The Roman Experience in Total War: Attila

After 100 turns, I threw in the towel on my attempt to save the Western Roman Empire. The legions, and my treasury, had finally reached their limit. The barbarians never stopped flooding in, from the north, east, and the hitherto quiet south. City after city had gone up in flames. The Roman Empire was dying by a thousand cuts, and there was no more point in slogging on.

I had a great time.

In several ways, Total War: Attila’s Roman campaign is a unique experience. It’s one of the very few strategy games in which the player has to defend a large, overstretched empire — the genre usually revolves around building an empire from scratch. In this regard, it follows its 2005 precursor Barbarian Invasion1. From my perspective, Attila is also one of the few strategy games I enjoy playing on a huge map. I can’t remember the last time I played Civilization on anything larger than medium.

I suspect these factors are related. In a game about expansion, a bigger map can simply produce more work for the player. In Attila, a game about defence, the large map and the large starting empire are central to the overall dynamic. With its dozens and dozens of settlements, the Roman Empire has strategic depth in a way that even a late-game Shogun 2 clan does not. This makes it much less important for Rome to win individual battles (or hold individual towns) — a new legion can be mustered in the time it would take an attacker to get very far.

What does matter is the strategic layer: ensuring that the Empire can afford to raise new legions, keeping the people happy and well-fed, and avoiding multi-front wars. Given Rome’s dire straits, juggling these is easier said than done! In consequence, at least when playing as Rome, Attila’s strategic layer can be enjoyably played as a stand-alone game; I auto-resolved most of my field battles, something that would have defeated the point of earlier Total War games.

At a design level, I’m very happy with Attila; at this stage, I’d argue it’s one of the best in the Total War series after Shogun 2. My Roman campaign did highlight some areas that could do with a tweak — Creative Assembly, if you read this, I have a couple of suggestions at the bottom of this post. When time permits, I’d like to play different factions (which I’m sure would offer a very different experience), and eventually, I’d like to try defending Rome again. With the lessons learned, Roma may hopefully be Invicta.

Appendix: Glitches and Suggestions

Balance

I’d like to see the developers recalculate the way sieges are auto-resolved. Going back at least to Shogun 2, auto-resolution gives the attacker such a massive advantage, it’s effectively a cheat code. If you are the defender, even if there is zero hope of success, you might as well deploy your troops, turn up the game speed, and step away from the computer. This will still produce a better result than auto-resolve! For an empire the size of Rome, the choice is to either waste time fighting out every siege or be short-changed by the auto-resolve.

Bugs

Walled cities are meant to receive several bastion onagers when under attack. Is it my imagination, or do they not always show up?

UI

During diplomacy, I’d like to hit one button that automatically calculates the AI’s best offer (along the lines of Civilization V). It is a pain to manually deduce the best deal the computer will offer: “Okay, they won’t pay 10,000… will they pay 5,000? Yes? Let me nudge that up to 7,500…”

  1. Off the top of my head, I can think of one more parallel — defending the overstretched British Empire in Hearts of Iron.
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