Medieval 2: Total War Designer Diary #4 - Religion

Designer Dan Toose introduces us to how religion will work in this epic strategy game set in medieval Europe.


The Total War strategy games combine turn-based strategy with real-time tactical battles. In other words, you can manage a mighty empire on a map and then take command of your army directly in glorious battle. Medieval 2: Total War will revisit the setting of the original Medieval: Total War--bringing with it new graphics, new gameplay features, and a host of other improvements. This also includes religion. While religion is normally a touchy issue for most games, it can't be avoided when dealing with the history of medieval Europe. To introduce us to the new and revamped religion system in Medieval 2, we have designer Dan Toose. Medieval 2 is scheduled to ship later this year.

The pope may be your friend or a thorn in your side in Medieval 2.
The pope may be your friend or a thorn in your side in Medieval 2.

Religion in Medieval 2

By Dan Toose
Game Designer, Creative Assembly Australia

Medieval 2: Total War is set in an era where faith ruled the lives of men, regardless of whether they were pauper or prince. For this reason, our team here at Creative Assembly has put considerable effort into creating the most robust religion system of any Total War game to date.

At no point did we want to make the game about religion; we make strategy games. However, a strategy game in a medieval setting that doesn't consider matters of faith would be taking away some of the greatest challenges rulers of the time faced: how to be seen as an angel as you conquer like a devil. What follows is a summary, over two parts, of how we went about working that into Medieval 2.

Even though there are many more faiths and denominations that could be included in Medieval 2, we decided on five: Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Islam, paganism, and heresy. The two Christian faiths and Islam represent the primary religions of the game, with paganism now entering its dying throes in the Old World and heresy being not so much a religion itself but a more general opposition to organized religion. For that reason, heresy is the enemy of all other religions in Medieval 2. Religious harmony leads to stability, whereas religious tension leads to unrest and conflict.

As for why we left out certain faiths, it simply came down to the faiths of the factions in our game. Religion can only be spread by a faction that actually builds religious structures and trains priests, so we didn't want to include other faiths only to have them wiped out during the course of our game.

Build religious structures to convert the inhabitants of a province to your religion.
Build religious structures to convert the inhabitants of a province to your religion.

Because of the importance of religion in the medieval period, we wanted to ensure that religion had a significant role to play in Medieval 2 without creating something complicated that the player had to micromanage. The key effect of religion is keeping your people happy, or more to the point, preventing them from becoming unhappy by not providing an environment where their chosen faith is dominant. Each region on the map has its population split up between the five religions. There are other ways religion affects Medieval 2 as well, such as crusades and jihads, dealing with the pope, and diplomatic effects when you find yourself at odds with the pope.

To ensure your religion is dominant in your lands, you will need to support the faith by financing the construction of churches or mosques. Once you build a religious structure, it will convert a percentage of the people in that region over to your faith. The more expensive and grand the building you invest in, the more absolute your faith's dominance will be. This means that once you spend the money on ensuring your faith is dominant in your own lands, the player can essentially let things run their course, unless heretics or religious figures of other faiths enter the lands, which brings us to the role of priests and imams in Medieval 2.

Building religious structures is useful for keeping your people happy, but sometimes you might conquer a region only to face immediate problems because the local populace does not share your faith. This is where creating a mobile conversion force is useful, and in Medieval 2, that means recruiting priests (or imams for Islamic factions). Priests are considered agents, like spies, assassins, and diplomats. Their religious conviction and power is represented by their piety attribute, and it not only affects how effectively they preach, but also how well they combat heresy. In regions where heresy is left unchecked, heretics start stalking the map, and aside from an assassin's blade, being put to trial for heresy by a priest is the only way the player can actively attempt to dispatch these extremely disruptive figures.

While religion has the same basic effects for all faiths in Medieval 2, those of the Catholic faith also have to deal with the authority and will of the pope. What the pope said was considered mandate, and that was something that was often a problem for the kings of Catholic factions, especially if it involved not attacking your annoying neighbor who also happened to be Catholic.

Deploy priests and other agents to deal with heretics.
Deploy priests and other agents to deal with heretics.

So within Medieval 2, the pope is an extra authority figure to deal with, for those who normally answer to no other authority. If you play as a Catholic faction, you will receive missions from the pope, much in the same way that you received missions from the senate in Rome: Total War. However, the pope has far more personality than the senate ever did. That is because each pope develops individual traits as he rises through the ranks of the Catholic Church.

That concludes the first part of this diary on religion in Medieval 2. In the second part, I'll reveal details of how you manage your relationship with the pope when playing as a Catholic faction, how to avoid the threat of excommunication, the terror of the Inquisition, and even how you can get your own pope elected by rigging papal elections. I'll also look in detail at the risks and rewards of crusades and jihads.

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