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Game Review: Third Age: Total War
The game itself is a free mod to the game Medieval 2 Total War:Kingdoms. In order to enjoy conquering Middle Earth, you must buy the game and expansion.
The Total War series are computer games that are simular to playing an intense game of Risk. You control cities, castles, and armies on the campaign map and individual units on the battle maps, each unit can have hundreds of soldiers.
Medieval 2 was developed by the Creative Assembly and published by Sega. Third Age Total War was developed in a collective effort by fans of the Total War series and Lord of the Rings.
When starting a new campaign, the first things you need to do is select a campaign length, difficulties, and a faction. Every faction on the map, except rebels, is playable and are divided into two categories.
The first is the Good faction. This consists of the Dwarves centered in Erebor, High Elves of Imaldris (Rivendell), the Silven Elves of Loth Lorien, and various kingdoms of men. The men of Middle Earth come from Gondor, Rohan, Dale and Arnor (the free people of Eraidor, centered around Bree).
The Evil factions are those of Mordor, Isengard, Rhun in the east, Harad in the south, the Orcs of Gundabad in the north and the Orcs of the Misty Mountains right down the center.
Once you've chosen a faction you can start the game. You are brought to the campaign map to manage your cities first construction projects. It's best to build monetary and population growth buildings first, the richer your nation, the stronger it can become.
You also have armies in and around your cities. The start of every game should be the same: quick land grab. March your armies out and start annexing rebel settlements by force. This gives you a larger economy by spreading out the cost of your armies while pulling in Taxes and at the same time provides a buffer between your main settlements and enemies. The first thing you should build in any conquered city is a culture building to convert the population to your own people, which allows you the ability to recruit soldiers.
After that, you can chose to sit quietly to see who goes after your lands or go on the warpath against surrounding nations. this is completely up to you. Just remember to build your economy and culture to support and resupply your vast armies.
This part of the game is still mainly Total War. The map is an accurate representation of Middle Earth and the borders of your nation. One important thing to remember is there are achievements in the game that you can achieve, such as: the rebuilding of Osgiliath and the reunion of the Kingdom of Arnor.
When you attack or defend in the field or at a city you have the choice to flee, auto resolve, or fight.
Fleeing from the enemy is only available if you are in the field. It simply causes your army to run a short ways away from the enemy across the campaign map, if the enemy has enough movement points they can attack a second time where you're forced to take another option.
Your second option is to autoresolve, this is basically the computer fighting for you. The advantage is you can skip a battle where you have overwhelming odds at the expense of more of your soldiers dying. Another advantage is if you have overwhelming odds against you and your army wont die automatically by losing, you can use this and more often than naught your general will survive the slaughter. The disadvantage is when you have near equal forces. The outcome of the battle can swing towards the enemies favor and you will lose a battle you had a chance to win.
The final option is to fight. This will bring you into the battlemap that resembles the area your army was standing on the campaign map, the enemy armies, if there are more than one, will approach from the direction they are on the campaign map as well. Because of this, it is wise to go stick close to mountain ranges if possible, this will ensure the highgrounds are on your side of the battle deployment.
Once you get to the battle, first you must place your troops. Look for high ground or objects on the map, such as buildings, to protect your flanks. This can help limit your losses. If nothing else, stick toward the corner of the map as the enemy can't leave the battle area. Once the battle begins, everything is up to you, Just make sure you protect your archers from enemy soldiers and cavalry, keep your soldiers in a loose formation if charging the walls, never charge cavalry into spears, etc. This is basic information that anyone who has ever played a game like Age of Empires already knows. The difference is here, you shouldn't group all of your units and charge, That's one of the great things about the Total War series, it forces you to use battle strategy.
My favorite strategy is pretty basic infantry lines with archers behind and cavalry on the wings. My archers will pepper my enemy with volley after volley as they approach, focusing all my archers on heavy infantry, cavalry, or the enemy general. Once they get to the point where firing may cause friendly fire, I order them to stop. Then, once the enemy infantry and cavalry are engaged with my infantry I wheel my cavalry around the outside and come up behind them, from there I order them to charge the enemy flank. This can help start a route, which is very contagious. Once you get one enemy unit to run, others can follow pretty quickly if you play your cards right. This isn't an all inclusive way to fight battles but it's simple, effective, and just the one I prefer.
My only issue with the battle system is certain units are ungodly strong, such as trolls. I understand that they are massive beasts but a spear to the chest or arrow to the face is still gonna cause a good amount of damage.
The Fellowship Campaign is an option of play within the mod. In this you control the Fellowship of the Ring, as the name implies. It isn't just 9 of you. each member has it's own bodyguard and acts like a general unit, except Merry and Pipin as they are spies. You can't garrison inside cities or recruit units, but you can hire mercenaries. Also, it is important to note, you have to play this game under Very Hard/Very Hard. That means the campaign and battle difficulty are at its hardest.
I have yet to beat this portion of the game but I plan to eventually. I do like the unique aspect it gives, you're no longer worried about cities and strategically growing your empire. I'll have more on this if I beat it.
The final piece is the graphics. The majority of the game follows the basic Total War game engine used for Rome and Medieval 2 but the units are reskinned to match the races and armor depicted in the Lord of the Rings universe. The Orcs, goblins, and elves look much like you would expect their armies too. On top of that, Hobbits are small (they aren't a playable race in anything but the Fellowship campaign) the dwarves a bit taller and stocky. The oliphants are massive. Everything you'd expect.
On top of that the custom settlements, like Hobbiton provide a great aesthetic value to the game. It wasn't necessary for them to change the towns and castles the way they did for some areas. The only thing that bothers me about this is the lack of certain settlements. Carn Dum, is just a citadel from Medieval 2, reskinned black. Barad-Dum hasn't been changed at all from a stock citadel, white walls and everything.
One day I hope to charge across the bridge of Barad-Dum, fight at the city of Dale and have it how it's described, with the Lonely Mountain in the background, or if it's possible, depict goblin town as a massive underground city, rather than the small camp it is. I'm sure these are still in development somewhere by someone and might make it into the mod. But like i said, custom settlements provide an aesthetic value to the game but don't really change game play.
When it comes to this game, I have few complaints. The great graphics and skins, custom settlements, built in lore, and the gaming experience provided by the developers of the Total War series makes this one of the best games out there. My only issue involves a lack of customization of certain settlements, like Carn Dum and Barad Dur but this is a small issue.
Over all, I still give this game a 5/5. Its cons are nothing compared to the expert work put into making this game. I'd recommend this game to everyone who enjoyed the books, movies, or just enjoys medieval or fantasy war sim games.
Although, it may lose its title as the best Medieval 2 mod when the upcoming Westeros Total War finishes development. The mod is based on the Story of Ice and Fire novels and the HBO series Game of Thrones. It will be interesting to see if Westeros can take the throne.