Total War: Atilla is the third game in the Total War series that puts the focus on the Roman Empire. The first was an excellent game, while the second needed more time in the oven. This time, we join history not when Rome is ascendant, but rather when it is fighting for its very survival. Enemies are around every corner, and sometimes right beside you in the shield wall. The Empire had grown so large it could not be ruled by one person, and so it was broken in two. Just when they thought things could not get any worse, when their armies were weakened and battered, along came Atilla, the Hun warlord who commanded an unstoppable horde, which was pointed right at the heart of Rome.
That should give you an idea of what Creative Assembly are trying to do with Atilla. The Roman empire fell not because of any one army, or even any two armies attacking at the same time. It fell because Romans could not stop fighting Romans for control of the ever decreasing Empire. So the developers are telling you, the player, “Okay hotshot, think you could have saved Rome? Prove it.”
Right from the prologue, you can tell that this game is going to be slightly different from other Rome games in the Total War series. You are not given command of a Roman general and his legion. Instead, you are a Gothic barbarian warlord. A real one, in fact. Your job is to ensure the survival of your tribe, all the way through the battle of Adrianople, which is a very important battle in the history of Western civilization.
The barbarian tribes are fleshed out in the game. The options for factions now include abandoning settlements and becoming nomadic. This is a really interesting option to take, though I could not figure out a way to make it work without going to war with the entire world. Basically, you get a certain amount of money for abandoning your cities, essentially looting your own home, and then you must figure out a way to make more before that runs out. You can choose to go meander across Europe from faction to faction, raiding as you go, but eventually that gets noticed. You can choose to settle in any unused towns you might run into, but good luck finding one of those in someone’s territory that they don’t want back.
You don’t have to play as a barbarian tribe. You can also play as the Eastern or Western Roman Empire, or as one of the many surrounding civilizations. For my playthrough, I chose the Sassanids. Right away I noticed that politics plays a larger role in this game than it did in the past, or perhaps more correctly, the game makes you take notice of the politics. I can’t say I enjoyed having to fight for legitimacy while ruling my empire, but it was at least something different.
Unlike prior games, each turn in the game is now based on the seasons of the year. So one year is now four turns long, and you are forced to pay attention to what season it is too. Food shortages can occur during winter if you don’t have enough built up. Your armies in the field will suffer from attrition if they spend the winter outside of winter quarters. Even if you move an army during the winter you will take casualties. So while you may desperately want to go relieve that city which is under siege and about to fall, you have to decide if it’s worth it to suffer the losses that the wind and snow will cause you.
I confess that I don’t understand some of the things going on in the game. I don’t know why a captain of an army, or the army itself, suddenly grows disloyal if, under my leadership, the empire grows every year. It’s always bothered me in Total War games that I can’t just play without having to worry about keeping my troops in line. Right now I’m discovering that the only way to keep my soldiers from rebelling is to order the death of one in ten every few years. That’s absurd. Fine, make it more interesting and I suppose a little more realistic by having to contend with ambitious young nobles, but give me the option to ignore it completely.
On to the battlefield side of the game. To put it mildly, Total War: Rome 2 was not especially good when it came to battlefield AI. I reviewed the game and didn’t suffer from too many issues, but there were videos posted to Youtube and Reddit, and on various and sundry other message boards, showing army units acting more like Left Shark in the Superbowl than elite army units. The game wasn’t fully cooked, and it took a while for Creative Assembly to get that game fixed.
I don’t know, maybe I’m again getting very lucky with battlefield AI but Atilla feels like the game that Rome 2 should have been when it launched. It’s still not perfect; I have witnessed units marching into a brick wall for example, but compared to what I’ve seen in the past, it’s pretty good.
The UI is not without flaws, however. For some reason I cannot select all of my units and arrange them in a battle line like I could in prior games. I mean the command is there, just select them all and then drag the mouse with the right mouse button held down, but it does not function like it once did.
The game looks very good. Both the overworld map and the battlefield look great. Individual army units still aren’t unique, like some crazy people have been demanding since Medieval: Total War, but there is enough variety to satisfy me at least. While the cities in the game still aren’t what was promised for Rome 2, at the very least they feel large and imposing. I took a city the other day that felt positively huge. They’ve kept the king of the hill feel to taking cities, where you have to take control of different parts of the city or wipe out enemy defenders entirely in order to win. Winning by holding onto the victory point feels cheap, like winning via ring out in a fighting game. But sometimes you can’t afford to lose that general, and it’s the only way.
Both parts of the game feel polished to me. I like the ability to quick save before you enter battle. That’s very handy. I also liked the ability to abandon a city and use a scorched earth policy if I felt that city was indefensible. I mean I used to do it manually, but this makes things much quicker. And speaking of quicker, the time it takes to calculate AI moves between rounds has improved remarkably. No longer can I skip away to grab a snack and expect to be back before the AI has finished. Just little things like that which have been around forever as minor complaints seem to have been addressed.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Atilla is probably the game that Rome 2 would have been had the developers taken the time to polish up all of its issues. It’s a nice to see a developer take to heart what the customer has been complaining about. No need to wait on purchasing this one if Total War games are your thing. Let’s hope there’s a Total Warhammer in the offing that is given the same polish.