Creative Assembly at some point saw the Total War series, one of the most complicated war series ever made, and said “You know what would be good,? If we could make that an iPad game.” Although I suspect publisher Sega also had more than a little something to do with it. At any rate that’s what happened earlier this year, and apparently it did quite well. Now it’s released on the PC via Steam for a modest price (however more expensive than it is on itunes).
First of all put any thoughts out of your head that this game will be anywhere near as detailed as the games in the main series. Your battlefield is a thin strip of land, the unit sizes are generally four men each and your “army” can only consist of 9 units. It’s a different game, with different mechanics, different art style and requiring a different outlook.
The aim of the game is usually defend your General and/or kill the other General. Each General starts at one end of the map and each has a set area in which he can construct buildings. Each building has its footprint on the hexagonal grid and each one must be physically linked to the parent building. So a standard chain of buildings would be: Headquarters>Marketplace>Mine>Lumber mill>Barracks. Not only do you need the materials to make this all happen you’ve also got to carefully place out your village so you’ll be making the most of the terrain bonuses. Placing the marketplace next to a pond will increase its production, the same goes for rocks and mines, trees and lumber mills, etc, etc.
Of course each building has its own set purpose; the Marketplace generates gold, the lumber mill wood, the mine iron ore, while the monastery creates chi and you use those resources to buy units. The units you can create are affected by the buildings you own. You’ll need barracks to train archers or a monastery to train monks. Additional specialised troops become unlocked later in the game requiring you to build additional, additional buildings. So you not only have to be careful about where you build but if you can physically build the additional buildings to get the troops you want as well.
Troops have a rock-paper-scissor relationship going on; with spears being good against cavalry, swords being good against spears, archers affective against ground troops and rifles being super effective against archers. This does make it sound rather simplified but there are numerous troops each with their own advantages for you to master and exploit. Control over your troops is extremely limited; you can tell them to stop or move forward. Every once and awhile you can tell them to go up a row or down a row…but there is a cool time limit for that advanced manoeuvre. Melee troops will attack anything in the three hexagons in-front of them while ranged units will attack anything in-range in their current row. Units can’t move backwards so rushing forwards to deal with archers may leave your base open to attack when enemies spawn behind your own men.
With 23 main campaign maps with various quirks and gimmicks the game isn’t as simple as it looks. Often providing more than enough challenge to make you fail a couple of missions more than once. At least until you’ve figured out how to best make use of your men. There is a story not that I paid much attention to it. The story is told at the start of each level with scrolling text with somebody with a horrible Japanese accent reading it out. The text crawls slow and ponderously and the voice work isn’t any speeder; so I opted to skip it almost every time. The basic plot is that one clan is betrayed by their allies, you play the clan that was betrayed. You then have to fight off the invaders. Only to learn later of a blackmail plot that forced your allies to attack your clan in the first place.
Outside of the Campaign there is a small skirmish mode. There are six different maps with three difficulty levels (you can take a guess at what they are). Surprisingly there is no online mode. The iOS version had multiplayer where two people had to use the same screen but not even local battles are supported here.
Graphically the game looks very nice. Clean, crisp simple lines are the order of the day and the art style is a nice blend of western and Japanese styles. The battles themselves look like they’re freshly uncurled Japanese scrolls with plenty of detail surrounding the battlefield’s otherwise rather plain plateaus.
There is also an experience point system where you can upgrade numerous things including: the rate at which you gather resources, the rate at which troops are spawned and even giving the player elite troops to deploy in battle. You won’t gain experience as you battle through the campaign but must instead complete the many side-quests that feel more like mini-games than actual battles. These include building monasteries, fighting off large forces with limited resources, working your way through enemy infested maps with only a handful of men and other diversions. Only there aren’t enough missions to unlock all of the upgrades. To do that you’ll have to buy, with real money, experience using the in-game shop. This will charge your Steam account with small amounts; 100 experience points is 49p the most expensive is 60000 experience points, the cost of which is more than the actual the game itself.
For the low price (which is currently £4.99 but is sure to drop in the next sale) this game is well worth it. It looks great, it sounds great and with a campaign of around ten hours long (and an additional skirmish maps for those that want to fight without bad dialogue) it’s not going to disappoint.