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Medieval II: Total War PC DVD-ROM

Published by SEGA
Developed by The Creative Assembly
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £34.99

When Shogun: Total War was released back in the summer of 2000, I thought it was one of the best strategy games ever made. Like most people I had played the demo (which effectively was a series of tutorials for the real-time combat side of the game) and had been impressed but nothing could prepare for how enjoyable the full game was, especially the campaign with its wonderful mix of turn-based and real-time strategy.  After Shogun came Medieval: Total War and the game was bigger and better in almost every sense. The third game in the series, Rome: Total War, was again an improvement and it saw the series become completely 3D for the first time. Rather than do a fourth game on a completely different period in history, The Creative Assembly decided to do a sequel for Medieval: Total War and the result is quite simply amazing.

In terms of scope Medieval II is certainly impressive. The game spans the years 1080-1530 and ranges from South America to the Middle East. There are 21 factions in the game (only a handful of factions are playable to begin with) with over 250 different units in the game. The turn-based campaign side of the game is more varied than ever and offers advanced options for trade and diplomacy. Religion is also a significant factor in the game and you’ll have to deal with heresy and prevent it from becoming a problem within your borders.  The modes on offer in the game will be instantly familiar to fans of the Total War series. You can take part in custom, quick or historical battle (such as Agincourt or Hastings), an online battle or for the full experience, you can try your hand at the Grand Campaign.

In Rome: Total War you had the senate making requests and managing to complete them earned you favour whilst neglecting them could earn their wrath. In Medieval II the senate has been replaced by the Pope. It’s also better to keep on the Pope’s good side by completing quests otherwise you could end up being the target of his wrath and his supporters are numerous. You may want to have one of your own men as one of the three applicants in a Papal Election when the existing Pope pops his clogs. Of course there’s a lot more than the Pope to be concerned with such as diplomatic issues, trading, keeping the line of succession going, guilds, subterfuge and much more. On the campaign map you don’t just have cities anymore. It’s now possible to have castles, which are military settlements making them better suited to raise armies. As with cities they can be upgraded (castle types include – Motte & Bailey, Wooden Castle, Castle, Fortress and Citadel) and come with their own share of benefits and problems. You can’t adjust the tax rate, for instance, but you do have high public order.

Medieval II: Total War is a brilliant game but there are a few things, mostly recurring complaints with the Total War series, which could have been better. Some will point to the fact that the series hasn’t really advanced a great deal since Rome: Total War and in some ways that’s a fair point. Naval battles are still carried out automatically, which is disappointing as many gamers have been asking for the ability to have control over them. It’s still not possible to play an online campaign. If you want a multiplayer game you’re left with the real-time battles. This has been a complaint with the series ever since Shogun: Total War, so it’s frustrating to be saying the same thing six years later. You’ve always been able to auto-resolve a battle but in all of the previous Total War games the system has never felt fair. Battles that should be won quite easily can go against you, which leaves you feeling like you can’t trust the AI to handle it, which is a shame as sometimes you just want to play the campaign map and not have to get involved with full scale battles.

Since Medieval: Total War was released the series has moved from being partially 3D to being in full 3D and the difference in quality between Medieval: Total War and Medieval II: Total War is quite fantastic. For a start the units you move around the campaign map are now animated (as in Rome: Total War) instead of being static, board game-like, pieces. The campaign map is pretty much of the same quality as the one found in Rome: Total War and as in that game, you’ll see the changing of the seasons. In winter, for example, you’ll see snow on the various locations on the map. The battlefield looks as good as ever and here the detail has definitely increased. The various units all look better and animate more impressively. Watching a battle, you’ll notice that your men seem like individuals (in regards to their behaviour and appearance) and not simply clones of each other. The battles look superb. I was also surprised at how well the game performs. I was expecting the battles, in particular, to be something of a slideshow but this wasn’t the case and for the most part the frame rate remained smooth even in hectic battles.

Previous games in the series have, on the whole, been deaf gamer friendly. Medieval II: Total War is also fine for deaf gamers. Subtitles can be enabled and when they are the games cutscenes, which are shown in a letterbox format, are subtitled with the text appearing in the lower border. Both of the game’s tutorials are subtitled meaning you’ll be able to learn how to play the game (although I suspect those who have played previous games in the series will have no problem). Any tutorial messages that can be accessed are delivered by both voice and text, which is good new for deaf gamers. There are a few things that aren’t subtitled though. When you move your units around on the campaign map they will make the odd remark and none of these remarks are subtitled. Likewise any comments your units might make on the battlefield when you issue orders to them are not subtitled. None of these omissions are important though and deaf gamers will have no problems with the game.

Where as previous sequels in the series have offered huge improvements the same cannot be said of Medieval II: Total War. That’s not to say things haven’t been improved, they have, but the game is more of a refined Total War experience rather than being something completely different. It’s the best in the series without a doubt and it’s a highly polished strategy game, one of the best in the genre in fact, that Total War fans will be hugely pleased with. That said you can’t help but think it’s about time to introduce an online campaign or to give you the ability to conduct your own naval battles. These few niggles aside it’s still one of the finest strategy games ever to grace the PC and we can’t wait to find out what the inevitable expansion pack is going to be about.

Overall Game Rating 9.5/10

Deaf Gamers Classification

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Medieval II: Total War is an outstanding strategy game that provides the best Total War experience to date. It's about time we could control naval battles though and the many cries for an online campaign appear to have gone unnoticed.