Total War: Attila Review – A Battle Between Fun and Futility

While the jury is still out on whether or not war ever changes, video games across just about every genre can’t seem to get enough of it.

What is this game about?

The end of times is approaching Western Europe, as continuous political conflicts, religious turmoil, and civil wars plague the land. Rome, one of the strongest empires humanity has ever witnessed, is crumbling under its own weight and size of their expansion, unable to satisfy their growing army.

Meanwhile in the late 300s A.D., your own society, known as the Visigoths, are attempting to overthrow their neighbors, the Ostrogoths, for the sake of land, resources, and a place to call home. However, a new enemy emerges from the East, as their shadow and prestige passes through the European region, inspiring fear and threatening to end your way of life. They are known as ‘The Huns.’

Pictured: Chaos and destruction
Pictured: Chaos and destruction

What’s this game’s goal? How do I win?

The same way most wars are usually created: Build your society, gather resources, raise an army against your enemies and expand your territory. The Total War series is known for its turn-based combat during land conquest and real-time battles between armies and this game is no different. Still, the game is unique in the series for creating new political environments for the player to manipulate and experiment with. One of the interesting aspects thus far is your leader’s family tree, which can either influence or deter your factions’ growth.

If, for example, one of your governor gains the ‘loyalty’ trait, this can increase their status as a powerful leader, which will strengthen the economy and the rules you set. On the other hand, the governor can also become gain a ‘curious’ trait, which will have a chance to cheat on his wife and create illegitimate children within the royal family. His stature may then be put into question and his regulations may not hold that much power within the region.

How bad can it be? In one of my own playthoughs, I had not one, not two, but three illegitimate kin from just one of my governors. Needless to say, his infidelity caused public disorder throughout the region, his relationship with his wife became estranged and I was pretty close to clicking the ‘Assassinate’ button to stop this tomfoolery.

Look, Chieftain. Everything these men touch will be our burden.
“Look, Chieftain. Everything these men touch will be our burden.”

As long as you can maintain a balance within the land, military, family and political influences while battling enemies though, the war will slowly turn in your favor.

What is the gameplay like? How does it feel to play?

Even though I started as a neutral, peace loving nation, my need to conquer, pillage and fight finally awakened after being thrust into enemy territory. This is one of the most invigorating and immersive games that makes going to just a simple skirmish into a saga of fire, destruction and triumph.

When you send your artillery to attack the enemy’s walls with flaming boulders, you feel the impact it makes as the barricade crumbles at the feet of your foes. When you hear the whistling rain of arrows fly into the chests of defenseless infantry, you feel the sweet sense of accomplishment and advantage based on your strategic decisions. When you see the factions fleeing at your armies’ might, you feel the sense of victory wash over you as you occupy the land for your own. And yet, you need more.

Victory lies over that small brigade of ships. No biggie.
Victory lies over that small brigade of ships. No biggie.

Thanks to the excellent design of the game, Total War: Attila sends home the message of conquest to the player through just the smallest of battles. The way militia fall when struck, the call to arms before the battle, and the slow, yet fluid movement of armies crossing the plains all make the experience feel realistic. Even the soundtrack is amazing, as enemy nations will have their own unique theme that will play when you engage them into battle. Not to mention the camera mobility allows the player to both observe an entire land before plunging face-to-face with army men battling for their lives.

Based on this gameplay, Total War: Attila satisfies the will to conquer that players will surely point to as the games’ strongest aspect.

Sweet! I can’t wait to get started! Anything else I should know?

Unfortunately, this game still has quite a few drawbacks that I must address, especially for new players. Before playing any of the Total War games, my previous strategy based games was Age of Empires and Age of Mythology, which I thought would be an excellent start into the series. Since then, I have played the game for about 13 hours and I am still stuck in the prologue for the campaign!

While Total War: Attila does offer a tutorial that will follow the player throughout the beginning, the hints and advice given is rather brief and lacking in useful information while engaging in battle. Although a major component of strategy games is to devise your own tactics and units to send into battle, this is a sensory overload for many new players to the genre. In many cases, it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the enemy and learning what you did wrong in battle is never made explicit.

Technically, this should not be considered a negative of the game’s overall performance for those familiar with Total War’s previous installments. Still, because of the incredibly difficulty and complexity of the game mechanics, it is easy for new players to become deterred by this game, despite previous interest.

It’s upsetting to note this as the overall effort in creating unique factions and worldly designs is massive, as it can truly allow the player to become invested in this environment. If the game had a better way of communicating what needed to be done without frustrating new players or encouraging them to continuously read about new strategies, their patience could be swayed and this game would become notable.

Speaking of which, another aspect of the game I was hoping for was the overall story that would be told in this time period. The game’s opening cinematic gives an impression of a narrative about political corruption, religious differences, and war sprawling across the land. What players will find instead is something out of an average high school history course; Dates, locations and names. Based on the prologue, there is no name given to yourself and the persona shown on the map is a ‘generalized’ general which signifies your nation rather than a specific individual.

At this point, many would point out the games major aspect is not to tell the story of societies through unique narratives or differences between religions and political structures, but rather through military decisions and conquests of the land. The lack of this story paints the game rather blandly, as it seems the developers just threw in a great system for military battles and painted it with a ‘Fall of Rome’ tint.

Nothing truly stands out in the story and many who are looking for more than just game mechanics will be left starving for substances beyond tactics and strategies.

So, overall…?

Your typical Tuesday

This is a tough call for me, as I’m sure those who find interest in previous Total War series and strategy games will enjoy this game immensely for the effort put in. Even I was excited to see how much the battles engaged me to fight for land and storm the neighboring village and that enthusiasm won’t leave me any time soon!

On the other hand, being a new gamer to this genre, I felt that I was biting off too much than what I could chew, as my dedication to study all military units and tactics available quickly wavered when the game’s complexity and tasteless history course overwhelmed my excitement.

Based on what I have played, I probably will not continue with the campaign, despite perhaps being one of the biggest aspects of the game thus far. I would, however, like to set up a custom match where I storm an enemy village and watch my forces to mow it down just to feel that rush of excitement once more.

If you are a history buff in the ways of military strategy and/or a gamer focused on complex game mechanics, this will be a triumphant addition to the series. There is plenty of effort placed into the warfare of this game and by no means should it be overlooked.

However, if you are a new player or do not have the patience to constantly be studying the game’s design or strategies, Total War: Attila may leave you defeated than victorious.

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