Total War: Attila - game title

A few months ago, I posted an article outlining some suggestion for unique civilization themes and abilities for a possible Sid Meier's Civilization VI game. In it, I proposed a unique characteristic for the Huns or Mongolians: that they be a true nomadic empire. The idea was that they would have traveling cities that allowed them to move their empire with their army and essentially occupy any unclaimed territory or territory vacated by defeated rivals. Well, the Creative Assembly had already beaten me (and Firaxis) to the punch with Total War: Attila (and apparently Firaxis is embracing the idea with Beyond Earth's first expansion). Total War: Attila has a feature almost identical to what I had conceived for the Huns and Mongolians in Civilization. I'm a fan of the Total War series as is, so I was going to play this game for sure. Of course, Creative Assembly running with an idea that I had independently conceived of only made me more curious to play the game.

Attila acts as sort of a sequel to Rome II. While that game was all about building up the Roman empire (or whichever empire you happened to select), Attila is all about tearing down those empires. But this is a fully stand-alone game (like Napoleon Total War was to Empire Total War), and does not require Rome II in any way.

Learning how to be a horde

The Prologue campaign in this game is brutal! It's like a Demon's Souls tutorial that is designed to kick your ass. I restarted it once before realizing that it was designed for the player to fail in order to teach the new migration feature.

This prologue acts as a tutorial for the new features and mechanics of the game, but it doesn't do a particularly good job of teaching these mechanics. It also doesn't go into much detail of the established features of the franchise (other than telling you that a feature exists, then making you click on the button to do it), so new players might find themselves completely turned off by the fact that they are having their asses handed to them and aren't being taught much about how the game actually works, or - more importantly - why they are failing so hard. Perhaps having two separate tutorial campaigns would have been advisable: one to teach basic Total War concepts of empire and army management; and a second tutorial campaign for experienced Total War players that just teaches the migration features.

The brutal tutorial concludes with the challenging, climactic, historical battle of Adrianople,
in which your Visigoths must hold off Emperor Valens' superior army until your cavalry arrives.

Playing as migratory hordes minimizes city management, but you do still have to develop infrastructure for your nomadic armies. Rebuilding conquered cities and defending your borders, however, is not an issue - which was always the most tedious part of the game anyway. You don't need defensive armies in your territory and are free to focus all your efforts on your eventual goal. This change works well with the requirement that all armies must be attached to generals, and is a big step up from Rome II. There were large chunks of Rome II's campaign in which I felt like I couldn't do anything because I had to camp out my armies in cities in order to replenish and improve public order. Since I was at the army cap, the campaign would stagnate because I couldn't build new armies in order to watch over my newly-conquered settlements while also pressing forward with my primary armies...

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Total War: Rome II Emperor Edition - game title

A couple years ago, I wrote an impressions post for Total War: Rome II with a tentative review score of 5 out of 10. I never got around to writing a full review of the game because it remained in a near constant state of flux for over a year after its release. The developers kept adding new DLC ranging from modest culture packs to the tiny Blood & Gore pack. Last year, Creative Assembly released a massive DLC pack that also included across-the-board balance updates and expansion of some of the game's core features. This "Emperor Edition", and its attached Imperator Augustus campaign was free to everyone who bought the original Rome II, and so I decided to give it a try to see if it greatly improved the game.

Total War: Rome II - Blood & Gore
Blood & Gore costs a few dollars extra for those who want it, and increases the ESRB rating to Mature.

Core gameplay has subtle changes

Most of the changes to the core game are subtle, but they do add up to create a more enjoyable experience. The A.I. isn't nearly as bad as it originally was, and naval battles are actually playable now. Building effects have been completely rebalanced in order to avoid the problems with rampant squalor and lack of food that plagued the core game, and the politics systems have been changed to be more active and relevant to the game. Unfortunately, many of these changes are so sweeping, that they break existing campaign save games, meaning that if your version of Rome II was automatically updated, then you lost the ability to continue with any of your previous campaigns.

The most notable changes to empire management is that resources and building upgrades allow for much greater specialization of your various regions. This combined with the rebalancing of squalor and food means that there is incentive to actually upgrade your buildings past the first couple of levels. You also have some more meaningful decisions on what buildings you want to build and upgrade.

Total War: Rome II - the glory of Rome
Squalor is no longer an intractable restriction towards building the glory of Rome.

Cities still physically grow on the map as the population grows and more buildings are constructed, and many of the high level buildings can add unique visual flairs to individual cities. It's also informative, since it's easy to see (at a glance) what infrastructure a city might have, which can help you manage your own empire, and can help you to assess the worth of a city for potential conquest.

A.I.s have also been designed to build higher-level settlements and to manage their armies better. Having higher-level buildings means that they have larger armies with more advanced units and better equipment. They provide a much greater challenge, as well as more tempting targets of conquest now. I haven't run into situations in which major factions (Carthage) dissolve into rebellions at the start of the game like I used to see in the base game.

Higher morale means battles last longer

Perhaps the best improvement that's been made by the post-release patches and the Emperor Edition is that the real-time battles are paced much better. Unit morale has been significantly tweaked so that units don't route and flee as soon as they make contact with a superior enemy force. Battles will generally take more than just a couple of minutes to complete, but they still aren't anywhere close to occupying the entire hour that the battle timer allows.

You'll actually have time to move some support units to help out an outnumbered defender before they flee, so there's also a lot more strategy involved in the individual battles. Reserve forces and cavalry flanking maneuvers have more relevance, and generals actually have time to reach front-line units in order to use their powers. You don't have to just clump all your units together in a single wall and ram them into your opponent anymore. You can even engage the enemy with a smaller force if you are stuck having to wait for reinforcements to arrive.

Total War: Rome II - bigger battles
Tactical battles are slower, making cavalry and reserves more relevant, and allowing for more strategic thinking.

Speaking of cavalry, they are actually useful now, since units are generally more responsive to movement commands. In the initial launch version, I found cavalry to be useless because once they engaged an enemy unit, it was almost impossible to disengage without the whole unit getting routed or wiped out. Basically the only thing they were useful for was chasing down enemy skirmishers or flanking artillery. Now, I actually build and use cavalry because they are useful for hit-and-run attacks against regular melee infantry. You still want to keep them away from the pointy end of spears and pikes, but that's to be expected.

I still wish the battles were slowed down a little bit more, but the pacing is a lot better than it was at release. I still rarely see battles last more than 5 minutes of actual fighting, and I still routinely have to pause the game in order to issue orders because unit movement and combat happens so fast ...

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - forest meeting
Another good movie in a good year of movies!

This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!

So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.

And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.

The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters...

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
of Austro-Hungaria (1863-1914)

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptuous heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian militant named Gavrilo Princip. This lead to a chain of events that ignited the powder keg of European mutual defensive pacts and triggered the first World War.

And war was never the same again.

Horses were replaced with mechanized, armored tanks for the first time. Radio was used to triangulate artillery bombardment without a direct line of sight. Land mines halted enemy advances. Air planes patrolled the skies for the first time and dropped bombs and rained machine gun fire onto soldiers. Chemical and biological weapons were deployed for the first time with horrendous results. War stopped being the close, personal, visceral evil that it had been since the beginnings of human history, and it became distant and impersonal. Armies could fight each other from a distance through crosshairs and scopes. War could be waged with bombs and machines at a global level with industrial killing efficiency.

When the dust had settled and peace had come, the nations of the earth were so horrified with what had transpired, that they declared this "the war to end all wars".

They were wrong...

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Civilization V - Shaka of the Zulu

Rounding out my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations, here is the Zulu. But first, I want to take a moment to thank the readers and everyone who has provided feedback and constructive criticism for these posts. When I first started with Assyria, I wasn't sure if I'd bother doing any other civs at all - let alone all of them! But people read the posts and encouraged me to keep writing them, and now they are among the most popular posts on this blog! I have been very humbled and gratified with the responses that I have received. I'd like to specifically thank all of those who posted suggestions and feedback on the forums. I really appreciate your participation. Many of your ideas and strategy alternatives have been incorporated into revisions of these posts, and I've taken your criticisms to heart in writing the subsequent posts. I'd also like to thank the fine folks at PolyCast, who have taken the time to discuss and publicize these posts, as well as provide additional feedback. Keep up the good work!

As for my future plans: I expect to take some time away from Civ to catch up on some other games, like Dark Souls II and some Steam games that I've had sitting on my computer for a while (like Europa Universalis IV). I also intend to get back into modding and some other personal projects. This does not mean that I am completely done with Civ V strategies though. I do intend to look at some of the civs whose strategies were significantly changed by the Brave New World expansion (particularly France and Arabia, whose uniques were redesigned). I will continue to write strategies as time permits, and will continue to check the forums and comments and possibly update these posts if readers provide new insights. Thanks again, and keep on Civin'!.

Now, without further ado, the Zulu!

Little is known about the regions of southern Africa prior to European invasions and colonization. The region was divided up into small tribes and kingdoms, but they kept very few written records of their histories. In the early 19th century, the Zulu Kingdom (lead by Chief Shaka) came to dominate large chunks of the eastern coast of southern Africa. Shaka's successors expanded the kingdom through wars with rival tribes and European settlers for almost a century before the British offered an ultimatum in 1878 to King Cetshwayo regarding a territory dispute between the Zulu and the Boers (Dutch settlers in Africa). Cetshwayo rejected the terms of the ultimatum, leading to the Anglo-Zulu war. The Zulu won an early victory, overwhelming the British with their tactics and sheer numbers, handing the British their single worst defeat to a native African fighting force. In the long-term, however, the Zulu were incapable of standing up to the British army that was equipped with firearms. The British sieged the Zulu capital, Ulundi, exiled King Cetshwayo to Cape Town, and divided the Zulu Empire into 13 "kinglets". This lead to internal conflict between the kinglets, forcing the British to reinstate Cetshwayo as the King of the Zulu. But conflict continued, and Ulundi was again sieged by one of the kinglets and Cetshwayo was killed. When the Union of South Africa was formed, the Zulu Kingdom stopped being recognized as a sovereign power, although several Zulu kings did retain significant influence in the region through the middle of the 20th century.

Civilization V: Brave New World - Shaka

 

Shaka kaSenzangakhona was the first King of the Zulu Empire. He united several small tribes and then initiated significant military, spiritual, and cultural reforms. He used innovative and highly-aggressive military tactics to conquer neighboring tribes and establish the Zulu Kingdom as a dominant force in the southern Africa region. He was a brutal and efficient leader and introduced the iklwa stabbing spear and large cowhide shields that allowed his soldiers to quickly surround their enemies and engage in visceral close-quarters combat. His impi soldiers employed a novel "bull horn" formation consisting of three parts:

 

  • the "chest" was the main force composed of senior soldiers who would engage the enemy to keep them pinned and immobile,
  • the "horns" were squads of young, fast warriors who would flank the enemy that was engaged with the chest,
  • and the "loins" were a reserve force behind the chest and with their backs to the battle who would defend the army from flanking maneuvers and chase down escaping enemies.
These tactics proved incredibly useful to Shaka and to his successors (even against the muskets of European invaders), and it was even used to crush the British in the opening battle of the Anglo-Zulu war. However, these tactics could not survive against the killing efficiency of more advanced firearms and cannons and were eventually abandoned.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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