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Total War: Attila review: Some men just want to watch the world burn

Hayden Dingman | Feb. 13, 2015
Rome wasn't built in a turn, but it certainly was destroyed in one. After sweeping through northern Italy I've brought my combined Visigoth/Ostrogoth alliance to the seat of the Western Roman Empire.

Rome wasn't built in a turn, but it certainly was destroyed in one. After sweeping through northern Italy I've brought my combined Visigoth/Ostrogoth alliance to the seat of the Western Roman Empire.

Four thousand men surround the fabled city of seven hills, while a mere thousand guard its walls. Old Rome is about to fall to the horde — two civilizations that don't even possess lands of their own, instead traveling en masse across Europe.

The Dark Ages are upon us.

Death rides a white horse

Total War: Attila is, as I wrote in my preview, absolutely brutal. The game takes any chance it gets to juxtapose the titular Hun with Christian imagery of the apocalypse. In keeping with that theme, this is more a game about destruction than creation.

That's strange for a 4X game. Typically the goal is to build — to uncover new technologies and grow your fledgling state into a massive empire.

There's still a bit of that in Attila. This isn't a complete reassessment of the genre. You're still progressing through tech trees, managing your population's needs through various buildings, et cetera. I expect that's even more true of certain factions. Playing as either the Western or Eastern Roman Empire, for instance, you'll start with vast holdings of land and try your best to hold on to at least a bit of it.

The post-Roman era is so turbulent, however, it's introduced a completely new concept to the fifteen-year-old Total War series: Migratory factions.

The Huns are the obvious example — a warfaring horde that swept out of the east and across the Roman Empire, sacking cities as it went.

Other factions share similar traits though, including the Visigoths and Ostrogoths. I chose the Visigoths for my own playthrough, and what followed was unlike any Total War campaign I've ever played (and I've played a fair number over the years).

The Visigoths start with two armies. That's it. No fleets, no cities, nothing. Further examination reveals that these two armies are actually two "hordes" — basically mobile cities, with their own ruleset. On any turn you can "encamp" a horde and enact typical city behaviors, like creating new buildings or raising new armies. Then you can pick up camp the next turn, rouse the troops, and attack the nearest town.

The Visigoth campaign turns into wanton destruction. Starting in the Eastern Roman Empire I carved a swathe up the Grecian coast, alternately liberating cities (and thus returning control to smaller factions that become my military allies) or razing them to the ground. This latter action burns the entire region to the ground, leaving it just an empty space on the massive Total War chessboard. It's scorched earth.

 

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