. A word thrown around by politicians when highlighting the many things they hate as well as being something their ancestors did a long time ago that made them what they are today, has been something that has been largely missing from the Empire Builders we all play. Now that may or may not be the correct genre term or even deserving of capital letters, but an Empire Builder™ in this sense would be something like Civilization, Europa Universalis or even Total War. Which is fitting because Total War: Attila is one of these two things (spoiler: the second one). Also, that trademark was slipped in there because Empire Builder™ sounds like a cool name for one of these types of games.
Okay Mr Joke Man, what does Total War: Attila have to do with migration, politics, empire building, and catchy names? Well, in a series first Total War: Attila actually shifts the focus from empire building, growth and expansion, to one of survival. Albeit survival peppered with empire building, growth, and expansion. To put that in terms that a modern day jet setter would understand, the migration aspects of Total War: Attila gives players the option to pack up their cities and fold them neatly into sturdy, affordable, and light Samsonite luggage. Thus giving them the freedom, and comfort, they need to roam the countryside and take in all the various sights and sounds. And loot, sack, and pillage every town they visit.
Samsonite, a name you can trust.
This is a pretty big departure for the Total War series, which has always placed a huge focus on localised expansion. Starting off your empire in Northern Europe in a previous Total War game meant that this was where your capital city was located, where you fought the majority of your wars, and where you forged your strongest diplomatic relationships. Taking control of a nomadic tribe like the Visigoths in Total War: Attila means that you’ll be starting off with no localised region or city to call home, but instead are given the freedom to choose where to head to next.
How this all works, the fact that it even works at all whilst also feeling like an integral part of the game, is Total War: Attila’s biggest success. What basically happens when you choose to migrate your people is that your cities become part of your armies and will follow in tow as they move from region to region. Now as the simulation aspects of the Total War series have grown and expanded from release to release, research, trade, military and economic expansion still play a role in any migration. At any point armies can change their stance to prop up a shanty town of sorts that can then be used to build fancy new tents to grow their population, food stores, and resources for any impending long march.
In execution the migration mechanics work just about flawlessly. And they’re just really fun to play around with. The sight of setting up a few large camps on the outskirts of an undefended city only to have that nation scramble to send troops to defend its borders is both something new for the Total War series, whilst still retaining that sense familiarity. And in keeping with the Total War name, this new way to play extends beyond being a simple “New Way to Play!” It ties directly to the game’s setting, a period when the Roman Empire was in steady decline and Europe was in a state of turmoil.
Well, more so than usual.
What you may or may not know about a certain period in history has never really defined the enjoyment you can have with a Total War game. But it can certainly help. And in a way the Total War series has always been the type of historical warfare simulator that appeals to the sort of person that might spend a lazy afternoon watching documentaries about the Roman Empire, the Crusades, and anything to do with swords, shields, and what Australia was like in the ‘80s. Because hey, even history buffs love a good Paul Hogan or Daryl Summers clip to lighten the mood after a day filled with trebuchets and bowmen.
As a game series Total War probably casts a thinner net than most, but recent efforts like Total War: Rome II have shown that the series can appeal to a wider audience through a focused effort to broaden the series’ accessibility. So whether or not you even know who Attila the Hun was, outside of a vaguely familiar historical name, won’t really define how much you enjoy this new Total War. Outside of any talk of historical accuracy, this is a game that captures and conveys an almost apocalyptic tone. The Roman Empire is crumbling, the northern parts of Europe are about to become a wind-swept winter wasteland, and countless factions are scrambling, migrating, and warring - to the point where any respectable geography class would need to buy new maps every other day.
It’s a great setting for a Total War game and the perfect historical point to introduce the concept of mass migration, which plays into one of the series better campaigns in recent memory. Taking control of the nomadic Visigoths as they face the threat of an impending Hun attack the Prologue Campaign is short, focused, and confident in a way the series has rarely been. It sells the importance of each new feature, from the fleshed out political components, to the streamlined research/tech-trees, to the cleaner and less cluttered (but still way too busy) interface.
Further to this the Grand Campaign, the place where fans of the can play through the time period on offer with a number of different factions, also benefits greatly from all the new features. As the Ostrogoths players can run wild through the northern parts of what we now know as Greece and Italy, sacking Roman cities, and even burning them to the ground. Or, they can take control of the vast Western Roman Empire and play a game of careful planning and survival, picking and choosing battles based around dwindling armed forces and an ever increasing number of new enemies.
As for the battles themselves, they play out in a very similar fashion to the ones seen in Rome II, albeit after that game’s many months of balancing, patches, and overall bug fixing. Overall this bodes well for Attila, which in a lot of ways is visually identical to its predecessor. But with a lot more fire. A lot more. Right out of the gate it looks and feels extremely polished, and both the mechanics and AI seem to function a lot better than Rome II’s did at launch. But as we’re talking about a complex modern PC strategy game it’s nowhere near perfect. Some of the niggling issues that have plagued the series for years, like pathfinding issues during siege battles, AI turns taking way too long, and certain functionality just stopping mid-game forcing you to reload a recent save, now feel like par for the course for a new Total War game.
Will there be day one, week one, or even month one patches? Sure, this the new normal, and something to be expected. But Total War: Attila shouldn’t be dismissed based on the fact that at certain points it’s prone to freeze and look like it’s crashed only to unfreeze and continue on like nothing’s happened at all. The time-period, focused campaign, new migration aspects, fleshed out political intrigue, and consistently grand battles make this feel like a Total War game aimed squarely at fans of the series.
And being a fan, Total War: Attila comes highly recommended.
Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album releasing very soon
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