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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.

The combination of these two aspects — mobile "horde" city/army hybrids and razing cities — is what makes this the most brutal Total War ever made. After Greece I cut down through Italy, eventually linking up with the Ostrogoths and co-conquering Rome. Then I swooped into Spain and burned it all to the ground.

I didn't even really have an end-goal in sight. In past Total War games it was "conquer as many cities as possible and grow the empire." Here, though, I'm left with a style of play that actively rejects cities. At any time in the campaign you can conquer a city and decide to settle down in it, ending your migratory phase. Doing so is a massive shift though, and upon doing it at one point I decided to reload and go straight back to my campaign of destruction.

The Saxons became my tributary state. Then the Danes met the same fate. The Angles I simply wiped off the map. All this without having a single city under my direct control.

The "Total War" series title has never seemed more appropriate. This isn't an empire simulator. It's about burning empires to the ground. It's the ultimate historical David and Goliath story — bands of roving barbarians slowly crumbling the great Roman Empire, with its poetry and aqueducts and roads, into forgotten dust.

And I don't know how I feel about that. In past Total War games you'd slowly see the map congeal into two or three colors as mighty empires were forged. In Attila the map is slowly turning one color, but it's the pale parchment yellow that signifies a "blank" tile — another city razed to the ground. Between the Huns slowly destroying the Eastern Roman Empire and me the West, we've reduced parts of Europe to nothingness. Many of the remaining areas are under my control by proxy, as tribute states.

It's a fascinating way to play Total War. It's a new way to breathe life into Total War. The ultra-mobile hordes have a few disadvantages — particularly their slow population growth and the fact that you can't be building and waging war at the same time — but ultimately it feels like the whole game was designed around this concept. Playing as a "normal" faction feels clunky and unrefined by comparison.

Which makes it all the stranger that the tutorial for the game, the so-called "prologue," focuses on traditional Total War gameplay. You take over the Visigoths, but in a scenario where they've already settled into a city. This leaves you at a disadvantage if you want to play any of the horde-style factions — you're learning on the fly.

 

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