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Medieval II: Total War (Windows)

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Written by  :  Indra is here (19677)
Written on  :  Feb 17, 2008
Rating  :  2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars

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Summary

[v3.0] Superior in strategy but disastrous in Total War

The Good

Review: 3rd Update. Sorry, keep updating this since I found myself playing it again...please don't hate me. :)
Game version: v1.0.0.0
Tech Specs Used: Intel Dual Core 2 1.86 Ghz Processor, 1GB Memory, 256MB NVIDIA 7300 LE Video Card.
Level Difficulty Played: Hardest
Campaign mode used: Long
Faction used: England
Unit size used: Large;
Style of game play used: Defensive, focusing on ranged units.

I was eagerly awaiting the release of this game (only to get it 1 year later) as I am a Total War fan, specifically a Rome: Total War fan, as anyone who enjoys 3D mass battles, the Total War series is as close to medieval combat realism as you can get at this point in time.

I don't remember much about the previous Medieval: Total War, except I didn't like it that much, and unfortunately I eventually didn't like this one either that much compared to the first Total War and Rome: Total War although I must admit I’m totally addicted to it, but I'll save that later in the bad part.

There are however, a lot of improvements they made in this version of Total War that was lacking in Rome: Total War and previous predecessors.

Race Selection
Unlike Rome: Total War, where it is obvious that the three Roman factions have a major advantage over every other race in the game (if not units, then most obviously in buildings), this is not so in Medieval 2: Total War. Each faction of course has different strengths and weaknesses, the English for example have excellent archers but lack cavalry, the Scottish have excellent infantry and pikemen units but lack everything else, the French boast the best cavalry but lack strong infantry (er…I think), the Holy Roman Empire has the strongest units in the beginning of the game, but lack advanced units later in the game, etc.

There isn’t much difference between this and previous Total War games, however it is noticeable that in previous installments, you usually rely on one or two type of unit types. In this installment, there are a multitude of units to choose from, all with unique abilities that one cannot simply ignore.

The reason for the existence of these new buildings are due to the more "upgrades" the city/castle has. Each upgrade introduces more buildings which give you access to more these units. Additionally, more unique units may be access from "guilds" that are offered randomly to settlements with appropriate size.

Political Map – Concept Overview
There is a new unique concept introduced in this game: Towns and Castles (or I think it's new). Now, whenever you have a settlement, you can either make either expand it into a Town or a Castle, and you can change your village into a town or castle at any time (well, mostly at the beginning - I noticed you can't change when its grown to a certain size), with the consequence that some buildings may be destroyed that are not unique to either type.

Towns focus on trade, politics and civil responsibilities. More towns means more revenue and access to certain unique buildings not available to castles. Towns may be upgraded into bigger cities, providing access to even more buildings, but population control will be a problem eventually and thus, the order and happiness of the people are frequently a problem.

Castles focus on military units and there are a lot of units at that! Castle may be upgraded into stronger fortresses and citadels, providing better units, armor, weapons and defense. In 3D combat, Castles also provide an additional wall of defense that you may choose to retreat to if the outer wall is breached.

Castles do not provide a lot revenue, however, happiness and population control is rarely a problem.

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With the introduction of these 2 settlement types, strategy in the political map somewhat changes as you’d want castles to be near the borders of your enemies and strong towns backing up your monetary income. Or simply strategically placing them in areas where you can maximize the access to unique guilds that introduce unique units.

The game also introduces a new garrison feature. Garrisoned units (only in towns) provide require no maintenance each turn, and thus helps establish order for your population as well as guard your establishments. The bigger the garrison building, the more, the stronger and various units may be garrisoned there. However, only certain unit types may be garrisoned there (provided in the information building section).

Political Map – Buildings
A lot going on in this department, but there is one new feature worth mentioning: Guilds. A large town or castle will have access to guild services, where a guild may approach one of your towns or castles randomly and establish a base there. Towns for example have access to the Thieves Guild, Merchants Guild, Explorers guild, etc., which provide unique services and usually unique units available for recruitment. Castles have access to guilds that increase experience of troops training there, such as the Swordsman Guild, etc. There can only be one guild per city/castle however, thus strategically placing guilds are essential for efficient expansion.

Some guilds may be accessed by both settlement types, such as the Teutonic Knights, Knights Hospitaller, etc.

Political Map – Artificial Intelligence
One of the irritating features in Rome: Total War, Barbarian Invasion and Rome: Total War - Alexander, especially the last two, was the distance between two cities. Though the location and distances appear to be the same in Medieval 2: Total War, the experience however did not. The cities feel much closer together simply because there is more AI movement going around. Enemy AI armies move more frequently, especially in Western Europe and are always in constant battle with each other, unlike in Rome: Total War (even after the patches) where it always seems that it’s you against everyone else.

In Medieval 2: Total War, you feel just like another player.
And that’s a good thing.

Political Map – Diplomacy
Almost all strategy games have not mastered this concept, and I personally don’t know why. The only 3 things that is important in AI diplomacy is [1] Your relations with another faction [2] The chances your offer will be accepted by another faction [3] The consequence of a successful or failed offer.

This game has barely succeeded in this concept, but it is a major upgrade from Rome: Total War, that laced #2. Here, you know the chances that an offer will be accepted as there is an explanation in the diplomacy dialog: ie. Demanding, Generous, etc.

There is a minor irritation in this department however, since that explanation only pops up after you have given an offer, while for efficiency, that explanation show be shown in the process of you increasing your offer. (Example, the only way I know if my offer is good, is when to [1] I offer a certain amount of gold to another faction [2] Finalize the agreement [3] See the reaction. Giving 200 gold turns out to be a generous offer. But I want to give an amount of gold that is considered very generous, but don’t want to go overboard. I have to manually offer gold to see the reaction of the other faction, instead of seeing the reaction automatically every time (ie. skipping part #2 of the above) I’m in the process of increasing or decreasing my offer).

Political Map – Papal Politics
A unique version of politics here is the association of the Catholic states with the Pope. Relations with the Pope will ultimately effect your relations with everyone else (well, only with excommunication though). Good relations will allow access to demand a Crusade from the Pope to the Holy Land or to an excommunicated faction, whereas bad relations with the Pope may get you excommunicated and have a Crusade held against you!

Popes are chosen by Cardinals. Cardinals are appointed by the Pope to stationed priests of virtue in each Catholic State. The more Cardinals you have, the more likely you can choose the next Pope. When a Pope dies, you can choose one out of the three eligible candidates. Choosing the right Pope (the one that gets elected) will greatly increase your reputation with the Pope and the Papal States. Choosing the wrong one will drastically increase your relations. In the process of electing the next Pope, you can negotiate to persuade other states to cast their vote to a particular candidate. Eventually, how and where Christianity (read=your ambition) spreads depends on your active role in Papal politics.

If you have enough standing with the Pope, you can call for a crusade to the holy land or to an excommunicated Catholic faction. The purpose of a Crusade is to call all Catholic nations to send in troops to siege and conquer a particular city. Any nation can call for a Crusade. Failure to answer to the call of the Pope will result in a decrease of relations. An appointed crusading army may cross all Catholic borders without provoking bad relations with that state.

The Muslims seem to have a similar concept with the Jihad (their version of the crusade, but I don’t have access to Islamic states to confirm this – need to finish one of the campaigns first, I believe).

3D Combat
Some minor changes that greatly effect the game play in 3D combat. First, siege units have a greater role in combat. Ballistae in particular are more accurate and have more ammunition (actually all siege and ranged units have more ammunition), making siege units and the Ballistae in particular, a must in almost all battles.

The terrain now is also more diverse, in terms of hills and slopes. This effects army positions and future maneuvers drastically.

Heroes
Heroes now are no longer plagued with various bad traits (only a few) and those that are do not effect the game that much. The concept continues the previous Medieval: Total War, where there are 2 unique traits for a hero: Dread and Chivalry. Dread instills fear to the people by committing violent and bloodthirsty actions. Chivalry instills respect from your subject by committing honorable deed. Either trait is needed to manage cities (preventing a rebellion), so planning ahead which hero will be a saint or a butcher is also an integral part of the game play.

Mercenaries
They finally fixed that stupid irritating feature where before in Rome: Total War you could not reinforce mercenaries to maximum strength (only way to do that was to purchase more mercenaries). Thus, now mercenaries are the very much important when you stuck in the middle of nowhere and need fast muscle. Expensive in hiring, but worth it.

Due to the multitude of new units, there are also a multitude of weird mercenary units waiting to be exploited. Each province (it seems) introduce many different mercenary units…though thankfully (I think), they can be reinforced anywhere in the world. Hmm, need to get back on you on that one.

[edit] Actually it seems that they can't...argh...I need crossbows in Jerusalem.

Crusades & Mongol Invasion
Don’t you love spilling infidel blood…or anyone else’s blood for that matter. The crusades although may seem uninteresting at the beginning of the game, since you have better domestic tasks to do at home, has a greater effect on game play in the long run.

Crusader heroes get various chivalric traits and retinues (only if fighting infidels though), you get prestige and even more traits if the crusade is successful, plus you can recruit a lot of freakin cheap unique crusader units along the way. Though if your crusading army makes no progress to the holy land, some of your units may become disgruntled and desert your army.

The Mongol Invasion only matters if you have a province in the Middle East. I restarted the game a couple of times and did this during the crusades. Game play drastically changed, once during the crusades and after the Mongol Invasion. Almost every turn there's a battle going on (which is fine by my tastes).

Educational Value
The second most important feature in Total War I have to admit and bluntly praise to the developers is the level of information provided regarding the time era specified. Each unit and building has a historical description, giving the reader a crash course in medieval history…which in the end actually is more than the average dude on the street.

Siege Fixes
Finally, someone noticed.

The apparent fixes are among others:
  • Units are easier to place on walls. Easier to move on and from the walls;
  • Siege units can move in and out of city gates.


    [edit: I spoke too soon, see bad]

    The Bad

    Despite all the upgrades in the political map section, in the end there is only one thing that matters: Total War. And what is Total War, you may ask? Well, that’s mass 3D combat. And what important in 3D combat?

    [1] Unit Control;
    [2] Unit Maneverability and Response;
    [3] Unit Formations;

    All three in one way or the other have several overlapping aspects.

    Now this is where Medieval 2: Total War failed. In fact it became worse in comparison to Rome: Total War. How this happened is beyond me, but I’ll explain how.

    Unit Controls and Own-unit AI
    One of the important things in issuing orders to units is that you expect them to do what they are told, with no delay (or at least within reason). When you tell them to turn left, they should turn left; Turn right, they should go right; Move forward, retreat, you get the picture.

    More importantly, they should do it in formation, unless you allow them to do other wise. Here, this became disastrous. The units in combat almost have no discipline, evidently seen with most units, especially cavalry units.

    Cavalry units in medieval warfare (historically) foretell the outcome of a battle. Ranged units weaken enemies, infantry units creates a wall between you and the enemy, but cavalry units deals the final decisive blow. However, you cannot expect that from cavalry units now (and all other units for that matter), why? Because they don’t do what you want them to do:

    [The “Spreading” Bug]
    My personal experience was when I told my units to chase a broken unit (retreating unit). Sure, they chase them, but they became so spread out that they ended up bumping into other enemy units and started engaging them instead. When I mean spread out, I mean spread out like 3 -6 times the original formation. Yes, it really was that bad.

    I don’t know what stupid programmer made the AI in this, but this totally ruined my Total War experience. Even more irritating is that your units sometimes have the stupidity to stop just behind a broken unit, thus sometimes they don’t capture anyone at all, since they keep stopping instead of chasing them. You have to manually direct your cavalry units (since infantry units can’t run very well) to chase enemy broken units down, or else they’ll go all over the place. If you are chasing an enemy unit with some units on the far right and some units on the far left, your cavalry will chase the left and before reaching them, turn right and repeat the process, without really capturing anyone sometimes.

    Spesifically this is what the unit will do when "pursuing" a unit. And this is almost always:

  • Line up chasing the unit it a not very tidy formation, and many individual troops may be left behind or are ahead;
  • As they rear close to the flank, the frontal units stop and retreat;
  • Suddenly all the units move "inward" while the inward goes "outward" ... this is where the "spreading" bug occurs;
  • Since they are not spread, they may not capture certain units running "between the gaps";
  • If the broken units suddenly turn direction, your units ignore this and keep its same course and turning several seconds later, thus losing a lot of ground re-chasing that broken unit.

    Stupid programming.

    [The “Stop, I’m thinking” (Delay) Bug”]
    There is a 2-3 second delay each time you issue a command to a unit. That’s 2-3 seconds too long when you have enemy cavalry rearing up your ass 5 seconds away. It does make sense on some occasions, it does not however make sense when your chasing broken units and sometimes when you issue an attack, they stop first, think, than attack again. That alone gives the enemy a 5-10 second head start.

    [The No Charge Bug]
    More than often, cavalry (and other units) don’t charge when they’re supposed to, which is obvious that no “charging” description shows up in the card unit description. Making cavalry units sometime ineffective in provoking an enemy unit to break ranks. It’s almost a gamble when they charge or not, especially in the middle of movement. The only certain way to ensure a charge is to “park” you units in a close distance from the enemy unit then “double-click” to attack. Hopefully, they’ll remember to charge, more than often however, they don’t charge and just “pursue”…which means they’re going to spread themselves from here to Jerusalem…again.

    Stupid programming.

    [“All for one, One for All” Bug]
    Retreating and maneuvers is essential. The problem with maneuvers, especially with cavalry, is that your units are bound to meet up with enemy units suddenly attacking from all directions. Now this irritating bug occurs when just one soldiers in your unit bump into another enemy units. The following may occur:

    [1] Your unit continues to move, but slows down a bit just to see that stupid comrade die;
    [2] Your whole unit goes back to save their buddy and attack that enemy unit, ignoring the original command from me, ie. Move you spineless women! (quoting from generals);
    [3] Either way, formation goes to hell.

    Simply put, when I say run, then god damnit run. Especially when you have 3 units of cavalry rearing up your ass, you still have time to attack stupid peasants on the way?
    Stupid programming.

    Formation Inefficiency
    Another annoying issue is regarding formations. Total War never seems to grasp the concept of placing formations efficiently. When you move a single unit, you won’t know where they will face, unless you manually (by pressing right click) set the formation and to where they will be facing. To a certain extent I get completely bored re-arranging my formations at every start of the battle, especially when I’m using the same army as before, there is no way to “save previous formations” in battle, or even create your own unique default formations, including the width and depth of units. You have to do this every freaking time at the start of each freaking battle. No wonder in the end you just press “automatic battle” because it no longer becomes a fun battle, it becomes a tedious task.

    Another stupid feature they still havent fixed is sometimes when you change the formation of a unit (in the same unit), the dudes in the right move left, the ones on the left move right, and the center...well, depends on their mood. Now imagine that occuring when you have an enemy formation moving in front of you. God.

    Lack of game play vision.

    ---

    Thus, I also noticed that it’s no longer fun to watch enemies fight each other. In Rome: Total War, I used to love watching single units fight each other, but now, the units seem smaller with no proper angle to see them fight each other effectively, in addition to the fact I can’t trust my units to follow my orders since most of them act like tourists running all over the goddamn battle ground.

    Terrain Issues
    Terrain, although more diverse (mountains, hills, slopes) and beautiful is unfortunately irritating. It's a problem since you have trouble identifying which is higher and lower altitudes. This is noticeable when you place siege units, only to find out that they have the range but don’t have the angle to shoot at enemies, thus they have to move a very long distance (not that long, but they move slow) to a more effective location.

    Combat in dense forests is nightmare. Why? Because you can't bloody see where your units are! Someone turn off the "tree-tops" settings. Not seeing enemy units is one thing, not seeing your own is another.

    I didn’t know it rains in Arabian desert. Then why is it raining? Doh.

    There was one time in the city of Accra, where my reinforcements could not join the battle because they were stuck on a mountain. How the hell…?

    3D Follow/Chase Camera
    Hey, what the hell happened here? In Rome: Total War we had this magnificent 3D camera where you double-left click on a unit and the camera follows the unit everywhere it goes. Very useful in seeing your cavalry pursue enemy units. Now, the camera ends in several seconds, it no longer follows the unit as the chase-cam stops. What the…?

    Defending Siege Positioning
    Positioning units on walls is easy (almost). Positioning them anywhere else besides the walls is nightmare. Why? Because the roads are narrow and you have all those beautiful buildings in the way. Placing siege units and cavalry are nightmare, since not every place is “wide” enough from them.

    Stupid planning.

    Mongol Political Map AI
    It may be a rare occurrence, but the Mongols sometimes aren't attacking any cities? There was some instances where they siege a city, then they move somewhere else. Now they're attacking me at Jerusalem and ignoring the Turks and the Egyptians. What's going on here? They go doing this cycle until finally they conquer one city the start fighting like any other AI.

    Heroes and Princess
    Hero traits are a little better here, but there are 2 things that bother me, one of them is an old issue.

    The first is not knowing where and how they can get a good trait or a bad trait (well, I do know since I edited that file in Rome: Total War, but some of these random traits are irritating, such as "Poor Tax Collector" or something like that. How do I get rid of that? I may be a sore loser, but to me it's more logical if I know the consequence to my hero from what I'm doing. Like winning a battle, goody an additional combat trait.

    Princess. Though a great feature, why are all of them ugly? (ie. Less than 3 charm points). Seriously, with the exception of princess at the beginning of the game, how come almost every single one of them have zero charm? I have not found a way to increase this charm, and now find my self with generals lacking children due to ugly wives. :p

    Retinues
    Hmm, they changed it. A little better but not what I had in mind. Now I can't give retinues to another general (except Tutors). Darn it, it used to be fun doing that. At least there's a few bad retinues now (Pagan Magician is one) that I've noticed.

    The game would be more fun if they kept the old retinue system, but could save the retinues in some place for future use. Also a way to kill bad retinues.

    In the original Total War you could kill your own generals, diplomats, hey anything. God, this is something I need really, since some of my priests and diplomats are idiots. Personally I'd prefer to "retire" them with some possibly better candidates.

    Unit Upgrades
    Well, there isn't any, that's the problem. When you have a lot of new buildings that give you better units of the same type, ie. archers. Then there is a problem with the old units who happen to have a lot of experience. Disbanding them seems to be the only alternative, since its easier to get experience (due to constant combat) for new units, and you want to keep a check on those army wages.

    Auto saves
    There really should be 2 auto saves here. One at the beginning of the current turn and one at the beginning of the previous turn.

    The Bottom Line

    In the end, I got bored with this game because of the lousy game play in 3D combat. Total War without effective 3D combat controls simply isn't Total War. It just becomes another strategy game.

    When developers will focus more on the 3D combat and less on eye-candy graphics, this series will be once again worth the play. They got right the first time in the first Total: War, but further away, it got worse and worse (got better with Rome: Total War, but the bugs also ruined it). Don't know if I'll still be a Total War fan at this rate.