Medieval: Total War is a turn-based strategy and real-time tactics computer game developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Activision. Set in the Middle Ages, it is the second game in the Total War series, following on from the 2000 title Shogun: Total War. Originally announced in August 2001, the game was released in North America on 20 August 2002 and in Europe on 30 August. Following a similar, but improved, form of play to Shogun: Total War, the player builds a dynastic empire in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, spanning the period of 1087 to 1453. Gameplay is both strategic and tactical, with strategy played out in turn-based fashion on a province-by-province level, while military units of varying types and capabilities fight against each other in real time on a 3D battlefield. Medieval: Total War received acclaim from reviewers; several critics commending it as a milestone in gaming. The real-time battles were praised for their realism and the new feature of siege battles, although received some criticism for unit management. The depth and complexity of the strategy portion was also received well by reviewers, together with well integrated historical accuracy. The game was a commercial success, topping the British video game chart upon release.
Medieval: Total War is based upon the building of an empire across medieval Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It focuses on the warfare, religion and politics of the time to ultimately lead the player in conquest of the known world. As with the preceding Total War game, Shogun: Total War, the game consists of two broad areas of gameplay: a turn-based campaign map that allows the user to move armies across provinces, control agents, diplomacy religion, and other tasks needed to run their faction, and a real-time battlefield, where the player directs the land battles and sieges that occur.
The strategic portion of the game divides the campaign map among twenty factions from the period, with a total of twelve being playable. The initial extent of each major faction's territory, and the factions available, depends on the starting period of the game, Early (1087), High (1205) or Late (1321), reflecting the historical state of these factions over time.
The factions themselves represent many of the major nations at the time, including the Byzantine Empire, the Papacy, France, England, the Holy Roman Empire and the Turkish Sultanate of Rum. Several factions, such as the Golden Horde, emerge during the course of play at their historical time. These factions, together with several other factions appearing at the start of the campaign, are unavailable to the player in the main campaign. Each faction varies in territory, religion and units; however, factions of the same culture share many of their core units.
In addition to the main campaign, Medieval: Total War also features a game mode where the player can undertake various historical campaigns and battles. Historical campaigns allow the player to control a series of famous battles from a war of the medieval period, such as the Hundred Years War and the Crusades, playing as historic commanders like Richard the Lionheart.
Individual historic battles have the player controlling a historical figure in an isolated battle that occurred in the era, such as controlling William Wallace through the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
The main campaign of Medieval: Total War involves the player choosing one of the fourteen playable factions and eventually leading them in conquest on the strategy map. Each of the factions controls a number of historical provinces, which on the map contain a castle and, if located by the sea, a port as well. In the campaign, the player controls construction, unit recruitment and the movement of armies, fleets and agents in the each of these provinces, using these means to acquire and defend the provinces.
Diplomacy and economics are two other aspects the player can use to advance their aims, as well as having access to more clandestine means such as espionage and assassination. Religion is very important in the game, with the player able to convert provinces to their own religions to cement the people's loyalty. Another campaign mode is available, called "Glorious Achievements", in which each faction has several historically-based goals to achieve, which score points; the faction with the most achievement points wins the game. The campaign mode is turn-based, with each turn representing one year, allowing the player to attend to all needs of the faction before allowing the artificial intelligence to carry out the other factions' moves and decisions.
The campaign is carried out in a similar fashion to Shogun: Total War, but features many enhancements. The game is set in mainly in Europe, but also features the Middle East and North Africa. Production can occur in every province, with the player building from one of the hundreds of connected buildings and units in the game's technology tree. Income to develop provinces and armies comes from taxation of the provinces and trade with neighboring provinces. There is no specific technology research, but several advances, such as gunpowder, do become available over time. Castles provide the basis for more developed construction in the game, with players having to upgrade to the next castle level to be able to build more advanced buildings; upgrades such as a curtain wall and guard towers can be added to individual castles.
Many buildings have economic functions, such as trading posts that generate money, while others are military buildings and allow the training of more advanced unit types. Whilst there are many common unit types, several unique units are available. These units are either restricted to a single faction or are dependent on the control of a particular province. Each unit possesses different strengths and weaknesses. Each faction has a variety of different generals, some related to the royal family and in line to the throne, and the rest members of the nobility, who command units in the field and can assume offices of the state. Each of these characters has a base ranking for several attributes, such as command ability and piety, which affects how they carry out duties on the battlefield and governing the provinces. These attributes, and other factors such as health, are influenced by “Vices and Virtues”, defining the character's personality and actions. These traits can be acquired seemingly randomly, or may be given to the character through actions in the game. Non-military units, collectively referred to as "agents", may be trained. The types of agent a faction is able to produce depends on its religion, but all factions have emissaries, spies and assassins available to them. Emissaries conduct diplomatic tasks such as start alliances between two factions, or bribe foreign armies; spies allow detailed information to be collected from foreign provinces or characters, while assassins can attempt to kill both foreign and domestic units. Factions also have access to various religious agents to spread their religion, and Christian factions can marry their princesses to domestic generals or other factions for political reasons. Occasionally in the game, a character will be trained bearing the name of a famous historical figure, with larger than normal starting abilities. A general such as Richard the Lionheart or Saladin will be a capable military commander, while a bishop such as Thomas Becket will have higher piety than normal.
Rebellions can occur if the loyalty of a particular province falls too low, with a rebel army appearing in the province to attempt to assume control from the owners. Civil wars may also take place if several generals commanding large armies have sufficiently low loyalty. In the event of a civil war, the player is given the choice to back either the current rulers or the rebels. It had been planned to allow other factions who had established a prior claim to the throne by marriage to princesses to join in a civil war to claim the throne for themselves; however, this was never implemented. Naval warfare is carried out upon the campaign map, where ships can be built and organised into fleets. These fleets can be used to control the game's sea regions and form sea lanes, allowing trade and troop movement between provinces that have constructed a port. Fleets can engage in sea battles with foreign fleets, although unlike land battles these are resolved by the computer. Religion plays an important aspect in Medieval: Total War, with religious differences between the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim factions affecting diplomacy and population loyalty. Catholic factions must also respond to the wishes of the Papal States; factions gain favor by refraining from hostilities with other Catholic nations and responding to Crusades, else they run the risk of excommunication. The option to launch a holy war in the form of a Crusade or Jihad is open to both Catholic and Muslim factions.
The battle system takes place on a 3D battlefield in real-time, instead of the turn-based system of the campaign. Battles are similar to those in Shogun: Total War, where two armies from opposing factions engage in combat until one side is defeated or withdraws. Warfare in Medieval: Total War occurs when the player or the artificial intelligence moves their armies into a province held by a hostile faction. The player is then presented with the option of fighting the battle on the battle map, or allowing the computer to automatically resolve it. Alongside the campaign battles, players have the option of both historical and custom battles, where the player controls what climate, units and terrain will be present on the battlefield.
During battles, players take control of a medieval army containing various units, such as knights and longbowmen, each of which has various advantages, disadvantages and overall effectiveness. Players must use medieval tactics in order to defeat their enemy, using historical formations to give units advantages in different situations. All units in the game gain experience points, known as "valour", which improves unit effectiveness in combat as it increases. Every battle map contains various terrain based upon that of the province on the campaign map, with separate maps for each of the borders between provinces - four hundred unique maps are available for the game. The climate, surroundings and building style for every map varies depending on the part of the world it is located in; for example, a map based in the Middle East will have a hot, sunny climate, sandy terrain and Islamic architecture. Sieges are an important aspect of the game introduced to the Total War series, occurring when the invading army elects to attack the defending army which has retreated inside the province's castle. Upon starting the engagement, the attacker has to fight their way through the castle's defences, winning the battle once the enemy units have been defeated. Each unit in the game has morale, which can increase if a battle is going well for their faction, or decrease in situations such as sustained heavy casualties. Morale can drop low enough to eventually force a unit to rout off the battlefield, with the player having the option to attempt to rally the men back into the battle through their general. Each side's army can capture routing enemy units and ransom them back to the owning faction, with important generals having greater ransom values.
Medieval: Total War features a multiplayer game mode similar to that in Shogun: Total War, where players can engage in real-time battles against up to seven other players. Players create and control armies from the factions available in the game, where players can use them to compete in online tournaments or casual battles. The campaign mode cannot be played multiplayer; this feature was later added to the Total War series in Empire: Total War.
A list of all color-coded factions in Medieval: Total War:
- Italy (in dark green)
- England (in red)
- France (in dark blue)
- Germany [Holy Roman Empire] (in black)
- Spain (bright yellow)
- The Papacy (in cream)
- Byzantine Empire (in purple)
- Hungary (in dull red)
- Seljuk Turkey (in light green)
- Muslim Almohads (in orange)
- Kingdom of Denmark (in white)
- Egypt (in dark yellow)
- Poland (in maroon)
- Spanish Aragon (in pink)
- The Golden Horde (in gold)
- Russian Novgorod (in bright blue)
- Sicily (in dark grey)
- Switzerland (in light grey)
- Burgundy (in light blue)