Medieval: Total War (PC, 2002)

Note: this post is unchanged from one from 2005 in my old blog, The Games of My Life. But please see the new section at the end.

This game has a big problem. The load times. For some reason, in my Athlon XP 2000 with 1 GB of RAM and a fast hard drive, they’re huge – not “read a book”-like, but, still, 30-60 seconds to load a battle and 30-60 seconds to come back to the main map are, IMO, too much. Especially since Rome: Total War, their more recent and even more detailed game, actually has shorter load times.

That’s the problem. In almost every other respect, Medieval: Total War is virtually perfect.

Medieval: Total War - campaign map
M:TW - campaign map

M:TW, like its predecessor Shogun: Total War and its successor Rome: Total War, is a historical turn-based strategy game with fantastic real-time battles. These are really wonderful – no other game, except perhaps Close Combat, simulates a battle so well – and that one was squad-based. This one, though, can have armies of 10.000 men. On each side. And they all move, shout, fight and, possibly, die.


This engine is so advanced that people have used it to re-create real medieval battles. And it can be played against another person, on the Net.

Medieval: Total War - battle
M:TW - a battle taking place

Yet, M:TW is also more than fancy battles. The full strategic game is also great – especially if you like history. Many historical events happen, or can happen if all the requirements are met, at the proper times – such as the Inquisition, or the coming of the Golden Horde (which, historically, would have conquered most of Europe if it hadn’t been called back due to its Khan having drunk himself to death. Thank alcohol for not having a Mongol Europe! :)).

And there are so many ways to play. Want to control the Spanish and launch crusades to the Holy Land? You can. Want to play as the French or the English and fight the Hundred Years War? Or play as the Almohads (who we called “Moors” some centuries ago) and stop the Iberian Reconquista? Want to change the fate of the Byzantine Empire, which was in fact the eastern part of the Roman Empire, centuries after the best known Western part had fallen? Or build a trading empire as Italy (except the Papal States – and beware the Pope in this game, believe me)?

Just writing this makes me want to play it some more. 🙂

And what about the expansion pack, The Viking Invasion? Not only does it add some more units and playable factions to the main game, it also adds a completely new campaign, set in about 900 A.D., set in the British Isles… but before there was such a thing as Britain, or even England. Technology is less advanced, most of the territory is still forest, there are small states such as the Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, the Mercians and the Saxons, and, of course, there’s the threat that gives the expansion its name: the Vikings! Which, again, play in a different way – while other factions must defend their territories, improve the infrastructure in them, deal with a few attacks while they get powerful enough, and them slowly expand… the Vikings, on the other hand, earn most of their money by pillaging other territories – invading, crushing any defenses, they demolishing any remaining fortifications and buildings for money… and then leaving, and attacking again, somewhere else!

Just yesterday I, with a 900-man Viking army, defeated an army of more than 4000 Irishmen. And I still remember some parts of that battle. They sure didn’t bother me again for a while… 🙂

New 2011 section

As you have surely noticed, unlike the previous TGomL posts, I chose to reproduce the original 2005 post without changes (not even English corrections, no matter how much it pains me :)), because I think it makes for an interesting piece of history — my thoughts on the second Total War game little after Rome (the third) had been released, and when my computer wasn’t exactly “the bomb”.

It’s 6 years later, M:TW1 is relatively difficult to run properly in Windows Vista and 7 (but it can be done: it includes forcing apps to “see” no more than 2 GB of RAM each — check out this last link), computers are typically more powerful (I’m currently using an i7-860 with a GeForce 470), and there have been several Total War games since that game: Rome (which was already out when I wrote the initial review) and its two expansions, Medieval II (and its expansion), Empire (and its expansion), Napoleon (and its expansion), and Shogun 2 was released a week ago (and it’s great, by the way). Being a huge fan of the series, naturally I have purchased them all, though some of them only after they became cheap on Steam.

Now, the question you may be asking is: if there is a M:TW 2, why even care about the first one? Isn’t the second game better in every respect? And the answer is… no. I don’t think so.

Sure, Medieval II looks a lot better (the first one didn’t even have 3D units, they were sprites, one for each main direction, and scaled up or down depending on distance to the camera), and the gameplay is more streamlined, with campaigns being faster. And the extra campaigns in the expansion pack add a lot of variety (though I don’t think any of them is as good as Viking Invasion). But… there was something to the first game that I miss in the second. The world seemed… bigger, and with a lot of “mysterious”, exotic parts. The Pope was — realistically, considering the time period — a much bigger asshole, much harder to please. Religion, too, was much more important than in the sequel (and, yes, I’m an atheist, but I want my historical games to be historical). The Inquisition almost made you soil your pants. Units seemed more varied, instead of simple “reskins”. Weak units such as peasants were weaker, and strong units were stronger. The music was better, with lots of choruses and gregorian chants. The main campaign actually seemed cruel and unforgiving — even if you were doing well, you always felt that you could lose everything simply because of a succession of a couple of events — usually involving the Pope, and possibly excommunication, which really made everyone hate you; in the second game, I always managed to avoid it.

I really must play this game again, a lot more. Who knows, with this PC (even having to limit the available memory for an application to a “mere” two gigabytes), maybe the load times will actually be bearable. 🙂

One thought on “Medieval: Total War (PC, 2002)”

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