Rome 2 was not good. The micromanagement was convoluted and burdensome. The politics system felt irrelevant and a cheap rip off of Crusader Kings II. The AI was broken in many ways with siege battles still embarrassing. And some things just did not make sense. Frankly, there just was not much fun in it and clicking the end turn button became a chore. It was a big step backwards from their deservedly critical hit Shogun 2.
So it comes as a complete surprise that Total War Attila is the most fun the series has been since at least Shogun 2. Does it make all those things mentioned earlier go away? No, and in some ways, it is worse. However, by streamlining just enough systems, and making some noticeable improvements, especially in the AI, Creative Assembly has made Total War fun again.
It is the end of the third century A.D. and the world is falling into darkness. The Roman Empire has split into two. The western half is falling apart from decline and barbarian invasions on all fronts. The eastern half, while in a better position and much richer, has to face threats of its own from barbarians to the north, west, and south, and the emerging Sassanid Empire to the east. The climate is changing, with colder seasons and declining foods supply, forcing northern tribes to immigrate south and west. On top of it all though, the scourge of the east has arrived. Attila and his Huns have come and those in his path must either flee or die. It is no longer about conquering the world. It is about surviving the end of it.
To say that Total War Attila is bleak is an understatement. If the hordes do not get you, famine and disease will. The great Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former glory, overstretched and facing enemies on all fronts. To add, the Huns encroachment from the east is forcing tribes to evacuate, creating more pressure on the declining empire as barbarian hordes break through its ever weakening defenses.
However, from decline comes opportunity. The Sassanids are the ‘easy’ big empire as they do not have nearly the amount of factions to deal with. The Eastern Roman Empire, while considerably harder to play, are also well positioned to emerge as the new heirs to Rome. And of course, the various barbarian and nomadic hordes are ready to plunder and forge their own empires from the ashes of Rome.
Playing through the various factions creates a spectacular amount of replay value. Not just from the numerous factions available, but also the urge to try again and see if you cannot beat the odds, and believe me, the odds are heavily stacked against you. One misjudged declaration of war can create a domino effect that sends the numerous barbarians to your gates and overwhelm you. Total War Attila is about careful judgment and the willingness to make tough decisions. For the Romans especially, you cannot defend everything and you will quickly see your once vast empire squeezed just to keep the coffers in the black and the enemy off your tail. For the barbarian and nomadic factions, staying mobile is key and settling down is out of the cards till you find safer pastures.
Compared to Rome 2, Total War Attila plays much better. It feels and runs smoother. The interface, especially for the political and skill systems, has been given an overhaul, and most notably, the AI is better. Its judgments on and off the battlefield feel less dumb. I can actually have on the ground battles where I am challenged but never cheated and the unit pathfinding is less frustrating. During the campaign, the A.I. makes better and more sensible decisions and alliances and puppet states have more worth.
A new and very fun mechanic is the horde mode. For certain factions, should you feel that the enemy is encroaching and you cannot stop them, you can elect to uproot and take your civilization on the road. There are advantages and disadvantages of course. It is a fresh mechanic to just move your civilization wherever and creates great opportunities for raids and ransacking settlements. On the other hand, it leaves you more vulnerable to foes. Another disadvantage is that should you decide to settle down in a city, but then need to pack up and leave again, be it due to finances or encroaching enemies, your horde buildings reset and you will have to rebuild them from scratch.
Horde mode is tough. Though buildings will generate revenue, sacking cities is where you will receive the heavy gold. Attack too soon though and you will be overwhelmed with enemies. Attack too late and you may find yourself running out of cities to ransack and your coffers depleted and not enough men to stop them. Either in horde mode or in traditional settlement mode, you really are tested by your tactical and overall strategic judgment.
In fact, Total War Attila has made the previous micromanagement problems with Rome 2 feel more useful. How you deal with a conquered settlement on the strategic map to even which types of arrows you select for you archers somehow feels more pertinent whereas in Rome 2 they felt burdensome and unnecessary.
It helps that many of Rome 2’s systems have been streamlined here. The skill tree harkens back to Shogun 2 in an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ sort of way. It is admittedly shallow and cumbersome, but a definite improvement. The politics system now feels more accessible and is no longer a totally forgettable factor as it was in Rome 2. There are frequent missions that pop up letting you decide certain events and see the outcome play out. More of these and more variety in future titles would be welcome. Even the auto-resolve makes sense now, as percentages have been eliminated and player judgment matters. Finally, the game does a sort of Civilization V thing where it will remind you of available options left you can do, such as leveling up a general or promoting a governor, something that Rome 2 desperately needed.
When it all comes together right, it feels like you are truly playing history. Making deals with separatists to attack your rival. Subjugating smaller factions and creating buffer states. Razing settlements to finally calm your borders. Even assassinating a faction’s leader would oftentimes force my rival to back down, which never EVER gets old.
However, Total War Attila does have its problems, still chief among them is the vast amount of micromanagement. Despite streamlining the politics and civil systems to some extent, the game is still vastly convoluted with so many different systems to focus on. It does not help now that food, which was a genuinely interesting concept to limit expansion in Rome 2, is even more annoying here thanks to provinces becoming self contained spheres on top of the overall sphere of your empire. Now you have to worry about not just your overall food picture, but the food supply of each of your provinces. The supply itself is dictated not just by what food buildings you have, but the overall fertility of provinces which steadily declines over time. Ironically, food is now as much of an incentive to expand as it is a risk. You may find yourself having to create ‘cookie-cutter’ provinces with mostly matching buildings just to find some stability between food and sanitation among many other factors, which makes expansion at times feel predictable, if short of boring.
The politics system, while better, can still be a mess having to juggle so many characters and their various traits and abilities to avoid a civil war. Creative Assembly still insists on trying to mimic Crusader Kings 2 in this regard, and despite their best efforts to streamline this system, it still comes off as mucking up an already convoluted beast of a game.
In fact, here is what you have to worry about in Total War Attila: Food, fertility, integrity, loyalty, authority, cunning, zeal, sanitation, religion, taxes, maintenance, upkeep, public order, immigration, growth, disease, desolation, instability, rebellion and so on.
While that sounds like running an empire to the outside eye, in practice, it can get very taxing trying to juggle all of these factors at once. There is nothing worse than having a civil war break out on the eve of a rival faction invading your empire because you were too busy worrying about food and public order while your generals were feeling neglected due to not paying attention to the politics system. Then again, it does come off as close to running an actual empire and still be mostly fun, so give Creative Assembly props for pulling that off.
The one area where the micromanagement truly overwhelms is the multiplayer. Though you can pit your armies vs other players in single pitched battles, the real daunting task is sticking with the multiplayer campaign. Players can host games where you can square off online to try to conquer the world. Try is the kind word since you only have a limited time to make your decisions and with so many factors now in Total War to keep up with, it is not quite enjoyable. Building an empire takes time, but with this mode of play, time is always against you.
Other issues abound of course. The A.I. can still be silly (or aggravating), especially in siege battles. Upkeep can be frustrating as both troops and building maintenance are now in one pool. Diplomacy despite the campaign A.I. is noticeably improved and can still be a mess at times, with factions being angry with you for actions you never took against them for instance. One glaring issue though is the ineffectiveness of navies. Their cost does not justify their benefit when an army of troops overseas can do the job for them. Barbarian invasions by sea are especially aggravating as their sheer size means nothing short of a massive fleet can stop them from raiding your shores and razing your settlements, the latter of which is something the AI is particularly fond of doing. Any future patches need to take this into account as there is no sense here whatsoever.
Total War Attila confirms that Rome 2 was not a fluke. Creative Assembly wants to have it all: their legendary battles and campaign map, while also trying to emulate what other historical games have done, notably Crusader Kings II. Unfortunately, trying to be the jack of all trades of historical strategy games still proves to be a mistake with Total War Attila which struggles often to carry Rome 2’s micromanagement weight while also feeling like its own game.
Still, Total War Attila is a substantial improvement over Rome 2. Any fan of the series or the genre owes it to themselves to pick up one of the better comebacks in recent gaming history. Now cry havoc and unleash the hordes upon Rome!
Total War Attila is currently available for the PC and can be purchased from Amazon.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC.
So have you played Total War Attila yet? Do you like it or does it still feel too much like Rome 2? Sound off in the comments below.