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.
With Creative Assembly‘s ever-growing list of Total War titles, it’s becoming evident that the historical timeline throughout the series is filling in. From ancient Rome to the westernization of Japan, there’s only so many new games made from the old stories of those who’ve lived and died hundreds of years ago. As the latest DLC for Total War: ATTILA, the Age of Charlemagne campaign closes the gap between the fall of Western Rome and the rise of the Middle Ages, in all its feudalistic glory.
Much like the vanilla version, Age of Charlemagne has been further prompting my own research into this era. As a history buff, one of the major features that draws me to games like this is simply the narrative brought to life. Hell, if they would’ve taught classical history with Rome II (if that was even a thing back when I was in high school), I would’ve been in heaven. Well, even more so than what a history class can grant me.
Like I said from the beginning, however, this DLC sent me down memory lane; I couldn’t help but feel this was a fancy prequel to Medieval and Medieval II. Everything from the units and tactics was a familiar, but now blended with what ATTILA‘s introduced me to – razing provinces, managing my faction’s politics (both within the hallowed governing chambers as well as the vassal states beyond our borders), and a clever use of spear levies when trying to stop a rampant cavalry charge in its tracks.
That said, modders, take heed and get inspired. While Age of Charlemagne-themed mods on the Steam Workshop have been flowing freely since the DLC’s debut earlier this month, if there isn’t a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings overhaul in the works, I’ll be a little surprised and disappointed in my fellow Total War nerds. If you ever wanted to see what your old Medieval II mod looks like at this generation, it might be time to dust off the ol’ files and get cracking again.
If you’re wondering about Age of Charlemagne‘s scale, worry not: aside from the removal of North Africa and most of the Middle East, the map has been stretched across roughly the same sized board, but with more focus on mainland Europe and the British Isles. By no means is this a bad thing – after all, we’re focusing on a new period of history and theater of war – but if you feel like moving across the campaign map seems slower than usual, this magnification might be to blame. Before you can begin to stake your claim to fame through savvy conquest and diplomacy of any and all foes who stand in your way, however, you must choose your banner.
You have eight factions to choose from, sprinkled throughout Western Europe: naturally you can play as Charlemagne’s domain (that is, the Kingdom of the Franks), or feel free to choose between Mercia in central England, Asturias in northern Spain, the Vikings pressed up into Denmark, or the Emirate of Cordoba in southern Spain, just to name a few.
In my initial playthroughs, I chose Mercia and Asturias as they make for good starter nations. Being isolated from the rest of mainland Europe’s nonsense, I thought I’d be able to handle Mercia fairly easily so long as I kept Northumbria in check. However, the “helpful” tool tip scribe who narrates each campaigns’ intro led me into a false sense of security, not realizing the challenge that wrangling the Welsh kingdoms truly posed. Conversely, Asturias, despite being dwarved by Cordoba, cut through the Emirate with relative ease, its smaller Muslim neighbors uninterested to come to its aid. Certainly, the campaigns were fun, but with this lopsidedness in factional power and awkward campaign map scaling between the old (vanilla) and new (DLC) maps, Creative Assembly’s now-signature inconsistency of quality is becoming more and more apparent.
While I’ll say that Age of Charlemagne was made with good intent – or at least, I’d like to believe – this time around, it seems to have fallen into a sort of content classification purgatory: given Creative Assembly’s earlier work and what they’ve proven capable of with Shogun 2 and its two standalone expansions, it’s hard to tell if this is a DLC that went a bit above and beyond in terms of scale, or was just a half-hearted attempt at an expansion. Sure, there are changes to the gameplay and new mechanics that force you to rethink a few of your strategies in comparison to ATTILA, but with little to no prompting about these new features aside from paging through the lengthy encyclopedia (which sometimes doesn’t even load the correct entries, and sometimes not at all), it leaves you fumbling about trying to figure out what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.
Worse yet, at the time of writing, some of these changes weren’t even finished. As Asturias, instead of a “Champion,” that special unit is now called an “Assassin,” yet the tool tip scribe will tell you about champions and how they’re useful, and when you click on your assassin’s encyclopedia page, he’s then called a “Veteran.” So you got three names for one unit, some of them contradicting one another in terms of form and function.
Now I’ll admit, if I seem a little harsh on a DLC review of all things, that’s alright. But given Creative Assembly’s track record in the past few years, calling itself a triple-A studio but attempting to justify taking advantage of its fans with half-baked DLC and terrible launches (most recently, they announced that you can pre-order DLC alongside Total War: WARHAMMER… I’ll let you process that), they’re flirting with their fans’ impatience.
With that off my chest, my final recommendation is that if you’re going to buy Age of Charlemagne, at the very least do it for a discount. Until Creative Assembly can give its fans the standard it set for itself back in the day with Shogun 2, I can’t recommend paying for any of their games full price. After all, you’re gonna need that extra $3 to add those blood and gore effects so it’s best to save your cash where you can. For a company whose forte is warfare, they’re certainly setting themselves up to get dethroned. Hopefully Age of Charlemagne might teach them a thing or two about consolidating their realm and being something great again.
Until then, my heart will be as broken as the Moors’ AI.