In our version of the Hundred Years’ War, England was well on its way to spanking France in record time when those dastardly Danes betrayed our alliance and ruined the fun. About 150 turns later, we found ourselves bogged down in a three-front war against France, Denmark, and a late-to-the-party Spain, though at least those tenacious Scots were finally put down after a lengthy, hard-fought campaign in the north. Still, armies and navies were committed to battle as quickly as they were raised; spies, assassins, priests, diplomats, and merchants scrambled around the map and did their thing; sieges were laid and cities sacked; and battle followed bloody battle. And this is the “short” campaign in Medieval 2: Total War. In a nutshell, that summarizes what is both awesome and somewhat daunting about the latest game in the popular Total War strategy series. With its huge scale, deep gameplay, and beautiful graphics, this is perhaps the most seductive game about the Middle Ages yet, but it’s admittedly quite a handful to take in.
Like in most strategy games, your goal in Medieval 2 is to try to conquer the known world. And as a ruler of a medieval kingdom, this means you have to rely on knights, men-at-arms, archers, catapults, cannons, and everything else you’d expect out of a movie such as Braveheart or Kingdom of Heaven. That’s not all, though; you also have a small array of agents to call upon. Diplomats can negotiate cease-fires (useful when you need some time to rebuild your strength) or alliances; princesses can shore up the loyalty of a general or a neighboring faction through marriage; spies can give you a peek at a fortified city’s defenses; assassins can take out enemy agents. Then there are priests, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
Since it’s a Total War game, Medieval 2 sports two layers. The “big picture” is covered in the turn-based strategic layer, where you can examine a map of Europe and manage your empire. From here, you have command of all your settlements, armies, navies, and agents. You can also construct improvements to enhance the economy or allow you to build the latest in 15th-century military technology. For example, building paved roadways not only increases trade in a province, but it also helps speed along troop movement; improving farmland, furthermore, can help generate more food, and thus more gold.