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It’s All Kicked Off, Sire! Into battle with Medieval Total War

Medieval Total War

A dark, disease ridden era in which non existent social mobility, fear, war, and
religious fanaticism dominated the increasingly apathetic and supine populations
of western Europe. But hey – it’s time to forget contemporary society, shake
off a few centuries and dive headlong into the middle ages for a right old dust

Of course, ‘Total War’ itself was conceptually impossible
in the middle ages, largely because the idea of nationhood as we understand it
had yet to evolve, but also because the industrial infrastructure required to
support an all out war effort involving every member of a society simply did not
exist. Happily, in the interests of turning out a quantum-leaping mind bomb of
a game, designer Mike Brunton and developers The Creative Assembly decided to
ignore all that and concentrate instead on charging through Europe and the
Middle East at lance point. So oil up your metal underwear, stock up on wild
boar sandwiches and mead, and prepare to release ye dogs of warre.

Medieval total war screenshotTaking place across a (beautifully drawn) map covering a big oblong from Ireland
to Antioch and Sweden to the Sahara, the player moves his forces about the place
in an attempt to carve out an empire for his faction, defeat his rascally
opponents, and so forth. In this aspect, much is as you might expect: a choice
of factions depending upon the starting point selected (early, high or late
middle ages), all the major players (the English, the French, the Spanish etc),
trade routes to dominate, civic advances to build – a game can take on many,
many twists and turns as it develops. One thing is certain, though: sooner or
later, it’s going to get to fisticuffs.

And what a selection of
military personnel there are on hand to oblige. From actual peasants dragged
from the pub and told to stand still while enemy knights dice them, to elite
halbadier regiments who march across the battlefield in tight formation like a
giant and many-legged lawnmower – all are produced in your towns, which evolve
as you ‘buy’ improvements, based upon tax revenue. You essentially achieve
martial law in your territories by stationing enough troops to deter the local
populace from rising in arms against you – this is particularly likely if your
ruling faction is of a different religion, which is one of the subtleties of
Medieval Total War. Thus far, the game has come across as a fairly
straightforward build-stuff-and-kill-your-enemies-with-it affair. While this is
largely true, victory is impossible without a mastery of the intricacies of
medieval society. Whole armies of the latest heavily armed and highly skilled
men at arms will not save you if one of your sons decides to rebel and half your
hard-won empire sails out of view. Indeed, the more extensive and powerful you
become as a faction, the more likely it is that greedy offspring or disgruntled
nobles will turn against you. In time, this will necessitate a network of spies
and double agents to keep tabs on everyone, and, if necessary to bump them off
or frame them as heretics. You can always marry your daughters to potential
rivals, thus welding them to your cause – however, do this with a foreign power
and you might accidentally give them a legitimate heir to your throne, which
will spark civil war.

Medieval total war screenshotTo return to religion, though. There are only
three: Catholic, Muslim and Unorthodox. If you’re thinking of a large scale
invasion of the Middle East, you’ll need to spend years bombarding the place
with bishops and cardinals and so forth, to lessen the shock when your
chainmail-clad infidel nutters turn up on the doorstep demanding bacon
sandwiches, lap dancing and 24hr booze licenses. Similarly, you’ll need to be
getting your clerics and imams on the ball before advancing on Venice at
scimitar-point. Representatives of other religions are an easy target for
assassins, which makes the battle for hearts and minds all the more

Battles in which hearts and minds are splattered all over the
battlefield are easier to get to grips with. They are also stunning. Thousands
of individually moving troops having it out in a field in Flanders is what this
game is all about, at least at a tactical level. The AI is cunning enough to
exploit blunders, too, so here is a quick lesson in medieval field tactics: keep
your archers behind your foot soldiers, and keep your cavalry on your flanks.
Ideally, your foot soldiers will engage with your enemy’s, ‘pinning’ the
blighters while your archers fire volley after volley into them and your cavalry
sweep round the flanks and gives them a rare old rogering from behind. If it
wasn’t that your opponent will be trying to do the same thing, it would be
simple. Although intimidating for the novice player, battles evolve with the
game – early on, your armies will consist of a few hundred spearmen and
peasants, but by the time you are ushering in the Renaissance to the booming of
primitive artillery, you can expect to be leading vast hordes of glittering

It is indicative of the genius of this game that the single
most important thing you need to do has nothing to do with slaughtering foes and
waging Holy War. This is not a game in which ‘you’ actually exist. You play a
faction, with a different King (or Emir, or whatever) inheriting the throne as
family members die, are assassinated, or are killed on the battlefield. If you
haven’t already seen the iceberg, here it is: no matter how extensive and
powerful your territories are, if you don’t have a male heir to take the crown
when your king dies, it’s game over. This can lead to nervous times when your
existing ruler is in a fragile state and his only male heir has not yet come of
age by reaching 14 without dying. Get some sons!

So there we are.
While being about as subtle as a brick in a spider’s web, Medieval Total War is
challenging because you need to be both brick and web. There’s enough
here to keep anyone absorbed for weeks, as long as they like armed clashes and
killing, which in the middle ages a great many people did. No wonder they went
on for so long.


  1. Stevo

    I hated this game – Total Bobbins more like. The game was just broke, it kept crashing everytime Sean Pertwee opened his mouth and the support from the official website was a complete joke. Check it out – loads of other people had the same frustrating experience.

  2. Lame!
    I’ve never played the game, but I remember Paul going on about it like it was taking over his life…

  3. Paul Smith

    I’ve spent ages hanging about on MTW forums, and never noticed anyone talking about crashes and such. Thinking about it, I can’t remember it ever crashing on me, either – and I put a LOT of hours in. I think you might just have had a dodgy copy, Stevo!