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Review: Total War Attila

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In this review we take an in-depth look at Creative Assembly’s latest addition to the Total War franchise – Total War Attila.

If you are not keen on reading the whole article skip to the conclusion. Total War has been a popular strategy game ever since the first title Shogun was released in 2000.

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For those unfamiliar with the series, Total War provides a unique blend of turn-based strategy through the vast campaign map and real-time tactical battles.

The latest Total War title is set around 395AD, during a tumultuous time period that saw the decline of the formerly great Roman Empire. Dark times are ahead.  Fleeing barbarian factions like the infamous Ostrogoths, Vandals and Visigoths, seek protection from the fearsome nomadic hordes of the Huns and other Steppe peoples. The fragile balance of power in the Mediterranean is shifting, the Western Roman Empire is as large as it has ever been, yet is has never been in such a precarious position. Torn by political in-fighting driven by greed and lust for power, the Western Roman Empire is a rich fruit ripe for the taking.

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The Eastern Roman Empire with its new monotheistic religion, Christianity, seeks to ensure the longevity of the Roman civilization. The Eastern Roman Empire is more stable and powerful than its Western counterpart, yet no less in danger. With the Steppe hordes knocking on their door, nothing is safe.

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With Total War Attila, Creative Assembly has attempted to capture the ominous atmosphere of this dark period in history. Did they succeed? Does Attila live up to the high standard set by previous Total War titles? Read on and find out:

What’s New

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To gamers new to the Total War series, most if not all features of the Attila titles will be new to them. For Total War veterans, Attila has brought back and improved on some old facets of the game such as Marriages between factions and nomadic factions. Perhaps one of the most drastically overhauled aspects of Attila is the improved family and faction management system.

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The simple family management options like promote, assassinate or adopt seen in Rome 2 have been supplemented with an entirely new structure based on the new currency-of-sorts: Influence. In the next section we will go into further detail in this area.

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Attila has replaced the family member promotions system of Rome 2 with a new “offices” ladder. Both family and non-family characters can use their influence to be appointed to an office, starting at the bottom of the ladder and working their way up over time as their influence and rank increases. The offices of each rung of the ladder give your faction some quite nice military and economic bonuses.

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Barbarian hordes have made a triumphant return in Attila. Not since the expansion for Total War Rome: Barbarian Invasion hordes have been seen. The Horde mechanic has returned with a much more complex mechanic, delivering a unique play-style different from the traditional city-based sprawling empires of non-horde factions.

Fertility

Fertility is a new region-specific trait. The fertility level of a region impacts the amount of food and wealth agricultural buildings produce. Just like in the real world, desert areas have low fertility; whereas rich, agriculturally productive regions like the Nile river delta are highly fertile. Scripted cold-weather events at certain years of the game lead to lowered fertility, particularly in the northern regions of Europe. These historically accurate weather events further compound the need for the nomadic hordes of the Steppes to travel south, plundering and burning all in their path. In conjunction with the new fertility mechanic, there are now random “food shortage” natural events that temporarily decrease the public order and wealth of a province.

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Religion

Religion functions in much the same way as previous Total War titles. Different religions make up a percentage out of 100 in a region. Buildings, neighbouring regions, agents and other events influence the growth or decline of a particular religion. Factions now have the ability to change their official state religion through the faction summary tab.

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Governors

Governors are another new addition to the Total War series. In a way they replace faction edicts of Rome 2. This position can be appointed to family or non-family characters, whether you control the whole province or only one city. The number of governors you are allowed to appoint is determined by your imperium level. Over time the characters level up, further increasing the benefits they bestow upon their appointed province. Governors also allow provincial edicts to be enacted.

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Political/Family System

As in Total War Rome 2, influence of family members is used to carry out tasks like assassination or adoption. Attila has added another level of complexity to this framework with the introduction of Dominion and Control. These two measures combined make up the Power of your faction leader; giving you buffs or de-buffs depending on your percentage of power.

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Along with the new additions of Dominion and Control, Creative Assembly has added several new family “intrigue” options.  Individual family and non-family members now have a Loyalty trait, ranging from 1 to 10. When this loyalty trait gets too low, the character will begin to show their disgruntlement with your leadership, and may attempt to overthrow you from power, assassinate you or your family members, or even outright revolt and take armies or cities with them on their way to the dark side.

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Strong independent  women

Women also play a much more pivotal role in the political scene in Attila. No longer they are purely baby producers. As well as holding their own personal traits that help or hinder their respective husbands, women can also use their accumulated influence points to carry out intrigue actions – including assassination, secure loyalty (increases loyalty of target character), diminish popularity (reduces influence of targeted character) and gather loyalty (increases control). The wife also has the ability to divorce her husband and vice-versa.

Hordes and Nomads

Yes, you read right folks. As many Total War fans have been asking for, hordes have made a much welcome return to Total War. Not only they have returned, the horde mechanic has been significantly tweaked. In the old hordes of Total War Rome: Barbarian invasion, they were created with the click onto a button, much like you change your army from normal stance to forced march.

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For most, if not all factions that start settled in cities, the faction only becomes a horde when they lose their last city. The faction is destroyed if the faction has no armies outside their last city. If the faction has a surviving army they become a horde. You also have the option of turning your armies into a roaming horde by abandoning/razing your last city.

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Some factions, like the Huns, do not have the option of settling down in cities. The only thing these Nomadic factions can do upon capturing a city is sack it and/or burn it to the ground.  Keeping to the historical accuracy of the time period Attila is set in, this mechanic leads to the Huns and other nomadic factions applying a scorched earth policy. Wherever these fierce nomads go, the land is left burnt and barren.

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Hordes function quite differently from normal armies. Instead of relying on cities for income, they rely upon cheap tents for buildings and therefore income and recruitment.  Hordes also only grow in population when they are encamped, which is vital to the expansion of your faction. Population growth dictates how many armies you are able to create, as well as new construction-slots. Encamped hordes also give an integrity boost (the Army morale measure which replaces Public order for hordes), increased wealth generation and immunity to attrition from harsh environmental conditions.

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This new mechanic creates an interesting and unique play style. The player has to manage the stances of their armies, balancing them between aggressive military actions to bolster your income with raiding and razing cities and encamping armies for much needed encampment bonuses.

Technology, Tiers and Agents

The tech tree for Attila is quite different to the Rome 2 model.  Attila features only two Technology trees; Military and Civic. Technology research is now arranged in 4 sections, with each section giving a unique military or economic bonus once the whole section is researched.

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Agents in Attila have received a significant overhaul. All agents (spy, priest and champion) now come later in the game, with tier 2 buildings required to recruit them. As well as coming later than in Rome 2; the starting abilities of all agents are much more restricted. Agents now start with only one or two abilities; requiring rank ups to unlock more. The abilities themselves have also been tweaked heavily. Agent to agent actions is now a scissors-paper-rock  matchup; instead of the purely rank based matchup of Rome 2.

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Military tiers have also undergone a fairly drastic overhaul in Attila. Upgrading military units is no longer achieved by researching a single technology and constructing the military building that this technology unlocks. Specific unit-type upgrades are now tied in with individual technologies; allowing the player to have more flexibility in what units they want to upgrade as well as other military buffs. One particularly welcome change is the increased unit roster. All factions now have a significantly wider unit pool to choose from.

User Interface, Artificial Intelligence,  Bugs and Battles

The campaign interface has some minor, yet welcome changes in Attila. It looks more polished, less blocky and clunky than Rome 2’s UI. Navigation of provincial and faction details is now a little more intuitive and easier to use. Images for buildings are greatly improved and some excellent art-work has been created for these. These new graphics are a welcome change from the ugly thumbnails of Rome 2.

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In some regards the artificial intelligence in Attila suffers from many of the same problems as it did in Rome 2 and earlier titles. The CPU in sieges can still be quite broken. It is not uncommon to see a CPU army stand outside your walls and throw away their almost certain victory by allowing their troops to slowly be wiped out by arrows from towers. The CPU also has quite a bit of trouble with land battles that navies reinforce – naval reinforcements have a propensity to aimlessly sail around in circles just off the coast while the CPU’s main army on land is wiped out. Apart from CPU, battles are largely the same as previous titles, albeit it with some rather annoying changes to key-bindings that will infuriate many veterans of the series.

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In the campaign map, I personally have had to quit one or two campaigns, because nearly half a dozen factions developed some strange vendetta against me, following me across literally the whole map. Most of these factions randomly declared war on me and came from the other side of the campaign map solely to attack me.

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On a positive note, the artificial intelligence has seen some significant changes. Both in the campaign map and in on the battlefield. CPU on campaign map is now much less likely to turtle in their cities, and much more likely to actively defend and expand their empires. The artificial intelligence in land battles has also seen some fairly significant tactical improvements. CPU players on the harder battle difficulties employ more effective tactics on the whole – in particular their use of combined arms and effective unit counters.

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Now to perhaps the most controversial aspect of Attila – bugs: Total War games are infamous for their myriad of release bugs. Look at the forums and you will find pages upon pages of people with major problems, many of them making the game unplayable. Although Attila is not without problems, it SEEMS like Creative Assembly have put more effort into bug-fixing for the Attila release than they did for Rome 2. Rome 2 release was, by all accounts, a complete mess. The community backlash from the problematic launch appears to have motivated Creative Assembly to put more resources into making sure the code in Attila works like intended.

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I myself have noticed very few bugs in Attila. Perhaps the only one worth mentioning is the ever so irritating imperium bug – your imperium level randomly increases, which leads to you receiving a negative diplomatic de-buff; “great power”. This de-buff compounds over time and eventually can lead to literally the entire map hating you. I have played five different campaigns and had this happened in two of them. It is bad enough to force you to give up on the campaign. It does not seem to happen all the time, so your mileage may vary. Hopefully the developers will soon create a fix for this game breaking bug.

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