It's good to be king, and even better to be a sorcerer commanding a swarm of the undead. While the Total War series has grown into more fantastical settings by itself, it was the fans to first stick pointy ears on the venerable strategy game. Thanks to its robust mod support Medieval 2: Total War still has a large and active modding scene. While there are dozens of mods with historically accurate factions, today we're going to get our Hobbit on and take a look at what's good for your Elf. It's mods that make it all fantasy.
Medieval 2 Modding Tips 101
Installing mods for Medieval 2 takes some effort (it's 13 years old after all). If you own a physical copy, you'll need the Kingdoms expansion to run most mods. For the newer Steam 'Definitive Edition' the Kingdoms file comes included, but there's some extra leg-work to be done.
Either way, mods should be unpacked to your Medieval II Total War\Mods directory, and many come with a handy launcher file in EXE or BAT format. If you've the disc version, these should let you launch mods with a simple double-click. If you have the Steam version, you'll need to either edit your Launch Options (right-click on the game in your Steam library - it's in Properties), which looks like this:
Or create a custom shortcut to your Medieval2.exe. Which looks like this:
Either method works, so long as you type @mods\Mod Directory\Mod Config.cfg, it should work for any Medieval 2 mod on Steam. Whatever mod you're planning on running, you'll also want to make the game Large Address Aware, allowing it to use more RAM. Many larger mods will crash otherwise. This little tweak released along with the Warcraft: Total War mod (see below) should do the trick. Just run this little tool, point it to your Medieval2.exe and/or Kingdoms.exe file and let it work its magic.
Fantastic Medieval 2 Mods And Where To Find Them
If there's one Medieval 2 mod to rule them all, it's Third Age: Total War, a massive Lord Of The Rings-themed total conversion with a detailed and lore-authentic campaign. Please enjoy the least Lord Of The Rings music in the trailer above. Orcs, elves, dwarves and seemingly countless kingdoms of men are playable here, including some impressive giant-sized units. It feels like a natural fit for Medieval 2, what with overt fireball-slinging magic being rare in the films and books.
The most unusual feature here is The Fellowship Campaign, a tactical, scripted scenario following Frodo and his hairy-footed cohorts through the films, but on a wildly inflated scale. The first encounter with the Nazgûl is a knock-down, drag-out brawl between two regiments of hobbit infantry, a unit of rangers and all eleven of the goth brigade. Battles only grow in scale from there, and there's a lot of focus on conserving every unit you can. Having Gandalf and his personal guard fight a small swarm of Balrogs feels gleefully daft, although still not as silly as that last Hobbit flim.
In Total War mods, spells are just fancy arrows, and The Elder Scrolls: Total War is guilty of that trope. But it does a fine job of converting Bethesda's RPG setting into a strategic sandbox. It's great to see huge armies of Imperials and Nords clashing, instead of Skyrim's small civil war brawls.
As with Elder Scrolls games, this mod is best when it's touching on the weirder, wilder parts of the lore. Morrowind fans will be happy to know you can play as loincloth-clad masked demigod Dagoth Ur, leading a mixed army of cliff-dwelling monsters, mutant cultists and devout worshipers. It's easily the most oddball faction here, full of troops that literally don't know the concept of fear. It's a pity their voice acting isn't the best - you might want to turn the campaign map chatter down.
There's some good stuff on the horizon, too. The creators are planning to add the Clockwork City from The Elder Scrolls Online in the next major update. While the current version of the mod appears to run on the Steam version of Medieval 2 with relatively little fuss, I did encounter one common issue. If you find the game's interface replaced with a bunch of ugly white boxes, navigate to your Mods/The_Elder_Scrolls_1.6/Data/UI directory and delete the three .SD files there - Battle, Shared and Strategy.
It's great to see chunky Warcraft 3 and World Of Warcraft character models stomping around a strategic map. While unpolished, Total Warcraft (as it should be called) its laudable in its scale, letting you fight as factions like the skittering Nerubian Spider Lords. It's not quite a total conversion, with old Total War combat barks still being used, but it's technically in beta, so there's plenty of time to improve.
More than anything, Warcraft's chunky, clear unit designs lend themselves well to Total War, making for a readable battlefield. You can't mistake bright blue trolls and lime-green orcs for one another as they're smacking ten shades out of each other, and the non-humanoid factions are even more distinct. Those griffon riders may be a little wobbly and stiff, but it's still grand to see them gliding into battle.
This is a Legend Of Zelda-themed mod of baffling scope previously covered by Chris Livingston. Crossing Zelda timelines, this mashes together almost every faction and species from the series in one place. Everything from Hylian knights to armies of scuttling crab-like Gohma are playable, both in a story-heavy campaign mode, but also Hyrule Historia, a series of scripted scenarios book-ended by flashy cutscenes.
Unfortunately, it buckled under the weight of its own ambition. The original developer has since left to remake it from scratch as Hyrule Conquest. But there's enough crammed into Hyrule: Total War to keep Zelda fans strategising for dozens or even hundreds of hours, even if there are some chunks obviously missing.
There's just one hitch if you want to get into Hyrule: Total war - the download size. Medieval 2 mods are chunky enough to begin with, but this one clocks in at around 30 gigabytes. Thankfully, you don't need all of it. You can get away with the basic mod files, but you'll miss out on a lot of gloriously overwrought cutscenes in both campaign and mission modes. ModDB's servers have been creaking a bit lately, so even if you've got bandwidth to spare, downloading all this might be an ordeal.
The Next Era Of Medieval 2 Mods
There's plenty more on the way. Disciples: Total War, lets you command huge armies once represented by a single abstract piece in the Disciples strategy series. That link is only a demo of things to come (and Russian-only). But according to this developer forum post, there are 17 factions planned, though I hope we get an English sooner than that.
Similarly fantastical, Mortal Kombat Konquest: Total War is a recently announced project to bring the inter-dimensional fighting game to the strategy genre. It's still early days, so it's anyone's guess if they'll FINISH IT, but it's nice to see people still wanting to mod Medieval 2 into something so wildly different.
And with that fantasy roundup concluded, I hop aboard the nearest ship to the West, although unlike those boring elves I plan on returning in two weeks with another boatload of mods. As always, share your favourites below.