly clearly did was the following: instead of focusing all their effort on making a well working and polished game, they obviously had teams working on how they could grab even more money from their customers – locking out factions behind a day one pay wall. The practice of having day one DLC is just ridiculous beyond words. Then they realsed Attila with fixes that should have been patched into Rome 2! A joke, right?

    Whether Rome 2 or any other Creative Assembly game is good or not is besides the point. Their practices as a game producer are amongst the worst I’ve encountered. It should not be condoned in any way or form.

  37. fredc says:

    I’m not surprised that Rob doesn’t like Empire’s depiction of “17th century” warfare, since the game starts in 1700 and depicts 18th century warfare.

    I actually prefer it to Napoleon, personally, because of its scope, even though it doesn’t really do anything that’s particularly effective with non-European warfare. You have a lot more options than just fighting yet another battle in central Europe. It’s not quite as pretty, I’ll give Napoleon that.

    I also think Rob is a bit too hard on Napoleon’s battle engine. Total War games have never been about basement-dwelling nerd / staff college levels of tactical accuracy. While the game lacks, confusingly, a lot of the formation options you might expect in a Napoleonic game, it’s not exactly a heinous sin given that all the gunpowder-era TW titles dramatically simplify how regiments/units would actually deploy. You can actually try out a lot of the tactical innovations that early 19th c military professionals were implementing/attempting with a reasonable degree of success.

  38. dubhdara says:

    I have to disagree with the article in that I believe Rome: Total War was in many ways the peak of the series. Of course there were improvements in some areas in later releases, but the problems just increased (which is to some extent due to increasing complexity of course).

    Rome gives is the best of both worlds in many respects. The first iteration (Medieval and its add-ons) didn’t have the good 3D RTS factor, but Medieval 2 onwards brought us less-cohesive units with strange animations and bad responsiveness.

    Rome was that midway point between playability and realism that, to me, hit the sweet point. And with mods such as The Fourth Age: Total – The Dominion of Men pushing the engine to the limit, it’s even better.

    I did enjoy Medieval 2 as well – but the unit responsiveness/cohesion as well as the worsened (not improved) siege battle AI was frustrating. Troops would continually mass around the bottom of siege ladders and never climb up the things…

    Attila is now touted as the best. I’ve played some of it, but I’m still of the mind that Rome: Total War will always hold the Classic title of the series – for me at least.

  39. Auldman says:

    I’ve been losing interest in this series. I have a strong suspicion I’ll give the next historical entry a pass and I certainly won’t preorder it.

    I’ve been trying to figure out what bothers me about what Creative Assembly does and I think I’ve finally reached some conclusions. On paper these games should appeal. I’ve got a degree in history and I love military history and yet the latest games bug me.

    I don’t think Creative Assembly has ever been able to get the balance right between what a history buff would want and what a hardcore gamer would want and sometimes those are two diametrically opposite things. Provinces weren’t really razed quite so spectacularly in the time of Attila and certainly not so spectacularly. You shouldn’t go from 200 bread to literally starving in one turn and near rebellion. Things like that really put me off Attila. I get why they did it. Because gamers bitched that the previous games were too easy but there is a difference between “too easy” and historically ridiculous!

    Empire is another case of where Creative Assembly just ignored history and made whatever it was they felt like making and the review here is spot on. These games are eye candy and little else. Cinematic eye candy. I’m done.

    • Zephro says:

      You can entirely balance historical context (rather than strict accuracy, evoking the period authentically) and fun game design. Paradox are now the experts at it.

      CA just haven’t had a new idea about mechanics of their games since Rome came out.

      Attila is full of this nonsense. At the height of it’s extent the Western Roman Empire has no way of recruiting archers… as it’s buried in a tech tree and requires a special building. For archers…

      Yet somehow any rebellion within the territory of the Western Empire despite being more Roman units has unlocked all this tech and can build all the units you can’t. They also rebel for no reason. It’s not like EU4 where you can see the clear cultural/religious/political/economic reasoning going into rebellion. rebels just appear with good units otherwise the game is too easy.

      I think the granularity of the turns is massively at fault for this. It takes 6 months to march from London to York for some reason (pretty sure Harold did it in 2 weeks). If the other side marches in the opposite direction you both end up sieging the cities. Rather than yknow meeting in the middle, or diverting your army dynamically as events occur.

      • Auldman says:

        I agree that you can balance historical context and fun game design but I don’t think Creative Assembly has ever quite managed to get the knack of that. Your reply makes some pretty good observations of some of the things that have driven me bonkers over the years. Why wouldn’t the Roman empire have archers? Why would the hordes appear with ballista when the Roman empire can’t build them until 55 turns and however many leaps about the tech tree? Why would an empire be near starvation after one turn? Who thinks of these things over there? Fire that person, CA! By all means make the game hard but do not forget that it should also make some goddamn sense!

        • Zephro says:

          I feel fairly convinced that most the hiring/firing at CA is off shit hot graphics wizards. With the same lone AI programmer locked in a cupboard somewhere, rehashing 15 year old code.

          I agree CA are bad at the balance. It’s also that they have either gotten worse, or charitably been totally stagnant, while people like Paradox, Firaxis or Games-labs (by the Darth Mod team) have actually been innovating. Stuff that was fine to put up with in Rome or Medieval 1, because it was 15 years ago, just isn’t good enough now.

  40. kud13 says:

    I’ll have to be another person to say that Medieval II is way too low on that list. First of all, because MODS. Med 2 was the last TW not tethered to Steam on release, and some of its mods are new games in their own right (total conversions especially).

    Second of all the Kingdoms expansion allowed CA to actually deal with many of the strategy AI problems by sticking to smaller-scale scenarios, while retaining interest due to more asymmetrical factions in each campaign.

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      Grizzly says:

      I feel that the moddability of the games should not factor into any decisions on “The best games” lists, unless moddability was a specific aim of the series. Consider games like Trackmania or Rfactor which are built around it, unlike in Rome 1 and Med2 where modabbility was more of a happy accident due to the game using simple text tables and .tga files for it’s maps. A game should be good based on it’s retail merits alone.

      (Although I would love to see a best total war mods entry as well!)

  41. Eightball says:

    Very similar list to the one I would write, though I would move Napoleon down and Med 1 up.

  42. kud13 says:

    Also, as someone who missed the glorious coming of Shogun and go into TW games later on, I feel that it should be pointed out that the Total War formula built heavily on the Lords of the Realm games (even though obviously CA put their own touch on these–they made the battles 3-D, for starters).
    But the basics (strategic overlay map + RTs battles; province management, recruiting troops, building and defending castles; rudimentary diplomacy)- Lords of the Realm did all of this first.

  43. Crazy_Gweilo says:

    I certainly enjoyed fall of the Samurai, but no fog of war plus effective indirect artillery meant bring as many Armstrong guns as possible.

    The Ai in tw games is also very variable. I remember showing my brother Rome, and he pointed out I’d left my armies rear open and the cavalry could wheel around and take my missile troops. I said the Ai wasn’t that smart, but then it promptly did exactly what he had suggested, routing my army.

    On the other hand I remember the medieval tw Ai, which marched it’s troops in circles as my archers rained arrows on it. Ugh.

    The total war Ai does best in the Shogun games since its good at charging you with melee troops, and bad with anything that requires detailed formations ( although the Napoleon Ai did know how to form a half decent firing line)

  44. echo_1 says:

    Played all TW games. List is dubious at best. For hardcore fans RTW and M2TW (with mods, granted) are by far the best in the series. Depth of both games is unsurpassed in ANY of later instalments.

  45. Blastaz says:

    Personally my favourite TW game is probably which ever one I have been playing most recently. They all have their charms, quirks and drawbacks.

    Shogun 2 (and 1 actually) have a really strong theme and style but the price they pay for that is a lack of diversity and more simplistic rock paper shotgun combat.

    Empire and Rome 2 have massive width but not much historical depth. And in empires case an absolutely tiny unit roster and loads of micro.

    Rome 1 took the leap into 3D but had some crazy diplomacy and systems that didn’t quite add up.

    Medieval 2 is remembered so fondly for its mods but the vanilla game is pretty lacking.

    Generally I find the great man expansion packs that narrow and sharpen the focus and the time period to be improvements on their base games. As they show CA refining the formula and improving on what went before more iteratively than in the big leaps between games when they tackle a brand new theme.

    Personally I’m a grand strategy gamer, who auto completes 90% of the battles, and I think Rome 2 was actually a great step forwards for the franchise making city building more complicated than it was before. Attila takes this even further but the main game is slightly handicapped by the set up in the campaign: big crumbling empires that require micro and time investment but become quickly unstoppable if you turn them around or tiny opms. Charlemagne is actually great as it takes the basic mechanics from Atilla and ties them to a more interesting start. I’d love to see another small step improvement on them into a medieval 3.

    But bold move negging medieval 2 so hard though, even if I’d agree!

  46. tafoya77n says:

    I totally understand that I have a different opinion of the total war series but I have to disagree. For me Shogun I and II were the worst of the games, so little variety and a horribly boring setting. Meanwhile Rome II I have spent 200 hours in and loved them rather than the 60 I spent bored and frustrated by Shogun II, yeah it could have improved more, and it had a few bugs at first which they ironed out within the first two weeks or so.
    Attila took that awesome baseline and improved on it in every way, I’ve spent 300 hours in the game and loved everyone of them. The only things I’ve spent more time playing has been Skyrim and WoW.

    1) Attila
    2) Rome II
    3) Medieval II
    4) Empire
    5) Rome
    6) Shogun II
    7) Shogun
    I haven’t played Medieval yet

  47. davastata says:

    For me (and excuse my english, im from the north) it is medieval 2 that has the things i like the most, and its hard for me to explain it proper cause of the languagebarrier but i will try.

    1. The graphics are a beast, still. I know its not the most tecnical of them all,but something is amazing when you see the landscape, the troops and everything when you go into battle.
    2. More important, the feeling of the combat. Yeah the units are not fast at all but it feels like most units have “weight” in the movement and when the charge at the enemy. I remember when i got both empire and napoleon that inf and cav charges where “blaah” (i know its a different timeperiod and lighter cav and everything) and i still have that feeling when troops smashes into eachother in attila and rome 2.
    3. The pacing (is that the right word?) in med2 is perfect! In shogun 2 and i guess rome2/attilla i feel that the units is sprinting in 40km/hour and everything goes to fast. Even the morale and units getting depleted a bit to fast i guess for my taste.
    4. I still think the rome1/med2 enginge feels closer to the combat. I dont know if its from how the camera works and what restrictions it has, but its something that for me creates magic :P

    I would love if CA tried to work on another engine that could handle melee combat and give the units more weight again and recreate that feeling from med2 of guys in heavy armour that crashes in to eachother.

  48. Rince says:

    The Total War games are amazing. I just love them. Even if I’m not so good playing.

    My favorite are Shogun 2 and the first Rome.
    Playing a coop of FOTS with a friend was some of the most fun sessions of gaming ever.

    But, I haven’t played all of them. Empire, Napoleon, Rome 2 and Attila are still missing in my collection.

  49. Fromage says:

    An alternate list, best to worst. Note I’ve omitted ones I’ve not played:

    Top honors go to Medieval 2. The last game in the series that locked some of the factions and had you unlock them by defeating them in game. It lent a beautiful sense of discovery and progression that is missing from all future games. The expanded Dynastic mechanics work great, though admittedly the rules governing the system are opaque to the point of being incomprehensible. In truth this actually works in favor of the system to my mind…much like in real life, some people just grow up to be shit, no matter how well they’re taken care of.

    Rome is up next. Very much like Medieval but with a not as in-depth family system and enemy factions that exist to be run over by Rome itself. Still, I actually like the setting quite a bit more, so it is actually pretty much a toss-up about which is better in the end. It was also the first Total War game I actively liked (I played Shogun, but I’ll talk about that later) so it has that going for it as well.

    Shogun 2: Artificial limits on units and a family system that is more of a tech tree than anything else knock Shogun down a bit in my estimation, but it’s still a very good version of total war, especially the fall of the Samurai.

    Empire: This is possibly higher than it should be, but it gets high marks for what it tries to accomplish, and I do occasionally go back and play it, unlike the games further down.

    Shogun: Not a bad game, but so simplistic I can’t play it. The animations for the ninja actions, however, are amazing, I have to say.

    Rome 2: Bottom of the list, as it takes a hard left from the improvement of Shogun 2. Most systems are simplified to the point of being un-interactive, most notably the dynastic co-ordination. Not a game I would ever go back to, and very sorry I purchased it in the first place.

  50. poohbear says:

    I never bought Rome 2 until the Emperor’s edition, and when i played that it was pretty damn good! They’re all great but the reality is you never buy a Total War game upon release, they’re so ambitious that they need to 3-4 patches before most major bugs are ironed out. That said, Shogun 2, Attila, Rome 2, medieval 2 are my favorites by far. I wasn’t crazy for the musket era games (Empire & Napolean), but i recall spending many many hours on Empire & Napoleon. All told with all the hours i spent on all the total war series….i could’ve done another University degree! lol