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Medieval: Total War

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Creative Assembly
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Far younger and far superior than its brother Shogun comes Medieval: Total War, a game that will at least satisfy those of the European persuasion. The graphics in Medieval come in two flavors. The first is the Campaign screen, which is essentially a two-dimensional map. The other is the battle screen, which occurs real-time and completely in 3D. Unless your computer is on steroids, running the battle screen on a resolution any higher than 640 x 480 is going to be a problem. The upside to all this is that no matter what resolution you've got it on, whenever you zoom in on your troops, they're always going to look like blurry water marks. Don't worry, though, as being able to remotely watch thousands of soldiers slaughter each other on European landscapes, leaving every dead body on the battlefield to rot, far outweighs a few smudgy edges.

Though the quality of the sounds and music isn't under fire here, the abundance of them is. Only a handful of musical tracks are heard over and over again. And though they do extremely well to bring the player into the action, a little variety could have taken their worth much farther. The sound effects suffer the same fate. Ordering a unit to charge into battle will evoke a war cry from the mass of people. Once they are in the fray, weapon clangs and screams can be heard, though hardly enough. They are too few and not powerful enough. This doesn't detract all that much from the gameplay, but a few additions could have enhanced it exponentially.


For those of you who haven't played a Total War game before, here's a quick rundown on how they work. Like the graphics, gameplay is basically separated into two parts. The first part is turn-based city building and resource management. This part has much in common with games like Risk or Axis and Allies, except here it goes into a little more detail. The second part comprises of real-time battlefield strategy.

The turn-based part of the game allows you to build armies, structures, and other special units, and to engage in activities that will hopefully further your mission for total domination. These activities are not limited to mindless violence. Sure, a well placed assassination could bring an entire empire crumbling to the ground, but these methods are risky and usually don't work, leaving you in a worse position than when you started. Instead, diplomacy plays a huge role in Medieval, allowing you to form alliances that could last for centuries.

There are a couple of different ways to form an alliance here. Sending a diplomat to speak to another faction could result in a fruitful relationship, but many of these are short lived. A more secure alliance will come in the form of marriage. Marrying one of your royal princesses to a foreign prince (or vice versa) can put a watertight seal on almost any alliance.

Medieval: Total War takes place from around 1000 AD to about 1300 AD. As with any political struggles, religion has to get into the mix and in the medieval ages, it played an even bigger role than it does now. Depending on the religious orientation of your faction, you will have a number of options. Crusades and Jihads can be sprung on almost anybody at any time, providing you have enough money to fund the expedition. Sending your religious dignitaries into other provinces can incite religious uprisings, weakening it from the inside, allowing for an easier invasion. Their new leader, you, will also happen to be on the side of their dominant religion, which will make them like you right off the bat.

If none of this catches your fancy, and you have a hankering for blood, then you could just build mass armies and send them out to rape and pillage the land. Far from the easiest path, this method is probably the most rewarding. Maybe not politically, economically, or spiritually rewarding, but it is a whole lot of fun. This brings us to the second part of the game: battles. These take place real time on a fully 3D field, which will vary in topography from each locale. Whether you're attacking or defending, your goal is to crush or rout your enemy from the battlefield.

Along with a stand alone Single player mode, there are also quick battles, historical battles and campaigns, and the ever-popular Multiplayer mode. Here, 8 players can battle it out over a LAN or 4 players can fight over the Internet. All the same options are available here as there are in the single player battle modes, but the prospect of fighting against human opponents is always far more enticing.


The AI in Medieval: Total War isn't overly hard, but it will bring the hammer down on the back of your head if you give it an inch. The fact that it's based after Tsung Tzu's Art of War is enough to let caution creep into the most overconfident of commanders. The AI was done so well, in fact, that the developers actually had to 'dumb' it down for the historical battle at Agincourt, where the French military prowess was by far no where near that of Tsung Tzu's. During the battles, opposing armies will make fake retreats, set up ambushes, and react to your every move. Unless you're playing on easy, the computer will never come close to being a pushover, forcing you to scrape and claw for your victories. But in the end, winning is just that much sweeter.

Game Mechanics:

Moving units around in the turn-based mode is done through drag-and-drop. Most units, like armies, can only move to one adjacent province per turn. The various buildings and structures in each province can neither be seen on the map nor directly harmed by you, but once an army takes over an opposing territory, some of these buildings might suffer a similar fate as the men previously guarding them.

Battles are a little different. Depending on whether you are defending or attacking will determine if you get to manually place your troops. Defenders have the upper hand, as they can move their units around the field before the fight even starts. This affords the defender to pick the best ground, usually a hill with some trees to hide in, while the attacker must either deal with the formations he's given, or reorganize once the fight actually starts, chewing up valuable time. Units can be grouped together, and there are a few pre-made formations for you to use. There is no single right way to go about all this, but you'll soon find out there are a whole lot of wrong ways.

Medieval: Total War is leaps and bound beyond its predecessor, Shogun. Though there are still some flaws that need much attention, not the least of which is the level of detail on the units, the game still manages to turn out rather well. Armchair generals will definitely appreciate seeing up to 10,000 units on a single battlefield at a time, and the 100 plus different units makes for some healthy combinations. If people want to know why global conquest and massive battles are so appealing, here's their answer.

-Snow Chainz, GameVortex Communications
AKA Andrew Horwitz

Minimum System Requirements:

350 MHz Processor, 128 MB RAM, Windows 98/2K/ME/XP, 1.7 GB Hard Disk Space, 3D Accelerated 16 MB Video Card, 4X CD-ROM

Test System:

Windows 98, 1.4GHz AMD Athlon, GeForce 2 mx 32MB video card, 40 gig hard drive, 56x CD-ROM, 256MB DDR Ram, Sound Blaster Live! sound card, T1 Internet connection

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