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Medieval II: Total War (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Professor (95)
Written on  :  Apr 11, 2009
Rating  :  2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars

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Major Downgrade from MTW

The Good

Well, for one thing, the introduction of Castles (and their upgrades) gives you places that seldom go nuts and rebel. (All of the games in the Total War series act like every city is seething with democratic elements, just aching to be free of monarchical rule. Hah. Read some history books. Rebels carving off their own enclaves were never so prominent, except in China.) Your penalty for settled rule of provinces with castles is less income.

The Diplomacy system LOOKS like a great new feature. You have more options for holding dialogue with other factions. Unfortunately, they don't care (see below).

The Papacy: I spent a campaign as a dutiful French Catholic. I joined crusades, talked nice to Papal couriers, didn't invade my neighbors. I soon learned that responding to an invasion of my kingdom by my neighbor earned me excommunication threats. (To be fair, the aggressor apparently was warned too.) I learned how to calibrate my response to eventually destroy the aggressor before the Pope could call a halt. When I grew very big, I learned I could stack the College of Cardinals and I could even wipe out the Papal States. I played my second campaign as a Russian and did what I wanted. So much nicer!

Learn this: Trade beats Farming. there, you've just learned how to make the most money.

I guess, grudgingly, I can list prettier battles than in MTW, due to the full 3-D treatment. But they screwed up things that were working in Rome: Total War, where they also had 3-D. (see below).

I'll give a thumbs-up for fortresses and citadels. These improved castles have layered fortifications. If you bang a hole in the outer wall, you'd better still have ammo for the inner one, or an intact ram to deal with the gates, or you're going home unsatisfied.

I will echo the other reviewer's comments about it being tough to manage a fight in the forest, but to me, this is reasonable and historical. There is no way to see everything going on under the boughs... and you shouldn't be able to. You takes yer chances in forests! Deal with it.

And I like shooting cow carcasses from trebuchets. A lot. This biowarfare sickens units near the impact and units that walk through the area of effect. (Funny, it never sickens the firing unit to have dead cattle handy as ammo.) Great fun when you're defending a mountain with only a single approach lane. Until you pursue your beaten enemy past the carcasses.

The Bad

My biggest gripe is that they took the 3-D combat of Rome: Total War, and broke it. Now, I don't mind too much that there is now a delay in getting units to follow a change of orders; asking a maneuver unit to change direction on a dime and give you change is asking for control commanders don't have even today. And I don't mind unduly that formations get messed up in pursuits, as another reviewer did; after all, if you are directed to capture fleeing enemy soldiers, who are throwing away weapons and running for their lives, you won't catch them by keeping your shield locked with the guy on your right. So what went south? A lot!

You always, in Total War games, fiddle constantly with your formations. I've always liked that I can change frontage and depth of units. This is real important, for instance, when the rulebook advises you that archers can only fire from the front two ranks, as Rome:Total War did. But in MTWII, your precious alignments disintegrate when you try to move a group of units anything other than straight forward. Not only will the units move at their own rates and arrive at different times, but often the AI shuffles their order, their facing, and their frontage. Wheel an army 90 degrees? You're asking units to interpenetrate as they swap positions along the line. (And when you check the planned final alignment you often see your artillery plan to stop in the front rank of the enemy.) Coordinated movements worked before, in other Total War games! Why did they break it here? And the problem was never patched! This problem alone robs 3-D combat of much of the fun.

What's with battle experience? If your unit killed its own weight in enemy and rounded up as many in prisoners, it will probably get an experience level. But if it had a tough fight, stood its ground, lost half its men and routed the enemy, it may easily not. And sometimes, units that took and inflicted no casualties get experience. I guess they just "saw the elephant."

Why do your missile units wait until in range of the enemy to load their first shot? If the enemy keeps marching and your missilemen have skirmish orders, they often start evading before firing a shot. When the AI immediately charges them with cavalry, as it often does, they can fail to fire AND get caught with their backs to the enemy. Great planning, that. It seems to me, if I could see the enemy a mile off and we are marching to engage, some captain is going to yell, "Load!" or "Nock!" before we reach charge range from the enemy line. Not in MTWII.

Siege battles have issues with wall defenders. When you post a unit on the walls, they'll clump about 5 deep next to a tower and gradually thin down their line along the wall. Since the siege towers and the ladders can only attack the middle of a wall section, there frequently are almost no defenders at the point you KNOW is going to be attacked. And no amount of finagling the formation will allow you to spread the men out. So now you've conceded a clear space on the battlements to the enemy, instead of killing them one by one as they come over the wall.

I was in my second full campaign before I ever noticed a timer running on a siege battle. A timer is there to force an end to a stalemate. In MTW, it was a reasonable time. In MTWII, it's just beginning to move after 45 minutes or so. Perhaps if you didn't need to micromanage each unit because of the flaws above, the timer would do its job. But I have spent 2 hours on a single battle and not had time called. So basically, the timer doesn't exist.

On to the strategic campaign:

Diplomacy: Is there any? Really? Factions have many shades of grey in their relations, and they can execute many kinds of agreements. But they don't act in their own interest. I typically play a Galahad type. I'm nice to my neighbors, but highly trained in war. In my first campaign, early in the game I was at war with SEVEN factions, none of whom I provoked. I gave each multiple opportunities to stop the bloodshed, but they just returned insults, even when down to their last city. Each of the three factions that allied with me during the game treacherously attacked me, for no discernible reason and with no declaration. I finished the game as the only faction remaining (not even any Rebels) without ever starting a war myself. My experience in my second campaign was similar, but - and this was funny - once I grew big I had many offers to call a ceasefire if I would pay them huge quantities of money (more than twice what any other faction made in any year of the game), and this, while I was destroying their military in large gulps. It's clear that diplomacy is only an idea intended to delay the trampling of Europe that clearly you are going to be forced to do by the game. Why is offering a ceasefire to an all-but-wiped-out faction termed "Very Demanding?"

The Creative Assembly is convinced you insist on many and varied units in your games. Apparently, that group of us who enjoy the historical period as it historically was is out of luck. MANY units appear in MTWII that were not in MTW, to give you the appearance of getting something for the money if you already have MTW. Where did they come from? I played Russia in one campaign and had dozens of Dvor and Druzhina units. What are they? According to Wikipedia, Dvor are "nobility" - the court of a prince. Druzhina are the bodyguards of a chieftain. (Hey! Generals already have bodyguards in the game.) So half my army or more was nobles and bodyguards. No wonder the home provinces rebelled - nobody was home in charge! MTW had "boyars," which are the highest rank of Russian aristocracy. MTWII adds "boyar's sons." Big deal. I'm holding out for "boyar's dogs." So if you like tons of different units, be advised that many of these are drawn from sources that never comprised whole units - let alone whole armies.

Next, examine how you recruit. Dvor and Druzhina are recruited exclusively at upgraded castles. No problem there. But when as a Russian I capture Nottingham in England, I can raise these units there. And I can't raise Welsh bowman or English billhooks. What gives? Mercenaries admirably adhere to the historical availability of troop types by province, but regular recruitment doesn't. Historically, conquerors incorporated the local troops into their armies. They didn't suddenly retrain the populace in foreign weapons and tactics. This gets really laughable when you raise cavalry units in places which had little or no access to horses.

In fact, access to cavalry has always been too free in Total War games. It is frequently the case that it makes no sense to recruit infantry if cavalry units are available. The expanded tactical usefulness more than compensates for cost. You can't run down a fleeing enemy with infantry. You can't easily provoke an advance from the foe and then hit it in the flank from another direction with infantry. Historically, cavalry was both limited by the availability of suitable mounts and by local traditions of how horses were used. Only peoples born to the saddle were effective in mounted warfare. But in any Total War game I can slap an unlimited number of urbanized citizens on horses and fight my battles.

In MTW, when you hired a mercenary company, it could never be recruited back to strength after taking losses. In MTWII it can. But where or when is not noted by the rulebook and in practice it feels random. Don't plan on keeping mercs up to strength.

Come to think of mercs - THEY never rebel, walk off, or change sides! You can't bribe the enemy's mercs with higher pay. Ah well - wait for MTWIII.

Princesses? A wasted idea. The AI has them and they waste a ton of your time. I've had 3 from a single faction proposition the same city every year for 20 years. Even on rapid animation, this takes time. What are they up to? A diplomacy screen never opens. The city may not contain a marriageable general, so what's the deal? And why don't they get discouraged and go away? Annoying. When your own royal ladies come of age, there is never a faction event to recognize it. Really, the only way you'll notice your women is by opening the agent summary screen. Then, good luck finding them. They aren't worth the effort, frankly.

Reinforcements: Generally, reinforcements in land battles are good. They USUALLY show up for the battle (sometimes they do not). But they sometimes enter the battlefield and just sit there while the army you are controlling is being pasted. Other times, when you have a huge advantage in missile troops and just want to pound the enemy at range, your reinforcements will immediately charge in. Then not only do they take big melee losses, your friendly fire is killing them too. Great plan. This despite the fact that almost every time, the reinforcements are a separate army of YOUR troops, not some ally's. You have a choice: give the reinforcements to the AI to (mis)handle as it desires, or control it yourself, which means that you only get enough to bring your total troops on the field to the unit limit. Then, if a unit routs off the field or dies in its boots, another will be fed in.

Reinforcements in naval battles are almost meaningless. They will never cause or receive a casualty. Never.

Where did hotkeys go? The manual only lists a few for handling groups of units in a battle: CTL-C for "all cavalry", for instance. Thankfully, useful keys available in MTW still work ("R" = "Run, for example) but the manual doesn't mention them. The critical one for the campaign screen, that color-codes all your provinces by happiness, does NOT work. So, each turn, your choice is to check dozens of provinces individually for problems, or just deal with the rebellion in your supposedly safe and far-from-the-front-lines capital. Dumb.

I could go on and on. But I'll just add one more, probably the worst problem that gets in the way of any historical result. You want to take an enemy stronghold quickly and cheaply? Show up with a clear advantage in troop quantity or quality. Either have siege engines along, or spend one turn building some. Then Assault, and let the AI determine the outcome. You'll almost always take the place and lose less than 100 soldiers doing so. (If you play out the battle, you'll almost always lose far more, even with big advantages in numbers.) The enemy would be better off only fighting you in the fields. The AI gives up even their citadels with basically no fight. Woo-hoo. Those of you accustomed to God cheats might like this "feature." I don't.

The Bottom Line

I wanted SO MUCH to love this game. I played the original MTW to death, and I wanted more/better. Unfortunately, MTWII is a downgrade. For the 3-D battles and a few minor changes (castles) you get a major downgrade to the play mechanics, a worse adherence to the period, and a clutter of new detail that does pretty much nothing.

Stick to MTW.