Let’s play a game. A sort of… Total War Roulette.
It’s been over 8 months since the release of the much anticipated Rome II. The award winning title has garnered praise and criticism, with a couple expansions in the bag and perhaps more on the way. And though it’s still a relatively new title, I find myself looking beyond it. Truth be told, Rome was always my third favorite incarnation of the series (It was Medieval until the release Empire). I’m not downplaying Rome II’s accomplishment, nor am I harping on the typical Total War hang-ups it fails to fix. I’m simply curious about what’s next in line. So let’s explore the possibilities and probabilities, toss a marble on the Creative Assembly roulette wheel and see where it may land.
Narrowing the Field…
Let’s take stock: Total War releases backtrack as follows: Rome II, Shogun II, Empire, Medieval II…
Eliminating the possibility of far too recent Rome and Shogun repeats, we are left with 3 options. Medieval 3 is the obvious front runner, as Medieval 2 has been longest on the shelf of any other title. But the talking heads at Creative Assembly have been pretty adamant that MTW3 WILL NOT be the next incarnation of the series. If we are to believe them, then we truly are left with two: Empire 2, or an entirely new stand alone title.
Of the two options, Empire seems the least likely. It’s still fairly recent(less than 6 years old) and not that dated. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a revamping of Empire. Conceptually, it was my favorite of the series, and the Napoleon expansion was only a vast improvement on the original. But Napoleon left you wanting more. It showed you how much room there was for improvement in Empire, as Empire really was only a prototype for a new era genre. The Sea Battles gave us just a taste of something that will become spectacular. I felt immersed in an era so near and dear to my historical fancy, reciting the last words of famous naval heroes in the age of sail. Yes, I am a nerd. It’s what I do.
The advent of Naval Battles was nothing short of a revelation, and the recent melding of land in sea in Rome only makes my mouth water at the thought of incorporating that back into Empire. Also, I don’t think Empire adequately transitioned to the era of powder and musket. The weapons felt almost as inaccurate as they did in Medieval, where one wondered the point of even researching powdered weapons, except to spook lesser developed nations. Napoleon largely solved this problem. Where line infantry and artillery throw deadly volleys worth fearing.
All that said (and it pains me to say it), I truly think Empire is about two or three TW titles away from a re-release. Like with the previous release of Empire, I think the developers are truly looking to do something completely different. Here’s a look at the eras I think would be the most interesting.
Empire did a decent job of introducing the few different political structures to the fold in Empire. It had only begun to explore the ramifications and relationships between them. Renaissance Italy was not only a period of great intellectual and cultural flowering, it was also a period of political “experimentation” and flux. City states were shifting from republic to two-bit kingdoms and back again. This era could bridge the gap between Medieval and Empire, which would be a nice touch. It could give us a better appreciation for the transition from melee to ranged warfare during the advent of powder and musket.
Drawbacks: Renaissance Italy was a period of relative peace compared to the Dark Age that preceded it and the Imperial Age that was to follow. To give the era an authentic feel, a good revamp of the war expectations and goals would have to be explored. While I think this could give the game a good look at it’s diplomacy needs… that is, add a much needed nuance and depth that simply hasn’t ever been there… I don’t think the era really lives up to the series name. Fortunately for western civilization, the Renaissance was a little preoccupied with mankind’s higher ideals, than simply dominating one another for the sake of hanging their flag over their neighbor’s door. But that doesn’t make for many epic real-time battles.
Classical Greek City States
This seems the most obvious choice, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been fully attempted. RTW’s Alexander expansion took a brief shot at Alexander’s conquests and Hellenism, but that comes only on the heels of Greece’s golden age of bickering city states. Think about it… the multiple warring factions contend for domination of Greece, and the establishment of a Greek empire in the Mediterranean, all the while fighting off foreign threats from Persia and beyond. Rewrite history. Say it’s Athens, and not Macedon that produce’s histories greatest conqueror, and redirects western culture forever… or Sparta? This era so perfectly fits into TW’s format, I actually think this is the most likely.
Drawbacks: Can you think of any? Save perhaps it’s too near to the Roman era. But you military history buffs know that tactics of the two ages differed dramatically. Instead of the more malleable Legionaries, phalanxes and cavalry ruled the day. After the popularity of movies like the 300 remake, I think creative assembly and Sega might be wise to cash in on the popularity of Ancient Greece. I’m not seeing many drawbacks here, except that
American Civil War
The American Civil War pretty much invented the concept of the Total War. If a Total Civil War were to be attempted, it would require many experimental and interesting alterations to the genre. And that is precisely why it is so intriguing.
Drawbacks: the immediate drawback people will bring up is that this era was short lived(5 years) and a two party war. Granted, and that’s partly why it sits as low as 3. But then again, I still think it can be an apt era for the genre. Here are a few ideas that might revitalize the series in Civil Total War.
1. Instead of playing as one side, the player could choose to play as a single state. In those days, the states were still responsible for raising the regiments that made up the national army. They had much more autonomy in economic and policy decisions too (that’s kind of what the war was about, regarding one policy issue in particular). The player could be responsible for raising units, training officers, and sending them to their respective army. They could then receive orders from the commander of the army, and guide their units in concert with others in battle. With a certain amount of politicking, their man could rise in ranks to the top, giving you full command of the army and its tactical decisions.
2. Perhaps there is an option for the player to manage the national government, and have a more guiding extra-leadership roles like the papal states in medieval total war 2. The national government could make trade policy decisions, organize armies, appoint generals, and make strategic decisions as well.
3. Necessarily, they’d have to revamp the campaign map. Occupation couldn’t be so simple as taking a region’s capital and being done with it. Instead, players would be responsible for guiding armies through regions and over terrain, taking key positions and holding them. Much like the northern strategy of dividing the South along the Mississippi, blockading it’s ports and capturing it’s capital, the game could give real economic, strategic, and morale rewards and consequences based on a more complex set of factors than merely taking territory.
Regardless, Something’s gotta give.
In many ways the Total War series is as thriving and epic as it ever was, but in others (and these seem like constant complaints) it’s become stagnant. The game needs to revamp diplomacy. One does not fully appreciate the stupidity of Total War’s AI until venturing out into similar titles in the genre. Take Victoria 2, which made the decision to put all their eggs in the diplomatic and political baskets (no real-time battles here). That game is nuanced. It’s played out only on a campaign map. Wars can’t be waged without a casus belli, and peace treaties are signed before the complete destruction of a nation. Territorial gain is a slow a realistic crawl in a balance of power.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten frustrated with a major nation in Total War that refuses peace offers even when they face total annihilation. Total War’s AI is the equivalent of a man beating his head against the wall until it, or his skull, cracks. Something’s gotta give. Total war would do well to add some nuance to their diplomatic structure and AI.
I’d like to see other changes too, like dead bodies and broken siege equipment becoming battlefield obstacles, rather than decorative ghosts. But now I’m nitpicking. And at the risk of this post becoming more rambling or critical of one of my favorite series than it already is, I shall end on this note:
Total War got to where it is by being the best at what it does. Its real-time battles are epic and immersing. I haven’t known of a title in the genre who can drop you into any era’s battlefield and make you feel more there. My question to you is… where do you want to go next?