E3 06: Medieval 2: Total War Impressions

We get more info from developer Creative Assembly on the latest, and prettiest, game in the acclaimed Total War strategy series.

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LOS ANGELES--Sega and Creative Assembly are showing off Medieval 2: Total War, the next game in the popular strategy series that melds turn-based and real-time gameplay. Medieval 2 returns back to the Middle Ages of European history, as you'll get to lead one of more than 20 countries--from England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and more--as it attempts to conquer the whole of Europe, and even the Americas. Like its predecessors, Medieval 2 will feature a turn-based strategic campaign where you'll make decisions from what sorts of armies to raise, which countries to ally with, and where to invade next. Then, when armies meet, you can switch to a real-time 3D view of the battle and command your men yourself. That's all well and good, but what's new in Medieval 2?

Creative Assembly has 40 team members in its Brisbane, Australia, studio working on the game, which is the largest team for a Total War game yet. It sounds like the company has been busy, too, as this isn't a simple sequel. Apparently, the company rebuilt the battle engine from scratch to allow for even more amounts of detail and animation, and to also get rid of one of the major problems in Rome: Total War: The fact that armies in Rome all looked like soldiers cloned from a single man. Now the armies look incredibly detailed and varied, and the combat animations are even more organic and realistic. When armies meet, there's a wide variety of motions that you'll see as individual soldiers battle. You'll also see a soldier defeat a threat, then look left and right for his next victim. It all looks amazing, and Medieval 2 promises to be more than a mere graphical upgrade, as well.

The good news is also that the artificial intelligence should be smarter, according to the developers. They've worked on this a lot, and we saw it in the game, as the French army (controlled by the computer) realized its mounted knights were under English longbow fire and moved them to the woods for some protection. The French knights were seen then using the woods as cover to move up and try to hit the English from the side. The AI will know how to use the environment better, and this includes recognizing the new impassable terrain in the game. There are more than 250 unique units in the game, each with special abilities, such as the English longbow ability to place spikes down before a battle, protecting them from charges by mounted knights.

There are a slew of improvements on the strategic map. For starters, the textures have been upped considerably, and the map looks prettier more than ever. More importantly, there's a new economic system that requires you to select a role for each of your provinces. If you build a city in a province, you'll boost your economy and gain more money from the increased trade. But you'll also need to put castles in some of your provinces to recruit armies. The recruiting system has been improved, so now you can raise armies in a single year, rather than having to slowly build them over the course of decades. This means that you can suddenly go from peace to total war in just a few years in the game.

That's just the tip of the iceberg with Medieval 2. There are a ton of other improvements in the game that have yet to be revealed. This certainly looks like it'll be one of the biggest strategy games of the year, as well as one of the prettiest, so we'll be sure to bring you more coverage of this title in the future.

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