Creative Assembly has become a staple in the world of grand strategy games through their Total War series. The game’s mix of historically accurate Civilization-like strategy with tactical RTS battles allowed Creative Assembly carve its own market niche, one which has largely remained unopposed for almost two decades. However, the lack of a competitor comes with its own slew of problems. Without a rival series to compare Total War ATTILA one is forced to look back at this series’ previous installment, Rome II only to then realize how remarkably similar they are to the point of even sharing a similar setting.
Taking place in 400 AD, the Roman Empire slowly losing its grip over Europe, allowing for the barbarian bands of Vandals and Visigoths to roam and pillage the land. These factions however care little for one another and will fight between themselves just as much as they do the Romans. The real danger however is the titular ATTILA The Hun, whose faction makes itself present from the early stages of each campaign before eventually descending on land in full force, carrying numbers that will likely vastly outmatch yours.
For this reason it’s recommended that players quickly choose which factions they plan on taking out early in each playthrough and who they plan to ally themselves with. Mutual cooperation while beneficial is hard to come by, being largely dependent on shared religions, family lineage and of course a mix of political, economic and military intrigue. The idea of carving your own lineage, choosing which family members attain the status of governors and generals and who will serve as mere marriage material create an enticing gameplay aspect. Unfortunately, it often feels this is the only reason why one would purchase the ATTILA campaign.
Those who have played Total War: Rome II will find this new entry shares the same world map and many of the same factions as its predecessor. It seems to thread a very fine line between sequel and stand-alone expansion while bringing very few of the advantages one would expect from such a release.
One of the most interesting features in ATTILA is the possibility of playing as a nomadic faction. Rather than hunkering down in a specific region and claiming it as capital, you essentially become your own mobile base, pillaging and looting as your main source of income. While this opens up a slew of strategic options, I often found it forced me to constantly remain on the offensive lest I faced financial bankruptcy. Even so, this only works until you choose to settle and create a fixed capital. Once that happens, your nomadic advantages disappear.
Combat still plays largely the same as its predecessor, though one can hardly blame the developers for this, “don’t fix what isn’t broken” the old adage goes. Perhaps the two greatest improvements in this regard are the user interface, which is now easier to use and the graphical enhancements. From new Anti-aliasing options to the detail on every soldier’s face, ATTILA is a sight to behold, especially when considering each battle will feature thousands of soldiers.
Battles tend to be slow and methodical, players are expect not only to be aware of each unit’s strengths and weaknesses but also be aware of the land’s bonuses. Fog and forests can be used to conceal groups of soldiers, high ground offers a tactical advantage provided you can lure the enemy to you and of course, you must keep an eye on your army’s fatigue and morale. The latter can be addressed through your general’s bonus abilities, as he fights skill points may unlock which can then be redeemed towards purchasing new talents or improving already existing ones.
As engaging and thrilling battles are, these did start to grind on me after a few hours. Expect each conflict to last a minimum of 20 minutes if you hope to achieve victory with a minimum number of losses. Luckily, you can have the computer fight these battles automatically, instantly providing the outcome of each engagement, though you should always expect to lose more men than you’d like via this route.
One of the most common issues with the Total War series was a lack of optimization at launch. I’m glad to say Creative Assembly listened to the criticisms it received during these years. Luckily my PC was able to play it with maximum settings at a stable framerate, I also didn’t run into any bugs or glitches throughout my experience. These improvements are more than welcome considering how often Total War launches with a slew of issues in need of fixing during its first few months.
Total War ATTILA does little to distance itself from its predecessor; it feels like an expansion pack masquerading as a sequel. Longtime fans will appreciate the familiarity to a certain degree, but are likely to wonder why it couldn’t have been added to the previous game instead. Regardless, Total War ATTILA is perhaps the best point to jump into this series, it does an expert job at introducing its deep gameplay to newcomers while offering just enough new content for longtime fans. It may not be the most exciting evolution from previous entries, but the new diplomacy, civic and family tree additions should keep players busy for weeks to come, at least until the Huns come and wipe everyone out.
Total War ATTILA was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release date: February 17th, 2015
Price: $44.99 via Steam