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I’ve played Total War since the first Medieval when I was 13 years old, all the way up to now as a 28-year old. I’ve been a big CA fanboy and over time I’ve convinced my brother, father and three of my friends to buy and play Total War. In that time I have discovered that even though we all love the concept of a TW game, we enjoy very different aspects of it.
Where I like challenging gameplay on higher difficulty levels, defending difficult battles and feeling like my offensives are risky and always threatened, and require pressure from the AI to actually enjoy the game, my brother, instead, enjoys playing on easy, earning a ton of money and blitzkrieging through the AI factions on the campaign. Then there’s my father, who enjoys the occasional battle, but prefers the empire management aspect of the campaign map. Especially Fall of the Samurai which he’s played to death.
Without going further into the different things we like about Total War as different players, I would like to mention the current state of TW. LegendofTotalWar mentions how Thrones of Britannia has become a very passive experience, which requires little interaction from the player. He also mentions how every time a gameplay mechanic doesn’t work well, CA just does away with it instead of trying to improve it. So over time Total War has lost depth, and basically nowadays it’s more like “Total Public Order and Income Manager” then an actual “Total War” game. Which is evident with the way CA handles difficulty levels; they try to create a bigger challenge by changing stats and inducing penalties on higher levels, instead of changing the way the AI handles or which gameplay mechanics are available. Players spend less and less time in battles, and more and more time on the campaign map. For me this means the game has lost a lot of the engagement I would like in a Total War game. I am auto-resolving my way through easily winnable battles, I don’t care about losing settlements I can get back the next turn, and hold no real value other than a bit of extra income, and epic battles and real pressure from the AI are hard to find. As an example I recently played through a campaign of Medieval 2 (with the Vanilla + mod, which adds more regions, but doesn’t change victory conditions.) It took me 2 weeks to complete on hard. Then after that I played a Grand Campaign on vanilla Rome 2 on Legendary as Sparta, which I finished in 2 days.
So in my opinion, what mechanics could contribute to a deeper and more valuable experience?
- Population: This has been addressed ever since it’s removal. Population has always been a big part of a nation’s wealth and power and should be incorporated in a TW game in a meaningful way. Every settlement should have a population consisting of men, women and children. The amount of women dictates population growth, the amount of men should influence income and children should age and add to the other population numbers over time. Then finally there should be nobles as well. Military is exclusively drawn from the adult male population. Meaning that besides getting the upkeep of military units, drafting men should also lower the incomes of settlements. In wartime growth should suffer.
There should be events that affect these populations. It could be events that have a nationwide effect, think of a failed harvest, and there could be events that have local effects, like nobles deciding to hand out food. Of course there could be many and very different events that just happen, like how these things happen in real life without much influence from the government. Then there should be invents you can get involved with, choose resolutions like we’ve seen in recent Total Wars.
Losing a settlement should always be a hit to that population pool. A simple occupation should already cause a loss of population due to people fleeing and migrating to other settlements, or dying from violence. Sacking should see a stronger penalty, with people being enslaved and murdered. Then finally an option to exterminate the population should remove a large chunk of the population. Unrest in a settlement should also lead to a shrinking population. Your population should be a valuable resource and losing them should be a serious loss.
- Peacetime: In peacetime countries flourish. Population growth, abundance of food, development of art and culture, and a feeling of national security all lead to a moment where your focus should be on empire building. Take an example out of Europa Universalis 4 where armies can be defunded. Make it an army stance where the army will deplete to small unit sizes. Severely reducing the upkeep and at the same time giving bonuses to local economy, building time and population growth. Changing back to the regular stance means the unit will have to replenish, something which should draw from the local population and reduce the local economy. - City management: Now city management has been a bit of a sore spot for me ever since Empire came around. It’s been reduced to just a few options, and nowadays they are color coded to easily understand what you’re building, and by matching those up you get bonuses to anything you can think of. I’ve noticed how I have little concern for my settlements. I don’t care too much about them, since it took zero seconds to think about what I want to build and why. Settlements should have more building slots and what you build should change the battlemap, like it did in older Total Wars. Customizable defenses should be options as well. Some regions should have access to unique buildings, like what we currently have with the resources, which should give meaningful bonuses to generals located there, or to your troops stationed there, or the population living there. Or the ability to upgrade equipment in the same way Medieval 2 did; where simple militia could become very well equipped if the player invested in the necessary infrastructure. Give cities a certain prestige, like financial, military, educational or even political. The more prestige they gather, the more famous they become. Think about how Oxford has been known for hundreds of years for its universities. Adding such prestige to certain cities is something that I will come back to at the next point.
- AI campaign ambitions: I am not sure what ambitions the AI currently has on the campaign map, but most of the time it seems their ambition is fight each other forever and wait for the player to conquer them. I feel like faction leaders should have certain ambitions. Historically most leaders had certain ambitions. The lesser kings and men of high status only desired enjoying their wealthy lifestyles while leading their country into ruin; at best causing an economic depression and at worst triggering revolts and revolutions. The greater men (and women) had ambitions. They desired a unified state, they desired control of wealthy cities, or they desired a military empire to rival the greatest of nations. Sometimes they desired everything. Give ambitions to faction leaders and let them pursue these.
Is there a ruler with only money on his mind? Let him declare war, let his generals raid and sack you, and let his armies march in an organized invasion towards the cities known for their wealth and splendor. Is there a cunning leader with his sight on scientific development, let him backstab you as he suddenly invades to capture your famous educational cities. Is there a ruthless military leader? Let him exterminate and destroy your military cities.
Make rivalries. After having been on a few wars between the same factions in a short amount of time, create a rivalry. The leaders can’t stand the other faction, giving ambitions for each other capital cities in an effort to wipe out the other faction or deal a strong blow. When war erupts again the armies should get organized to invade in force in the direction of the capital. If peace lasts for a longer time period between both factions the rivalry should disappear as well.
In the end you could even give the leaders desires for certain regions, where they feel like they should own a specific reason for arbitrary reasons. They might claim heritage, or have a personal liking for that region.
Once ambitions are met, let factions sue for peace. As much as the game is Total War, neither faction should go for complete destruction unless that’s their ambition. At the same time, make the player give an ambition when declaring war. Let the AI sue for peace once this ambition is fulfilled, or give penalties once the player doesn’t sue for peace after fulfilling the ambition. (Unless the ambition is complete destruction of a faction, this should have a big influence on war weariness though. With the exception of the enemy being a rival.)
- Supply management: At the moment, supply management is a passive thing, it’s an arbitrary number that goes down over time in enemy territory. Make the player more involved with this. Give the opportunity to build infrastructure focused on supplies. Have supplies in 2 different categories: Food and equipment. Food is a nationwide resource, while equipment should be solely for your armies. Both should be given to an army separately by a player when in own soil. In foreign territory this should deplete. Equipment should deplete slower than food of course, and there should be a stance that makes food deplete slower. Once equipment reaches low levels, the units should have penalties to their abilities, lower weapon damage and less armor and a small morale penalty. While a lack of food should cause attrition and a bigger morale penalty. When coming back in friendly territory, the player should actively restock both of these supplies. Equipment should only be a local thing, which means that after conquering a new territory, the player isn’t able to immediately replenish the equipment.
- Retreats Now as I said, battles aren’t fought as often with auto-resolving being overpowered in general. There should be more reasons to fight the battles, especially on higher difficulties. So I opt for a retreat battle. When the AI or the player opts for retreating, start a battle, where one army has to retreat of the map, and the other one gets an opportunity to harass the army. If you have an army with light units, or a lot of cavalry, you are able to outrun the opponent. While if the opponent has a lot of cavalry, he might be able to outrun you. The maps should be large though. Depending on general skills and qualities the armies start closer or further away. Terrain should also be more varied. I believe the last time I enjoyed battlefield terrain was back in Napoleon, where there were strategic cliffs and chokepoints. Depending on campaign terrain, the battlemap should have features that give opportunities of delaying the enemy, and challenges of trying to cross a river or something like that.
There should be a penalty for the pursuing army, and that is that they will actually also end up in a different location on the map. The withdrawal point should be towards own territory of the retreating army. So once the battle finishes, the pursuing army should’ve moved into enemy territory, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Thus giving a chance of drawing an enemy in with a light army, to attack them later with heavy armies on own soil. Of course the option of letting them retreat without a battle should still be there.
The AI should also make use of this, which should depend on general traits. With the more aggressive ones pursuing while the more defensive ones let the player go. The AI should also try to set traps like this if they have cunning faction leaders.
Ambushes should also have a retreat location, which I do believe CA is adding in Three Kingdoms.
- Sieges Finally, sieges should be more in depth. The AI should commit to sieges with multiple stacks. Sieges with low numbers were a big risk and shouldn’t be attempted as often as now. Spending time on a siege also means losing food and equipment, so the AI should be motivated to attack as well. Some generals should op for longer sieges, and others should be aggressive and attack earlier. The defender should have time during the siege to build defenses. Think about barricades and other defensives. The player should have the option to decide himself what kind of defenses he wants to construct.
Last words Now, before I finish writing this, I would like to mention that I love total war. I have supported the franchise for years and I will probably keep doing so. However, the last few years I have enjoyed the newer total war games less and less and I see myself going back to older Total Wars more often. Everybody is different and we all want different things out of the games we play. These are things I would love to see, and would make it a more enjoyable experience for me. I know there are mods for many of those things, but as great as some mods are, I feel it should be the responsibility of CA to create something marvelous. What would you like to see? Do you agree with some of the mechanics stated above? Do you feel skeptic about some of the mentioned mechanics? Or do you think Total War is perfect as it is? Please, show CA the things you’d like to see. Use constructive criticism in your posts and try not to fight each other over personal preferences. In the end, we all love Total War and want to enjoy these games for years to come.
It was there that he decided to stand and hold his ground against many. And it was there that he fell.