The sieges remain basically the same as they were in the previous game, with the attacking army attempting to knock down his opponent's walls before storming in to take the city. This is the only section of the game that looks and feels a little worn out and tired and could certainly do with a bit of a revamp. Thankfully, the excellent but infrequent night sieges are still there – queue flaming arrow time, and the only other addition of note is added walls to get through when taking on the more advanced castle cities.
Battles can still be speeded up by up to three times or, if you're pushed for time, completely simulated, as is usual with the Total War games. Another cool little feature has been added after the battle has finished if you're the victor, asking you whether or not you wish to ransom, release or execute the captured soldiers. Each choice will have a different affect on your relations with the opposing country - release the soldiers and they may fancy a ceasefire, kill them and chances are they'll keep coming after you.
Is it all brilliant then? Well, yes and no. The game carries on from where Rome left off, picking up the title of most addictive RTS on the planet. Yet there are still some nagging problems I had.
For starters, I haven't yet mentioned the Princesses. They don't really cause any problem during the game, but they rarely - if ever - rear their beautiful heads. I was hoping I would be able to whore my beautiful girls off to the highest bidding tyrant in exchange for his unwavering loyalty on my next campaign. Instead I rarely bothered to use them and was only asked twice by the computer if I fancied marrying one of 'his'. Even when I did that it made little difference to the actual gameplay.
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Diplomacy in general is a sticky issue. On the one hand it's probably the best you will see in a game, certainly a match for the AI in a game like Civilization IV. However, at times it is completely flawed. For instance, once I had bested the Danish and had turned my attentions back to France I completely outnumbered them. I asked them if they wanted peace, a pretty good deal considering how many more troops I had compared to them, yet they refused. Sometimes the AI made really logical decisions and other times its thoughts just can't be explained. Just like real global politics? Perhaps.
Another annoyance is the default 2D map movement settings. First off you need to change the options in the menu so that you don't watch all the other country's movements – this ends up taking 5 minutes every turn and is a complete waste of time. The next problem is not so easily overcome: the route finding of your units seems to end up with them bumping into other armies and obstacles all the time. This means you can't send them off on a crusade and forget about them, you have to constantly check where they're and make sure they haven't got caught on a bush or something.
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It's still the best
There's no denying that this is still the most fun RTS you'll be playing this Christmas but the competition is now hot on the tail. To keep the series alive Creative Assembly needs to really up its game with the next version. I'm slightly worried about this, as where exactly can the game go? We've covered feudal Japan, Roman Europe and now the medieval period twice. This playing style would struggle to suit a modern warfare situation and as such it's quite limited.
One hint as to where the series might be heading is found three quarters of the way through the game. At this stage the lucrative South American region opens up with only thousands of tribesman standing between you and tons of gold. Perhaps the series will head to the Southern hemisphere and we'll see Africa Total War. Even better would be a mythical total war, throwing together fabled armies from legends - King Arthur taking on Achilles is a battle I would love to see.
One area that will almost certainly be worked on more in the next version is multiplayer as this, once again, was lacking. However, that didn't detract too much from my experience. The main campaign will take a fair few hours and once you've completed it you can then start a campaign with the conquered countries to get a whole different experience. Replayability here is of upmost importance.
Turn over to have a look at Medieval 2's graphical prowess in a little more detail.