A time to be remembered for turmoil, not least for the Saxons. A group of tribes loosely held together under a single banner until the birth of a leader. Surrounded by other disparate tribes banding together, their goal is to expand, financed by raids across the coast of Britain.
Whilst Total War is at heart an intimidating turn-based strategy game with battles that require the management of thousands of troops simultaneously, it’s a game that has put itself in the public consciousness more than most. How many other games have found their combat turned into a Richard Hammond-fronted historic television game show?
Cornwall, not raided but liberated, allows the British people to start to form together. The Saxons continue up the west coast of Wales and conquer Northern Wales and decide to stay there.
Graphically, Attila finds itself in an odd situation. If you were heading back to 1989 to blow minds with what games look like in 2015, this would be a game you’d take back. Impressive enough zoomed out, the simple process of zooming in would thoroughly explode their brains. Utterly useless for gameplay, it’s still impressive enough to occasionally swoop down and watch the slaughter first hand. Despite that, the graphics aren’t a notable improvement on Rome 2, which wasn’t really a notable improvement over Shogun 2. It’s still impressive compared to every other historical strategy game, but Total War is prettified to get a broader audience than other strategy titles, so it would be nice to see a distinct leap forward.
On the continent, things go better. A jab south is successful, until the Romans decide to fight back. Likewise, one small village of Gauls are obliterated, only for the Western Roman Empire to clumsily fight back. Both end in towns being razed.
Perhaps the lack of graphical leap causing a glance over Total War’s shoulder is reason for one of the bigger additions, a true family tree. Best pitched as Crusader Kings Lite, you’ve now got to allocate roles and keep an eye on the happiness of your relatives to make sure they don’t do anything silly like starting civil wars. It’s a good, if small, addition in terms of gameplay, but it does slightly alter the tone of the game from acting for the nation you represent to being more concerned about the individuals ruling that nation.
The Franks are obliterated, thrown from their ancestral home to roam Europe as a horde, sailing first to Denmark and allowing the Saxon empire to now include Belgium. In the distant East, a new leader is born.
The other major addition is hinted at in the title. Factions can now become hordes, able to eschew city maintenance entirely. The idea behind this addition is glorious, massive armies sweeping through leaving a trail of destruction behind them, but the implementation is more prosaic. With any faction except the Huns, it essentially becomes a Moving House Simulator, pack up and move to a nicer area with no real way of sustaining a self-created horde. The Huns have more chance, but still require a vast amount of time spent in encampments which simply slows things down too much to be fun.
To the north, an agreement with the Jutes sees the Angles brought into Saxon territory, whilst the Jutes focus on conquering Britain. That provokes the Danes into attacking with an expensive but poorly trained series of armies, but defeating them riles the Geats. A six thousand man army razes Belgium, the Geats capital in Sweden razed in response. This drives them south to territory on the Mediterranean, out of Saxon hair.
It’s probable that, personal preference for era aside, this is the best Total War game so far. Even the era itself is essentially a blurred middle-ground between Roman and Medieval times, allowing aspects of both. I found it essentially bug free (by Total War standards, at least) and it improves almost every aspect of previous games. The joy of making your own version of history is here, the ability to sink hours into the game without noticing is too. It’s a very good game…
Key territory razed, a strengthening Western Roman Empire to the South. Britain dominating the south of the British Isles, Jutes the north. Things are not going well.
…But that isn’t the whole story. The trouble is, lots of the problems are still there. Battle controls are essentially unchanged since the very first games meaning you still have to set up in the same fashion each time, siege defences still suffer from enemy AI happily walking uphill into unmoving spearmen. Campaign strategy still requires building to be focused on ill-defined multipliers and despite managing that, sudden actions by the AI feel like they could only be defended against properly with a crystal ball rather than reasonable strategy.
This leaves the Saxons with a strong army, but only two towns and a Welsh outpost. What happens next?
As one of the premiere strategy series, this feels like an almost budget expansion pack. Whilst there is plenty of game, you’ve got to wonder about the number of unplayable factions. The fact that post-launch DLC is already being released does make this feel quite a lot like a free to play game that isn’t free. Despite being a fundamentally good Total War game, it’s hard to leave Attila anything other than slightly disappointed at a missed opportunity to make a great Total War game. Where the series goes from here will define it.