Medieval 2: Total War is an epic, real time strategy game set in Feudal Europe, and like most strategy games the aim is to try to conquer the known world. As the ruler of an empire, the player has to manage resources, build armies and siege equipment, construct navies, negotiate with rival factions and rulers and so much more. And therein lies the beauty of this game: its sheer depth, huge scale and involving gameplay make it utterly seductive.
The game follows on from the original Medieval, although the creators have made this newer version much more complex, engaging and enthralling than its excellent predecessor. In addition the graphics have been tweaked and battles now look better than before, making this game stunning both in gameplay and looks.
The formula of Medieval 2 will be familiar to followers of the original game. You take control of a state seeking to gain dominance in feudal Europe, and there are five states available to choose from initially: England, France, The Holy Roman Empire, The Venetians, and Spain. As you defeat each state, you unlock other states for play. Each separate state has a different economic setup, goals, special units and, in some cases, religion. All this serves to prolong the longevity of the game – as if it needed such! Medieval is such an engrossing game, once you begin to play you'll wonder where the time went.
Medieval 2 operates on two distinct levels: there is the larger, top-level of the game which offers strategy in the style of the Civilisation series of game, where you upgrade cities in order to produce certain units. The top-level also allows you to command all your settlements, armies, navies and other units and agents. You can build settlements to help generate extra revenue, or castles to help build more troops. You can also play around with diplomacy, which is useful when you need to reinforce your army after a long and intense battle; diplomats can be dispatched to negotiate cease-fires and build treaties. Alliances can be forged through marriage, while spies can gain vital intelligence surrounding potential city targets. Alternatively, if you prefer to be completely underhanded, you can always send assassins to kill the enemy agents.
Battles are rendered in full 3D and look fantastic. Thousands of troops can be on-screen at once, firing catapults and cannons, fighting on horseback and unleashing volleys of lethal arrows. The level of detail is fantastic, and you can zoom in on the action to see individual combatants, or zoom out and take overall control of your battle masterplan. You can either fight out the battles yourself, or let the computer fight them for you. Fighting the battles yourself can be time consuming, but ultimately worth it for the visual treat; whereas letting the computer simulate the battle generates a near-instant report of the battle's results. Proper strategy is rewarded, such as ensuring your lightly-armoured bowmen are well protected at the rear of the army or sending mounted cavalry into a poorly-protected flank. Every decision made on the strategic map finally comes to life in the 3D battle scenes, such as the composition of your armies, the upgrades you've equipped them with and even the influence of your generals.
The player can create as large or small an army as they desire and can mix-and-match their troop units to build impressive military forces. You might build an army consisting of spearmen, men-at-arms, mounted knights and bowmen; all backed up with an array of siege equipment ranging from catapults and ballistae to trebuchets and battering rams. The armies require some management, though, as you'll be constantly sending them to reinforce cities and settlements, which in turn means your army is weakened when it comes to the next assault, unless you strengthen.
Medieval 2 covers just about every aspect you could possibly conceive about medieval life. From building settlements for peasants, to churches and mosques to support the faith if you can think it, its likely in the game. There are benefits to be made in certain elements of what might appear to be superfluous features of the game. Getting your ruler named as Pope, for example, will allow you greater leeway when it comes to committing transgressions against other Christian states, while the same scenario for an enemy might mean you become a wanted man as the Holy City seeks to crush your state underfoot.
One drawback of Medieval 2 is the fact that to get the best out of the battle scenes, you'll need a relatively powerful PC. The battle scenes put a lot of strain on your system, especially when there are thousands of troops fighting on-screen simultaneously.
It doesn't take long to pick up the intricacies of Medieval 2, and the controls are relatively intuitive. However, players will constantly need to pay attention to the movements of the enemy. The game's AI is impressive and smart enough to pose a serious challenge to even the most battle-hardened strategy player. For example, it may send skirmish troops to gauge the strength of one of your settlements and then attack if it's not properly defended.
If you're looking for a strategy game that gets you straight into the action, it's best to look elsewhere as Medieval 2 is not that game. Medieval 2 is a deeply involving game that will keep you occupied for days at a time, but even so, you'll still feel you've only scratched the surface of the game.