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Total War: Attila preview: Total, brutal, unrelenting war

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 16, 2015
Despite the foreboding name, for years I've played every entry in the Total War series in much the same way I play its strategy game cousin Civilization. I putter around for fifty or so turns creating an empire--making sure my citizens are happy, investing in various cultural milestones, and just all-around building something where these entirely fictional people go "Oh wow, did you hear about that city? I wish I lived there instead of this miserable hellhole on the other side of the map."

And all hell breaks loose.

Apparently I had a group of ships in the English Channel that I didn't even know about. Said ships are immediately set upon by a Frankish fleet, wiped out in seconds.

Then the Angles march across the hills and attack the garrison I just moved northward, launching us into one of Total War's real-time battles. I'm surprised to realize the "tiny garrison" I moved is actually a full army of about a thousand troops, and even more surprised to find we're fighting in dense fog. I can't see more than maybe thirty feet in any direction, which makes defending a small river crossing a bit of a tricky proposition.

Did I mention this is the first turn? I've literally started the game, taken a preliminary stab at empire building, and then clicked the game equivalent of "Okay." And now I'm already in danger of losing.

So I did what any self-respecting Emperor would do — I took my ball and went home. Or, in less metaphorical terms, I started the whole game over.

This time I sent that lone ship aground and took over the town of Camulodunum, just north of London. When the Franks came and razed Camulodunum to the ground I built a second army, marched west, and razed their town to the ground. I waited until the Angles begged me for a peace treaty, and then took their city for my own instead.

In a bloody world, I covered myself in blood. I wasn't the only one — each turn, notifications would pop up saying this-or-that faction was eliminated from the game. I crushed the Franks. I crushed the Angles. I set my sights on Rome.

Attila is not a friendly game. Creative Assembly's maybe found the perfect setting for a series called "Total War"—a period of history that thrives on desolation and chaos. There's none of the solemn statesmanship of Rome: Total War, the bureaucracy of Empire, the chivalry of Medieval, nor the honor of Shogun.

Attila is bloodlust, regardless of which faction you choose.

One last note: Make no mistake: This is a preview, and not a review. It's fitting that Creative Assembly has decided to examine the fiery downfall of Rome with Attila because the fiery disaster of Rome II still burns somewhere not far behind us. I did notice some issues I'm hoping will get resolved before release — long AI turn lengths (upwards of twenty or thirty seconds at times), weird (sometimes unresponsive) enemy AI on the real-time battlefield, and some slowdown during the introductory cutscenes.

In other words, it's a Total War game. But this is just a warning, not a condemnation (yet). It's hardly fair or appropriate to judge a preview build on those concerns, not least because I'm not going to put in the time to finish an entire campaign in a preview build. We'll see what the state of Total War: Attila is when the full game releases in February.


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