9.29
10

He loves spreadsheets and he wants to be king. Forget game reviews – Felix should run for Parliament.

But enough about him over there, look. On to the game. Via dinner.
Have you ever eaten a massive meal that you’ve been hungrily looking forward to, which you’ve then really enjoyed so you absolutely gorge yourself? There are all kinds of delicious things on offer, so you eat and eat far beyond your capacity, until just looking at another Yorkshire pudding is enough to make your stomach spasm in open revolt? I’m afraid this is the problem with Medieval 2.

It’s just too much of a good thing. And I feel for them, I really do. They’ve struggled with game balance woes since Shogun and have finally hit a happy medium that more-or-less works. It’s a massive, epic game with all kinds of options; varied units to make the different factions interesting and distinct from one another; and fascinating family politics to keep you interested. The battles are dramatic and, for the most part, fun. Plus you have the option to auto-resolve the less important ones. But even with all this going for it, the campaigns are just too long, and tend to end with a protracted period of going through the motions when you’ve already clearly beaten the game.

A word here, if you’ll permit me, about the vices and virtues. These have been around since the original Medieval: Total War, and have grown steadily in complexity and number since then. Such a simple game mechanic, yet it adds so much to the experience. Prince Henry? He’s highly religious, but a bit mad and a massive perv. Sir Brian, on the other hand is a greedy oaf with a taste for strong booze but a sturdy grasp of long division. A couple of lines like this can really bring the characters to life. The system is far from perfect though. Characters that have been around the block a few times have lists of traits so long you can’t really envision what they would be like. Also, the system falls down occasionally – I had one general who was both intelligent and stupid. I can’t really get behind the family tree structure either, really – why does everyone have to become an adopted member of the royal family instead of just being a respected general? It leads to your family dynasty getting really confused – and why would they remove the option to select your heir? Why?

Whilst I’m not a huge spreadsheet fan, I can usually tolerate a bit of micromanagement – and it’s pretty much required for Medieval 2. Your generals acquire different traits for achieving different goals – building a cathedral, winning a battle against superior odds, capturing Jerusalem in a crusade, and so forth. In the early game this is loads of fun, but later on it just adds to the grind. Similarly, choosing between your building options seems important in the early days, but choosing between structures somewhere in the back of beyond while you’re really concentrating on conquest on the other side of Europe can seem time-consuming and irrelevant later on.

A lot of moaning has been moaned regarding diplomacy in the Total War games, and a lot of fanfaring was fanfared regarding the more robust diplomacy in Medieval 2. It’s not actually all that effective though – it takes time to ‘train up’ your diplomats and princesses by bribing bandits before they’ve really got any diplomatic skill, and I’m afraid this is just another micromanagey grind. Princesses marrying into other factions could be more interesting as the politics between those two nations change as a result – instead, it just filches you a new general sometimes.

Now that I’ve roundly panned Medieval 2, I think it’s important for me to mention that I love it. Surprise! The battle scenes are exciting, it looks lovely, plays well on both the political and battle scales and has trebuchet-loads of depth to stoke the imagination. It has been handsomely embraced by the modding community and many of the things that may annoy individual players can be surmounted to a greater or lesser degree by the mods and conversions put out by those proud worthies. My only major beefs with this top-notch wargame are its requirement for hardcore micromanagement and its seemingly-endless scale. Both of which might actually be pluses in your book.