Monday, February 26, 2018

Reductive Assembly

The long running Total War series has always been unique among the strategy gaming genre in that it is a hybrid of RTS tactical battles and turn-based strategic planning.  I've played the majority of the entries in the franchise starting with the big three; Shogun: Total War, Medieval: Total War and Rome: Total War.  In addition to that I've also played many of the sequels and expansions.  However, I've stayed away from more recent titles partially because I'm not fond of Warhammer (or 40k), but more so because there are a number of long standing issues with the I.P.  (which I've already covered on an old blogpost here).

Enter Thrones of Britannia, visually it comes across as a fairly obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of TV shows like Game of Thrones and Vikings.  Of course that's just my take.  Going by the comments posted in various places around the internet it's actually a reskin of Attila.  That might be true for the rendering engine, but given the time period and setting calling Thrones of Britannia a remake of Medieval: Total War - Viking Invasion is probably more accurate statement.  Then again that stand-alone expansion (rebranded recently as "Total War Sagas") came out way back in 2003 which means it's more ancient than the Dark Ages by video game standards.

On a more positive note, I'm glad to see the developers take a few cues from Crusader Kings and try to inject a bit more verisimilitude into their feudal simulations (especially when it comes to army recruitment/deployment).  It has been a long-lasting dream of mine to see Creative Assembly and Paradox Interactive join forces to create a truly epic historical war game.  Alas, I suppose this is the most I can realistically expect.  Another thing I'd like to mention is the period art.  Namely, I don't have a problem with it and think it contributes to the clean looking U.I.  My suspicion is that no small part of the fan griping stems from an inability to see the dichotomy of playing video games and wanting to be taken seriously.  In case that isn't clear, let me bring out a straw man for a moment...*ahem*... "I'm engaging in a hardcore piece of interactive history and not a crude approximation made purely for entertainment value."  In that sense the art, which is abstract and yet reminiscent of the era, is actually spot-on in terms of what Thrones of Britannia really represents.

As much as I have come to dislike the developers of Total War (Creative Assembly) and their current publisher (Sega), I have to admit that the fan base around this series is five flavors of toxic.  One kind I've already mentioned.  Other than that there are passive/aggressive types who complain incessantly then rush to pre-order the next installment only to repeat the entire process over and over.  There are armchair historians/generals who think their subjective opinions are infallible, apologists that claim that the modders will fix all, and the worst of the bunch - ultranationalists.  Hang on...I'll bring out the straw man again..."The faction I associate most with in real life should be the strongest in the game, and while I'm at it I demand that genocidal extermination be implemented so I can use it on ethnic groups I'm biased against."  Sadly, as repugnant as that second request is I can't claim it is ahistorical.  That said, it still reeks of wrong-headed thinking.  Now, I don't want to generalize too much here.  I'm certain that the majority of Total War enthusiasts are introspective enough to refrain from such foolishness or when they do express their opinions it's in the form of legitimate grievances/concerns.  Unfortunately, more often than not, said fans are drowned out by one or more forms of the awfulness I previously mentioned.

It's a shame because at its core, Total War is an interesting concept.  If the devs had adopted a more aggressive policy of improving on gameplay mechanics, paying proper lip-service to actual history, and working on creating something better than brain-dead A.I. behavior then it could have been one of the all time greats of the strategy genre.  As is though it has gone the way of the mediocre click fests wherein everyone plays too far zoomed out to notice any nuance or detail.   

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