Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
“The air was filled with smoke and blood.” There seems to be a lot of that in Creative Assembly‘s latest strategy title Total War: ATTILA, which–as you can imagine–takes place at the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire.
While you still have to buy the actual blood effects through silly DLC packs (I’ll get to that a bit later), ATTILA improves upon Rome II‘s engine and gameplay mechanics, adding more depth to the strategic map with scorched earth, mass migration, and the fertility of your provinces’ lands.
Personally, despite my love for history, the Dark Age/Post-Classical Era is something I know very little about. I knew about Attila (thanks Age of Empires II), but knew nothing about the specifics of Rome’s fall: that an Eastern and Western empire existed; that Attila’s rise and unification of the Hunnic tribes drove thousands of people from their homes, flooding Western Europe amid global climate change that already stressed local food supplies and resources as they were.
Where Rome II felt a bit hollow at launch, ATTILA had life blown into it. Or, at the very least, mud, ash, and the blood of your enemies.
Along with other recent titles such as Mount & Blade: Viking Conquest, Age of Decadance, and Ryse: Son of Rome, it’s nice to see an apocalypse scenario that has historical significance–not to mention, it isn’t related to zombies, fungal infections, or some other played out sci-fi infused trope.
If the marauding hordes, crippling famine, and the implosion of Western Rome and its subsequent power vacuum weren’t enough, you now have to worry about enemies from within your faction as well. Polishing up Rome II‘s original dynasty system (or lack thereof), the nobles of your house and faction play important roles as governors, generals, and councillors, each position granting its own factional and personal bonuses. Without loyal retainers, your doomed to civil war–which, in its own way, can be played to your favor, expunging political rivals who bark louder than they can bite.
Of course, when you find yourself backed to your last city, you can choose to pack up and find greener pastures with the new migration mechanic. That is, not before burning the territory in your wake to deny your transgressors the satisfaction of claiming what’s rightfully yours. By becoming a migrant horde, you open yourself up to a new set of challenges and opportunities, raiding and pillaging as you go to sustain your people. Not everyone takes kindly to refugees using local resources without restraint, however.
I will admit, at first, I was a little skeptical of ATTILA with Rome II‘s dismal release still fresh. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised, however, that Creative Assembly seemed not only to have learned from their mistakes, but started taking creative risks akin to those they took with Shogun 2. Where Rome II felt a bit hollow at launch, ATTILA had life blown into it. Or, at the very least, mud, ash, and the blood of your enemies. But that isn’t to say I don’t have my gripes…
With respect to Shogun 2 and its expansions as arguably the strongest entry in the Total War franchise, does ATTILA qualify as its own full sequel or an expansion to Rome II? Much like Shogun 2 and its standalone spawns Rise and Fall of the Samurai, is ATTILA truly that much different to warrant a new release?
While I’d like to give Creative Assembly the benefit that it should be its own release, the series’ DLC practices are frankly garbage. I remember the days where you started a new copy with very limited factions, though each time you conquered your neighbors, you unlocked their faction to play next time around. Sometimes they were just recolored with none of their own special units, just a new location, backstory, and starting conditions, but at least they came with the original title.
Now, SEGA (the series’ publisher) and Creative Assembly offer the same limited faction selection, but then sell you extra factions as culture packs. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it was worth the money they’re asking–$7.99 for 3-4 factions each. Not to mention that blood and gore effects cost $2.99.
I won’t say I’m completely against DLC. When applied correctly, it is a wonderful tool for developers to cover costs while still providing players with additional game content that they feel is a good value. It’s very, very difficult when you then open your title up to modders who outpace what the developer’s DLC offers… for free. Given Total War‘s huge modding community that’s existed since the dawn of time, I hope that the powers that be reconsider their own developing and retail methods, rather than monopolize on the game’s content and push modders out of competition. Not that they have plans to do that, but it’s something to be mindful of nevertheless.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way either. The game only received “Mixed” user reviews on Steam, most of which citing the companies’ DLC practices. Though I’m no financial expert, but if money was an issue, wouldn’t it just be easier to go back to the old model of unlockable content (to an extent–gotta compromise) and allowing modders to rebalance and add onto the factions as they’d like (and currently do… I’m looking at you, Radious). The developers only need to create a great sandbox and a great base game and let their fans run with it. Then the DLC could be geared to adding more tools–more features to gameplay akin to what Paradox does with its strategy series–that are actually worth the money they’re charging.
At the end of the day, I’ve found myself playing ATTILA for at least 75 hours to date, so I can’t recommend against it. But I will say that I purchased my copy with reservations; I don’t know how long of a fan I’ll remain if the developer’s and publisher’s business practices don’t change soon. Much like the Germanic tribes of old, I, too, in the midst of a crumbling empire find a new home. Let’s just hope they choose to be more like Eastern Rome.