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Total War: Attila Review

Total War: Attila was Creative Assembly's release after the abysmal launch of Rome 2, the worst game launch in Total War history. Rome has risen, and now, like every nation before it, she has entered her decline. Will you try to prevent the inevitable? Or will you strike out and take advantage of the opportunity to carve an empire of your own out of the carcass of the greatest civilization of the era? But just as importantly, will the game convince you to stay around long enough for that to happen?

Total War: Attila Review

Introduction

Have you ever been so creatively bankrupt that you took a 2005 content expansion for your 2004 game, turned it into a stand-alone game in 2015, and then charged people some 50 bucks for it?

Creative Assembly has.

Released in 2004 February of 2015, Total War: Attila is the 9th installment of the Total War franchise and this time it centers around the decline of one-half of Rome and the rise of another. But also it's about the beginning of one of the world's most violent and generally forgotten eras, one where everyone is rushing to fill the vacuum left by Rome. The harbinger of these fun times is a fellow named Attila, I don't know if you know of him or not but I guess he was a big shot back in the day. Unlike its predecessor, Total War: Rome 2, which was primarily focused on Rome's rise this one is about the ugly and painful fall, and the gameplay attempts to highlight this with a few inventive mechanics.

Now Attila is a Total War game, so we can safely state now that it's been out for little over a year that it doesn't deviate too far from the standard method of operation for a Total War game. However, there are some dramatic changes that should be enough to keep even the most disillusioned fan engaged for at least a few hours.

Storyline 

It's 395 AD. The known world stands on the brink of annihilation; famine and war are rampant, and Rome, that nation that has stood for centuries, is ready to crumble as the barbarians on the other side of the walls are growing restless. Perhaps these small nations dotting the world are but a shield from something far worse sweeping in from the east. Attila, the Scourge of God, has come at last.

Attila is featured in the game as an actual general and gains special significance when playing as the Huns. As your campaign continues, there is a cut-scene at one point telling you of the birth of Attila and the true beginning of all of your troubles, but apart from these few scattered cut-scenes to tell you when you're going to want to invest in some bigger walls around your cities, the narrative is yours to craft. As Creative Assembly tries (and sometimes fails) to make its games historical, we can say that in the starting year of the game, just as in the real world, it was not the best of times. But we can't go and quite say that it was the worst of times just yet.

Gameplay

Recently I've come to view Total War games as stale pretzels. I'll eat them because my low self-esteem dictates just about everything else I do in my life, but I won't particularly enjoy it and I'll quickly move on to better, tastier things that are fresh and contain more flavor. Total War: Attila is a slightly less stale pretzel.

Now in Attila you'll have to contend not only with your rivals but also with another foe, this one more insidious and deadly than any roving Viking army or Ostrogoth horde.You'll be fighting climate change. You see in Attila, provinces now have a fertility meter. Fertility is a measure of how much food you'll be getting in your provinces each turn. Food is everything. Your empire runs on food. Without food, you're screwed. See, in the real world around this time in European history climate change resulted in an overall decrease in fertility, especially in the northern and eastern regions. This was one of the factors that led to the invasion of Roman lands by many of the Germanic tribes present in the game. Nations that are able to produce a lot of food, or at the very least not lose food every turn, will almost always be able to conquer those who don't have as much. There are two types of food producing buildings in Total War: Attila; those that use fertility and those that do not:

  • Those that do not will provide you with a stock output of food each turn (i.e. 2. Flat 2. No more and no less), but you can be assured of that amount of food from that building. The fertility of the land has nothing to do with it.

  • Those that do harness the fertility of the land will have modifiers applied to the base amount of food they give you. So a fertility-based building that gives a base amount of 2 (again, 2) and then will multiply by the fertility of the land. So you might get three, or four, or even five food. 

 Just for giggles, let's take a look at some of the negative effects of not having enough food, shall we?

  • Armies suffer attrition in all provinces with a food shortage.
  • Armies will not replenish in all provinces with a food shortage. 
  • Minus-two Integrity for all armies (Integrity is like loyalty/happiness, lower integrity means higher chance of rebellion)
  • Negative penalties for replenishment and growth
  • Provinces with a food shortage get -25% wealth and a decrease of public order.

This forces you to change how you'll be playing the game, as it may be more advantageous in the long term to target enemy provinces with a higher fertility rather than capital cities or heavily defended regions.

Total War: Attila fertility levels
​Now the concept of fertility brings us into one of the game's only other redeeming features​​​.The hordes mechanic. Now I'd never played a strategy game that had something that functioned quite like this, and I was pumped up for it for sure. The main difference between a horde faction like the Ostrogoths or the Romans is its mobility. A horde army can turn into a horde settlement wherever and whenever it wants. Barbarian factions like the Jutes, Saxons, Alans, etc. etc, all can become hordes when they don't control at least one settlement. The exception being the Huns, who can't take settlements. A horde army will have the advantage in that it can scout out those juicy southern lands when it's raiding and pillaging, and settle the areas with the highest wealth and fertility to begin their own Roman-esque empires.

Every army doubles as a settlement, and you can send one of your hordes out west and the other out east if you want. In fact, I'd recommend spreading out a bit for maximum efficiency. If you clump your hordes together there's a chance you could lose it all as you get chased across the world by the three 'civilized nations' (that is the two Romes and the Sassanids). And while a number of buildings and the building types will be restricted, that is a fair price for the sheer mobility you'll be able to bring to the table. A horde army makes its money from raiding settlements and provinces and getting gifts from tributary states. Meaning that you'll always be on the move, always moving from small undefended settlement to small undefended settlement before you decide enough is enough and you want to settle down.

Total War: Attila settlement capture
On the note of settling provinces and the traditional route of expanding your empire's borders, I would feel remiss if I did not mention the last and arguably best feature that Attila brought to the table. Something never before seen in a Total War game, something new and exciting that changed the way the game is played. You can now burn you or your enemies' settlements to the ground. You can burn your own settlements to the ground, too if you really want. Say you're Rome and you need to deny your enemy some land, then you just select that particular province or region and abandon it. It'll destroy all the buildings and force the enemy to spend the time and the money resettling the area later on. Be warned that this will dramatically effect your public order if you're one of those three civilized nations.

Now when the Barbarians raze their settlements something interesting happens that the Romans don't have access too. For tribes like the Saxons and the Jutes who do start with provinces, there's the option for them to become a horde nation, making their surviving armies adopt the same mechanics as the Ostrogoths or the Vandals. Playing as these factions, you can set fire to your provinces in the north once the fertility reaches intolerably low levels and head south with the rest of your filthy, unwashed Pagan brothers as you avoid one of ten Hunnic armies  and the occasional Roman patrol.

That is what makes Attila a fun Total War game, it nails those parts of the game and injects something fresh, interesting and exciting. On the higher difficulties playing as a horde; there's an honest challenge and you never know if the next turn, when you've put a pause on pillaging to develop your horde, a Roman army is going to come out of nowhere and smack you around. I wish the rest of the game was as good. You know I really wanted to like this game more. I wanted to give it a 7 or an 8 but the longer I've thought about it the more my disappointment has grown until I finally felt compelled to put pen to paper here. Three solid aspects do not a good game make.

Total War: Attila combat siege
Total War: Attila is a combat-centered game, the vast majority of the time you'll be fighting someone, somewhere, and the buildings and diplomacy are ​​​barely fleshed out, kind of just sitting there and loosely tied to combat and diplomacy. If Creative Assembly didn't have to include those elements, I don't think they would have because it's arguably the least fleshed out aspect of the game. It feels like when you open up the diplomacy menu that the bare minimum has been done, and one could argue that the return of the family trees (another feature from 2004's Total War: Rome) ​is a step towards fixing that. But apart from selling off your daughters to secure alliances with smelly Germanics and using your male heirs as governors and generals, there isn't much you can do with it. It's useful every now and then for appointing leaders and making sure that you maintain some level of loyalty and control over your empire, but eventually, you just forget about it until something pops up and it draws your attention again for a minute or so.

Combat is bland, boring and unappealing. I've found myself just hitting auto-resolve again and again because I don't want to keep dealing with the same re-skinned armies who go about doing the exact same thing, displaying the same basic tactic of sending your horses around to the right or having your archers attack the left flank. The faction icon and the names might be slightly different, but the unit rosters are absolutely atrocious. The diversity of units is lacking and Attila might rank as one of the worst Total War games in this regard. Half of the playable factions in Attila share the same Germanic roster, with a handful of unique units. Three-fourths share the same barbarian building roster, after one or two games it just feels like you've seen it all. There's nothing else to say about combat because one battle is quite honestly representative of most of what you are going to be getting in Total War: Attila.

Total War: Attila combat
For a series like Total War, ​the replay value has to be high to keep people coming back. This stands true for any RTS game, you have to be able to play the game once and then go back to the beginning and play it all while feeling like you're getting something fresh ​​out of it. In Attila, almost every single game plays out the exact same way. Let's look at its predecessor; Total War:Rome 2. It was the worst launch in Total War history, but you couldn't say that every game turned out the same. One playthrough you could be fighting an Egyptian empire that had conquered Rome, and the next one would be spent fighting the Germanic tribes that had grown to dominate the entirety of Europe all the way down to Greece. In 2004 this would have been a revolutionary game, and it was. But this is not 2004. This is the current year, ​and while Creative Assembly is most definitely not the only guilty party, this cannot continue. It's like telling the same joke every day to your friends at work or school and expecting a laugh every time. Eventually, people are going to look at you funnily, and then they are going to ignore you.

Now, there is DLC. DLC offers opportunities to expand on the game, to improve upon things that for whatever reason, weren't able to be included at launch. I like DLC, and this extra content can be very good when it's pulled off in the right way, except Creative Assembly utterly shot itself in the foot on this front and turned a great many of its fans against them over the period of the past three game releases! I really wanted to like Attila, considering the 150 plus hours I had put into Total War: Empire way back in middle school. But there's very little to like.

Graphics and Sound

Acceptable. This is the only field where it doesn't feel like Attila has taken one step forward and two steps back. The graphics are wonderful, a major improvement from previous games. The most memorable bit about the soundtrack was the opening song once the game had powered up, it did its job of conveying the overall feel and atmosphere of the game, of a world on fire right before it's plunged into darkness.

Conclusion

It's just not worth it. Boring factions, repetitive gameplay, and while – yes the game is fun – that fun is fleeting once you get over the novelty of what's going on. And for $44.99 on Steam? More than a year after its release? No, absolutely not. Maybe for thirty dollars, but paying almost fifty bucks for a game like this feels borderline criminal. I can still remember when I got my first Total War game as a Christmas present, all the hours of fun and excitement. That's how I prefer to remember it.

Pros
Cons
+ Hordes mechanic is fun at first– Stale combat
+ Fertility adds a small layer of complexity– Tries and fails to copy and paste the 2004 game in 2016 with some improvements
+ Razing is really fun at first– Factions lack originality, failed to inspire
– Repetitive campaigns
– Steep Price
5
Average

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