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    Total War: Attila, Winter is Coming

    Despite its title, Total War: Attila is not the story of a single, ferocious military leader. Instead, it is a collection of stories from multiple disparate and unequal factions that range in size and scope, sporting wildly different skill-sets and cultural identities. At their core, these factions represent myriad play-styles across multiple game modes, all of which add up to the widest variety of scenarios for any base-game in the long-running Total War series. And Creative Assembly has covered a multitude of approaches right off the bat. Grand campaigns can start with managing the scores of settlements boasted by the Romans to the single town set-ups of the great migrators in what is, effectively, the same campaign story told from multiple  viewpoints; a story that depicts the rise of smaller factions and the beginning of the end of the mighty Roman Empire.

    For the Romans, this means holding on to as many settlements as possible, installing ruling provincial leaders and making advantageous alliances through trade and marriage, all the while adapting to changing circumstances. Friends become foes and internal strife boils over into localised pockets of rebellion as the downtrodden rage against the squalor brought about by years of decadent living enjoyed by their betters. New powers rise across the map bringing with them their own political time-bombs and military challenges, while the sheer number of fronts on which the Romans must defend themselves makes them amongst the toughest factions to play from the off; everyone wants a piece of the Roman Empire and control must be relinquished in some quarters in order to maintain order in others.

    Not that life is much easier as a smaller faction. As one of the migratory tribes you’ll feel the initial bite of the terrifying Huns as they bear down from the north, bringing with them a changing of the seasons. Winter slows movement on the campaign map and punishes armies caught out in the open, while life inside towns and cities is also affected by the fickle whim of Mother Nature where a bumper crop gifted by an unseasonably warm spring may be decimated by a particularly harsh winter. When life gets too tough you can pack up and migrate, scorching the earth you leave behind and turning your faction into a travelling horde. In this way, the faction system has been applied far more effectively than in previous games and makes a genuine difference to how you play and to how different cultures behave.
    Nonetheless, at some point you have to stand and fight. Meeting the Huns on open ground is dangerous due to their multitude of mounted units that can quickly outflank, outmanoeuvre and outrun ground troops, harrying superior numbers and making light of any units that you allow to be isolated. Use of cover forests in open warfare or blind alleys and densely packed buildings in city scraps is essential for maintaining the element of surprise. Here too, weather plays a part as an attacking force can choose to wait for more favourable conditions or plough into the fray, regardless. Trying to defend a newly established settlement against superior numbers is hard enough; doing so in heavy fog is akin to fighting two foes at once.

    Despite this, early battles can be won simply by grouping troops and throwing them at the enemy and victory in the early battles can come seemingly out of the blue, with the killing of a rival general leading to widespread panic within the enemy ranks. Fail to rout them, however, and they may soon rally and return to cause problems. Later, better recognised tactics take over as you move troops around more efficiently and to greater effect although it’s here that new players will find that the lack of education concerning the individual strengths and uses of each unit causes an avoidable defeat  or  two  as  you  experiment  with  each. In time, you come to understand that a bigger army is not necessarily a better one, particularly in settlements where a smaller force is more effective and easier to move around. Similarly, the aide that serves as a guide for much of the early game abruptly stops being helpful partway through the campaign and so it is left to you to ascertain how best to leverage political situations or trade advantages.

     This points to the fact that it’s not all fighting and sometimes you'll have to launch a charm offensive to supplement your military might. Suppression by the sword is blunt and to the point and so it can be advantageous to placate aggressive neighbours or internal agitators by winning public opinion and maintaining public order with coin or culturally beneficial buildings. Diplomatic wrangling can be complex and while you can drill down via the UI to get more info on any of the buildings or game concepts, you’ll learn best through doing and exploring. This can be daunting and sometimes frustrating for new players but eventually the time investment reaps ample rewards.

     Ultimately, this is the lasting impression of Total War: Attila , which in the fifteenth year of the series feels like a celebration of the franchise and more of a game for Total War fans rather than one that’s overly welcoming to brand new recruits. By building on the solid base that it took time to establish with Total War: Rome 2, Creative Assembly has refined a number  of  that  game’s  rough  edges  and  built upon its systems to deliver what many expected of its 2013 outing. New players will struggle at first but for those willing to invest the time, Total War: Attila’s deep pockets repay that investment with a varied and deep campaign and a plethora of additional content.

     Multiplayer offers simple, one-off battles across a range of environments or the longer term investment required of the multiplayer campaign. Due to the variation in starting size and power of the factions it’s a good idea to play as broadly similar cultures. Otherwise, someone playing a single-city barbarian state can face a long wait each turn as a player-controlled Roman faction sees to its empire. Turn-times can be limited in the game set-up but it’s hard to find a happy medium between a penniless nomadic tribe and a well-established faction bringing in thousands of gold per turn. Alternatively, the co-op campaign offers players a chance to team-up to plot their rise to dominance and share resources as they take out the AI super-powers. 

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