The Creative Assembly’s latest entry in its figurehead Total War series comes marching onto PCs seeking to refine and improve upon its predecessor Rome 2. Players are propelled into the events following the collapse of the Roman Empire, faced with the task of surviving amidst a world that is on the brink of destruction.
Previous Total War players will be instantly familiar within Attila, which seeks to blend turn-based campaign gameplay with stunning real time battles. Creative Assembly are clearly seeking to improve their reputation given the lacklustre response to Rome 2, which was heavily criticised for its lack of polish and stability.
In Total War: Attila the honourable civilizations of Rome 2 are long gone; instead the player is left with the onslaught of Barbarians from the East and from the North the new climate change mechanic, creating increasingly harsh winters making large portions of the map uninhabitable. These elements combine to create an increased sense of urgency, with the player really getting the sense that “the world is ending.” Of course, the game gives the player the chance to play as many of these destructive forces, including the Huns themselves.
The biggest change to the game is the introduction of the playable “Horde” factions, which effectively combine an army and a moving settlement. These hordes traverse the campaign map, reducing the areas fertility and making nearby factions very uncomfortable.
Typically in previous Total War games, you would start with one settlement, recruit units and begin your quest to capture and subjugate every settlement on the map. Conversely in Attila it is possible to simply remain as a horde and research improvements whilst in a settled stance and achieve victory by utterly destroying all enemies. Though this may be challenging as a horde lacks the security of a developed settlement, and an organised assault by other strong factions can see your entire horde (and thus cities and faction) destroyed easily. This may be a cause of frustration for those playing as the Huns, who lack the option to stop migration.
The game launches with 10 playable factions for the Single-Player campaign, the mode in which you will spend countless hours battling the 56 factions for the eroding fertile land. Perhaps most disappointing though, is the seemingly unfinished nature to the factions that aren’t at the focus in this historical migration period. Most strikingly the non-playable Celtic factions in Britain, which churn out Roman or Nordic units completely lacking any sense of identity, which seems ridiculous with the importance of the Celtic culture within the period.
These factions will undoubtedly be added post-release in paid for DLC similar to the already announced pre-order “Viking Forefathers” pack, however this type of content should be included within the vanilla game. This absence of developed faction units takes you out of the experience, in a game that has clearly been created with a loving amount of historical accuracy and care. The interface has seen a substantial improvement with the family tree and faction overview panel being much easier to navigate, yet many of the systems are still unnecessarily complex.
The family tree option which controls the majority of the internal politics of the game can range from having a minimal effect on your campaign, to causing bloody civil wars. However when your dominion or power level reaches these critical levels, Attila provides a frustrating lack of options in dealing with these power plays. You are only able to assassinate members of your own family, leaving you powerless to prevent rival family members from creating political unrest.
The real-time battles that draw fans in by the battalions are still the most brutal and satisfying element of Attila. Gone are the noble Greek Phalanxes and resolute Roman Legionaries and in their place are endless hordes of horse archers, axe men and especially in the early-stages of the game, poorly trained and equipped infantry.
The battles feel much more satisfying; with Creative Assembly clearly making large changes to the morale, missile damage and quality of the troops. Your men will stay in the fight longer and the controversial stylised unit cards have been replaced by much clearer depictions of units.
Additionally, raider type units have been added which are capable of burning buildings in siege battles and destroying enemy fortifications rapidly. As well as a welcomed re-balancing of naval transport ships, which can no longer compete with specialised naval vessels.
Furthermore, with this added diversity across the campaign map, the player will have to think much more strategically about army composition. An army composed of heavy infantry won’t stand a chance against the hordes of Hun horse archers pillaging your lands.
Overall, the most noticeable improvements are the changes to the AI both on the campaign map and during battles. Throughout the campaign, opposing factions make dynamic and reasonable deals regarding trade and alliances and will co-ordinate their troops in a manner that can be truly challenging at higher difficulty levels.
In-game the changes to the battle AI are a significant improvement over the nonsensical decisions that have plagued the series for years. During sieges, armies will target weak sections of your defences, attempt to burn your surroundings and use troop composition to their advantage.
However, in terms of performance the game can be laboriously sluggish when simulating the campaign AIs turns; and even on a high-end PC we experienced frame-rate problems and stuttering across both the campaign map and in-battle. But during my entire time playing I didn’t encounter any game-breaking bugs or crashes, which is surprising given Total War’s history with launch titles.
That being said, the overall experience can only be described as one of the best in the series. It successfully captures the harrowing and vulnerable spirit of the period, combining a refined battle engine, and a more polished campaign and political system.
Attila similar to its previous entries combines to create a truly stunning package, with gorgeous graphics, sound and animation which have been taken for granted by fans of the series. However Total War does need improvements to reach the dizzying heights of the original Rome Total War. It is also important to note the increasingly demanding and monstrous engine that Creative Assembly are developing is potentially alienating a large portion of its audience.
Ultimately, Attila’s biggest strength is the sense of desperation it creates, with the added climate and horde mechanics you’ll feel vulnerable in a manner that no other Total War game has evoked. Whether you want to invest will depend on whether you’re ready for essentially a technically improved and polished expansion to Rome 2.
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