Posted: April 12
Ignore the low play time... hundreds of hours have been amassed on a retail copy.
Medieval II is, quite simply, one of the finest games I have ever played. It's the game that got me back into strategy games after a long hiatus, and that introduced me to what is now one of my favorite game series ever.
But will you like it?
Well, let's start from the beginning.
Medieval II is a combination turn-based and real-time tactics strategy game that takes place in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East during the Middle Ages. You can play as one of 17 different factions in the campaign mode (plus four others in skirmishes) that have a wide variety of playing styles, strengths, and weaknesses. As 450 years go by, the Old World is thrown into chaos- or Total War, as the narrator would say- as it endures Crusades and Jihads, rebellion and betrayal, infighting among the Christian nations, two monstrous hordes from the East, and that terrible calamity known as the Black Death, all while the slow wheel of time turns and technology continues to advance from the simple spear to the crossbow to the terrible might of gunpowder. The Kingdoms expansion essentially adds four entirely new games, with campaigns in more localized areas of the normal TW map with over a dozen new factions to play from, in scenarios that all present very different challenges.
You will spend half of your time on the grand campaign map, a sort of political overworld where you manage the large affairs of your empire and move about your units. Here is where alliances are made and broken, provinces are developed, units are recruited, money is managed, and the dark tasks of espionage and assassination are undertaken. While a battle might change the course of a war, this is where you make sure that you have every chance of winning it in the first place.
But most people play Total War for the battles. With the capacity to have thousands of units on the field at any given time, they're as much spectacle as strategy, as the ordered chaos of the battlefield threatens to overwhelm even the greatest captains. With a rich unit roster and a wide array of special abilities, your armies will be versatile and able to employ any number of tactics, from slowly whittling enemy numbers down with a stream of arrow fire to forming a defensive circle to protect your captain to employing a devastating hammer and anvil strike with your cavalry to launching diseased cow carcasses at their generals. Morale, terrain, weather, and energy levels all play important roles in how well your soldiers will be able to fight, and how well you will be able to govern the events of the battle.
While there are some common strategies that can be undertaken for any nation or situation, no two campaigns or battles are the same, as the game can and will throw out surprises for you that you'll have to think quickly about to overcome. You may think you're doing well as France, fighting off England and preparing to make an invasion of the isles, when suddenly those ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥s in Portugal declare war on you and blockade all of your provinces, forcing you to stretch yourself out along two fronts. And while you may be able to overcome this obstacle, His Holiness the Pope probably won't take kindly to your conquests against your Catholic brethren, and may excommunicate you. All eventualities need to be prepared for in Total War if you want to survive.
While this game is nearly a decade old, it still has a sizable and dedicated community of players to turn to if you want to fight a battle, try out a mod, or just get some friendly advice on how to deal with the Timurids. And as one of the easiest TW games to modify, it also has one of the best mod communities you'll be able to find, with an active base of players uploading and supporting their mods to this day. I highly recommend Stainless Steel, an expanded version of the base game with more provinces, factions, and units, and better AI, and also Third Age, a total conversion mod for Lord of the Rings that in my humble opinion is arguably the best TW game ever created, despite being a mod. If those two don't suit you, I'm sure you can find others that will.
As for performance, the game still runs fine almost a decade after release, and still looks great. I can start a battle with 5,000 troops on the field and have little to no lag on my less than stellar computer. The score is also one of the finest I've had the pleasure of listening to in any game, and fits it very well.
So, what are you waiting for? Go get the game! Europe won't conquer itself!