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    Total War: Attila: Creative Assembly almost makes up for Rome 2

    Okay, let me get this out of the way right here and up front. Yes, we’re one of many Total War fans that felt that Rome 2 was easily the worst of the series, and generally a poor game in its right. So, hopefully you can trust us when we say that Attila, the Napoleon to Empire, as it were, is a far superior game.

    It’s one you will actually want to keep playing, whereas, for a lot of people Rome 2 was un-fun and a lot of hard work. From pacing to setting and atmosphere, to the balance of units and the flow of the game’s signature real-time combat, Attila is, if not a great Total War game, it is at least a very good one.

    Which is not to say it is without its flaws, but we’ll get to them.

    The game is set in a very fascinating period, which Creative Assembly has used to offer up some quite rich gameplay options. In the fourth century, the mighty Roman Empire has split into two, much weaker Eastern and Western Empires, while around its borders nation and city states, northern barbarians, ancient eastern civilisations, and travelling hordes all array themselves. This is the opening of the Dark Ages, and while many historians may protest that term in light of the cultural richness of the period, Creative has grasped the phrase with both hands, and crafted a game where the darkness really is descending.

    The Total War games have always been visually impressive, and while Attila is not the prettiest that would be Shogun 2, with its highly florally-inspired colour palette it is possibly the most artistic. Even sunny days are intensely gloomy, and as the sun sets on the battlefields you fight over, shadows lengthen into wraith-like gloom. Most strikingly and this also has a terrifying mechanical effect fire stands out like some bright and dangerous thing, making flaming arrows, burning buildings, and torch-bearing troops more visually bold than ever before.

    Attila uses a fire motif even on the strategic map. Here, it’s possible for invading armies to lay waste to entire regions, at which point its lush forests and fields are reducing to ash and glowing embers. Watching as a tribe like the Huns or Vandals march across the map, literally burning as they go, can give you quite the intimation of what those times must have felt like.
    Thankfully this visual fidelity is matched by a huge improvement in AI skill, and overall pacing
    But fire is also now more powerful on the tactical map too. Some units will set fire to buildings as they pass, and as buildings catch alight in towns, their neighbours are not far behind. Even trees can be set alight. This makes any battle something to behold, but it makes sieges with burning towers, smoke from the city and buildings, and streams of burning arrows and shot from siege engines downright spectacular.

    Thankfully this visual fidelity is matched by a huge improvement in AI skill, and overall pacing. Rome 2’s battles could be over very fast, with units breaking and running before you can do anything about it, but Attila has slowed things down a little. It still doesn’t feel quite right, but there’s a weight to the fights now that feels much more natural, and is much easier on the player trying to control them. Similarly, units are more likely to rally after breaking off, so there’s a bit more flexibility.

    Otherwise, battles are what you’ve come to expect from Total War unit placement is key, as is exploring the enemy’s flanks and securing your own, while holding a strong line.

    But this quite the challenge, now, as Attila’s AI seems to have had a major overhaul. Sure, its initial deployments aren’t all that clever, but it’s very good now at sending cavalry units on flanking attacks, which can be quite dangerous. This newfound skill is also apparent on the strategic map, where the AI is now more than happy to launch seaborne raids and attacks.

    This is almost essential to the game, though. With nations like the Saxons, who consistently raid England until they drive the Romans out, and of course the pre-cursor Viking tribes, not including this kind of brutal raiding would be an egregious oversight.

    Speaking of factions, there really is an amazing mix. There aren’t that many, but the breadth of gameplay on offer is unique. At one end you’ve got the aforementioned Saxons, for instance, who start with two large armies, and a single region; at the other, you’ve got the Roman Empires, and the eastern forces of the Sassanids. Each represents a very different flavour, from the roaming, landless Vandals to the empire-building Franks and Saxons. But playing as the Romans is the real heart of the game, I think. You’re outnumbered, lack any working financial base, and you generally start losing from turn one it’s brutal, but it’s also really quite engaging watching your Empire fall.

    No wonder Creative has set those campaigns as representing Legendary difficulty!

    Overall, though some systems like the nearly impenetrable trade mechanics, and the still tacked-on feeling provincial system still don’t feel quite right, Attila is a massive improvement in almost every sense.

    Makes us feel pretty damn keen for Total Warhammer.

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