DGS Games

GrogHeads Reviews Total War: Attila

By Lloyd Sabin, 4 April 2015

Click images to enlarge

Developed by Creative Assembly and Published by SEGA

System: Intel Core i5-2400 CPU @ 3.1 GHz, 8GB RAM, 64-bit Windows 7, NVidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti

A Love Story for the Ages

Oh Total War series, how I have loved theeFrom our initial flirty glances with the initial release of Shogun in 2000, to our lusty jaunts through the historical sheets in Medieval and Rome in 2002 and 2004, respectively…to our exchanging of vows with the release of Medieval 2 in 2006…probably one of my favorite games ever.

And then the rough days of our relationship: the release of Empire and Napoleon in 2007 and 2009. Highly ambitious, I stuck with the series through these more ‘trying releases,’ to be rewarded with Shogun 2 in 2011 – arguably the best Creative Assembly game as far as technical polish, artwork and AI are concerned. And then…well…Rome 2.

Hmm, Huns look like an interesting faction choice. Until players experience how drop-dead difficult they can be to play. I will try again with the Huns once I get some more experience.

Hmm, Huns look like an interesting faction choice. Until players experience how drop-dead difficult they can be to play. I will try again with the Huns once I get some more experience.

Even I can’t argue that the release was very rough, with fans’ pitchforks and torches brandished as more and more bugs were found. Nothing 15+ patches can’t fix, right? Don’t worry Total War, I still love you. Hell, I even stuck with the series through the wonky name change! (Total War – Now More Totaller – Totally!)

So my love led me to pre-order Total War: Attila. “Madness!” many would shout at me [virtually], but I ask – since when is love logical? Plus, I love the Dark Age/Fall of Rome era. I can’t help it. And now, 6 weeks after release, I can tell players that I am not the least bit disappointed. Perhaps I am a bit taken aback at my own alarming lack of skill in my first few campaigns, but that has nothing to do with how the game performs. It’s not you Total War…it’s me.

There is little more satisfying than destroying a faction utterly by using the new 'raze' mechanic. You can almost smell the smoke.

There is little more satisfying than destroying a faction utterly by using the new ‘raze’ mechanic. You can almost smell the smoke.

Love is Blindness

As with other Total War games, a lot of resources (like disk space) were needed to install Attila, roughly around 35GB! It’s probably one of the biggest games on my hard drive. But like any love affair, you get from it what you put in. Installation took a few hours, but once done, the game has run rock solid since. As you can see from my specs above, my PC is far from bleeding edge too – but the game runs smooth with only the occasional graphical stutter – usually in the opening cinematic.

In-game, the campaign map runs better than it did for Rome 2 (which I modified last year by getting rid of clouds and some other bells and whistles) and during battles I have had no issues. In previous Total War titles I would get occasional lock-ups and crashes, but not here in Attila. From a technical stand-point, the game feels like Shogun 2 did…solid, well-built and streamlined. I still get the annoying graphics warning message and adjustment before some battles, and it appears unrelated to army size. Even after the warning, however, the battles still look vibrant, exciting and memorable. I just wish I could find a way to get rid of this seemingly random, irritating, unimportant warning.

That said, the artwork in Attila has gone through a major overhaul, including new unit cards, the general color palette on the campaign map (lots of brown), unit uniforms and the look of buildings and landscapes. Creative Assembly have said they wanted to illicit a feeling of impending doom, and the art definitely puts the player in a dark mood. Some players think it a bit much – it worked for me.

Naval engagement are back as well. They are not easy either, like most else in Attila, but they sure do look good.

Naval engagement are back as well. They are not easy either, like most else in Attila, but they sure do look good.

Love Bites – Love Bleeds

This is typically the part of the review where I state that “if you liked previous incarnations of Total War – you will [love/hate] this new release.” I can’t do that here, however. The game play has been totally reworked. No longer is the player tasked with building the strongest empire in the game world and destroying the competition. That can still be a major component of the game through a ‘Major Victory’ or to a greater degree through a ‘Divine Triumph,’ but a ‘Minor Victory’ can also be achieved. And for many factions in Attila, a Minor Victory, achieved through surviving to different dates as the game progresses, may be all some players can hope for. So if you hated Rome 2 for whatever reason, try Attila – it’s completely different.

Battles can grow chaotic, but controlling your own army is a bit easier than before with the new icons and tooltips.

Battles can grow chaotic, but controlling your own army is a bit easier than before with the new icons and tooltips.

In the faction play throughs I have done so far (several Hun campaigns, one campaign as the Geats) I have been thoroughly trashed. The Hun thrashings were more thorough and quicker than the Geat spanking I got…in that campaign I almost made it to the end until I made some poor civic choices, started losing money and then had 4-5 factions besiege and destroy me.

And here is the star of our show. Geography can save you from Attila if you want to. There is little quarter given elsewhere in the game, though...so enjoy it where you can get it.

And here is the star of our show. Geography can save you from Attila if you want to. There is little quarter given elsewhere in the game, though…so enjoy it where you can get it.

So, from my perspective, the AI is especially vicious on the campaign map, much moreso than it was in Rome 2. On the battle map I have seen the AI pull off some pretty good maneuvering, with flanking attempts, encircling and use of geography. The AI in Attila is no slouch, strategically or tactically, making the game much more difficult – probably the most difficult Total War game to date. Even the climate will be working against the player eventually as Dark Age Europe grows colder and food becomes harder to come by. This might be off-putting for some, but if you like the era as I do, these challenges combined with the possibility of a Minor Victory, unit and faction variety and new game dynamics will have players coming back for more.

I Love to Hate You

There are, at this point, roughly 15 different playable factions available, counting the three DLC culture packs released since February. These include playable Huns, three playable Viking factions, three new playable barbarian factions, three new Celtic factions, and other migratory tribes like the Vandals, Goths (eastern and western), and Alans. Migratory tribes can give up everything in their cities and ‘horde,’ turning the whole faction into a massive army that can supply and fund itself through raiding, encamping, besieging, and more. Of course, players can also choose to play as the Western or Eastern Romans, as well as the Sassanids, to round out the game with some more ancient, established empires with more traditional game play.

Berserkers at work. Shirts not required.

Berserkers at work. Shirts not required.

There are upwards of 50+ non-playable factions, and some of them can be real pieces of work to deal with. Players will grow to absolutely despise some of these competing factions, especially deeper into the game once the gloves come off and they are constantly at your throat, refusing to trade, raiding your territory and becoming more than just a general nuisance.

Fortunately there are a nice variety of agents to use for skullduggery on the campaign map against your rivals, like Heroes, Spies, Diplomats and others. They have powers similar to agents in previous releases, including sabotaging enemy cities and armies, assassination through a variety of means, scouting and other useful actions. Agents themselves are probably the least changed part of the game.

Love – A Many Headed Hydra That Wants to Eat Your Face

Diplomacy is similar but tougher in Attila when compared to Rome 2. The system is fundamentally the same, with trade, safe passage, alliances and other deals accessible through the diplomacy screen. The AI does seem to gang up on the player once the campaign gets going, especially if the player has progressed through a large part of the technology tree. I didn’t care for this mechanic, as it penalizes players for what should be scientific and technological success. Hopefully it can be modded and adjusted in the future.

On the wrong end of the aforementioned Orgy of Destruction. Don't let this happen to your Geats. Or any Geats. Note that several of the opposing armies are Geats from the opposite side of my civil war.

On the wrong end of the aforementioned Orgy of Destruction. Don’t let this happen to your Geats. Or any Geats. Note that several of the opposing armies are Geats from the opposite side of my civil war.

Family trees have also been reintroduced, and family members can be married off, placed in office (and booted out) and even put out of their misery. Careful placement of family members is necessary if players are trying to maintain a certain level of control and ‘dominion’ with their faction’s government. Low control and dominion can lead to serious issues in governing, and if players aren’t careful civil war can break out – of course this did actually happen to me in my Geats campaign and it was not pleasant watching my rivals grow more powerful than me, join my enemies and take me down in an orgy of destruction. The family tree and dynamics can be a little overwhelming and byzantine to maneuver through, so players should take their time and pay attention to the game’s tool tips.

And of course, besides internal strife, external threats, climate change, starvation, and plagues, the player, depending on which faction he’s playing, has to worry about Attila himself. He is a looming presence in the game – if players are the Huns he is somewhat less looming and more celebrated, clearly.

Alas, after about 25 hours of work invested, victory was beyond my grasp. Will try again starting tonight as the Picts, part of the newly released Celtic culture pack.

Alas, after about 25 hours of work invested, victory was beyond my grasp. Will try again starting tonight as the Picts, part of the newly released Celtic culture pack.

As the Geats I would get occasional messages and updates on Attila’s life and progress, but because of my geographic location I did not have to deal directly with a Hun invasion. I imagine that playing as a more eastern faction in Europe, the idea of the Huns are not as abstract and are a much more direct threat to the players very existence. So far, in my play throughs, I either got destroyed playing as the Huns almost right away or they were virtual non-factors in my campaign…which was just fine because the rest of the game world handily kicked my ass anyway. Getting messages about this potentially ornery character far off on the campaign map were enough.

Unrequited Love – Better than No Love at All?

So Attila has some sass to it – it’s good looking, smart and it knows it. It has no qualms smacking you around but if you can hold your composure, you may be successful in the end. It may be a little too tough for some, especially if player interest in the era is not high. But it can be very rewarding for aficionados of the Dark Ages, Attila himself, and Roman history.

The historical infusions are not perfect, but I personally don’t look for perfection in Total War games…I look for “historically-themed” bits and make my own campaign as fun as I can. If that sounds like something you would enjoy, have no fear in trying Attila, and don’t be gentle…because it’s certainly not going to be gentle with you!


 Discuss this review in below, or in our forums >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *