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    200808110735[English] Medieval 2: Total War (講故, 悶, 慎讀)




    Before the pope was in Rome, the Emperor was in Rome.

    I'll admit it, I did enjoy Rome: Total War at one point. It's one of those games that you fall in love with at first sight, and continue to love at the second sight, third sight, fourth...in fact, it lasts quite a long time even without mods, long enough that you can call it a very good value, and even in a genre known for its replayability. Yes, Rome: Total War was a great game by any standard - not just a "good" game, but a great game.

    It was also a bad game.

    RTW had about as many bugs as your average Microsoft software when it first came out, and it took two patches to bring it up to the standards of an average game on release. Five patches later, most of the bugs were gone, but some fundamental issues remain, most of which have to do with the AI - namely, it didn't exist. In the beginning the AI was incomprehensible and suicidal on both the tactical and strategic maps, their favourite tactic apparently being a banzai charge with the general whilst screaming "THIS IS ROMEEEEE!!!!!!!!". With the 1.5 patch (or perhaps 1.3), the AI became far more reasonable, but that still doesn't change the fact that even a very average human player could crush, slaughter and maul the AI on the highest difficulty level, in tactical battles at least, despite the morale penalty that higher difficulty settings give. It's most apparent on bridge battles; while it does give for some pretty epic shows where 300 Spartans could, indeed, hold off the entire Persian (Parthian) army by blocking off bridges, both the strategic and tactical AI end up feeling so incompetent that slaughtering it simply ceases being fun.

    That was the major problem, but hardly the only one. Diplomacy was not all it was cracked up to be; it was simply cracked up. Not only had you no aid but your own good judgment as to whether an opponent would accept an offer or how well a faction stands, some of the happenings over the diplomacy table were downright silly. Playing as the Seleucids, one could *easily* get over ten offers by Egypt to become a protectorate regardless of relative power. One could accept all of these offers, then get betrayed the following turn or even the same turn, then the circle goes on and on. Unit pathfinding was fine on open battlefields with ordinary units, but once chariots or elephants are involved it gets messy, especially during sieges. Try to sally out to break a siege with chariots under your command, and it's almost guaranteed that it would get stuck around a corner.

    The list of small issues and wacky bits goes on and on. Grouped units attack the closest enemy when the group is ordered to attack - possibly a feature, and at times a useful one, but it was never documented in RTW, and can come as a nasty shock the first time the player encounters it. Charge bonuses have no effect whatsoever. Senate system in the campaign sometimes bugs out so that you could not attack Roman factions even though you were kicked out (and this was in 1.5). Horses could climb what appears to be a sheer slope. And then there were gameplay bits that obviously could have used some smoothing out; the diplomacy system was one, balancing and unplayable factions was another, and the way characters gain or loses traits and retinues, especially through religious buildings, was yet another. All these come together to make the single player gameplay of RTW an experience that is a lot less lasting than it could be.

    The reason that I spent all that time talking about the single player game only is because, for all intents and purposes, RTW is a single player game. There is an online mode provided through Gamespy, but it was extremely unstable - you might be able to join a game half the time, and once you get the game going you might see it to the end maybe two-thirds of the time, less if there are more than two players.

    At the best of times, though, the lobby interface was uninspiring (how long did they take to figure out that players need to be able to filter out undesirable chat?), and so was the multiplayer component of RTW, because exactly zero effort had been put into balancing the game. In multiplayer you can play as all the factions that appear in the game, including the ones marked as "Unplayable" in the campaign, but in actual fact that means very, very little, because it is practically impossible, regardless of skill level, for some of the factions to win. Of the more than 20 factions available, the four Roman factions (which for some reason have some of the strongest cavalry in the game) and Egypt clearly occupy a distinct top-tier, which is sufficiently superior that it really takes a solid difference in skill for any other faction to beat these five. But there are also some factions which are so badly handicapped that it is downright impossible for them to win a game unless played with extreme creativity and with a monumental superiority in terms of raw skill - Gauls, Spain, Thrace, Dacia, and to a lesser extent Numidia and Scythia. This is directly related to the complete lack of unit balancing - almost all non-legion and non-phalanx infantry (even the "elites") will break quickly when charged by light cavalry, much less heavy cavalry, and the same applies to spearmen that can't go into phalanx. With the exception of the head hurler and german heavy axeman, the same also happens when barbarian infantry meet just about any phalanx or legion unit, scattering quickly in front of the ordered enemy lines, and many of them just happen to be poorly armoured and thus extremely vulnerable to archer fire, making them completely useless in just about all circumstances, even when cost is taken into the account - perhaps it was really so in real life, but it shouldn't be like that in the multiplayer component of a game. Add to that the ingeniously designed in-game chat, which requires several keystrokes before you could even begin to type in a message, and the poor online environment in which cavalry spamming and turtling are commonplace, and you have a multiplayer experience that is not very pleasant, to say the least.

    All in all, my divorce with RTW was not a happy one, which was a shame, because the gameplay and graphics were definitely solid, had they not been marred by the many problems and poor AI.



    If it ain't broke, don't fix it

    Which brings us to Medieval 2: Total War (M2TW).

    What has changed? Not much, yet at the same time, a lot.

    It's still, basically, the same engine. Of course I have no concrete way of proving that it is indeed so, but everything is familiar, right down to the methods of modding the game, so I'm most likely right. Yes, everything is familiar; little has changed in the interface, even the positions of the settlements on the strategic map feel like little more than a name-change from the Barbarian Invasion expansion to RTW, and even the battle view, which has probably changed more than anything else, is immediately recognizable as having come from the same engine, though the graphics have received such an overhaul that it almost feels like a new game - almost, that is, and of course with the better graphics comes a corresponding drop in frame rate. In short, it's a better version of what RTW offered, and quite a lot better at that, but there is nothing fundamentally new.

    Which basically sums up
    Medieval 2: Total War in its entirety - an improved Rome: Total War, nothing more, nothing less. This it's exactly what it needed to be and all it needed to be, and it did the job beautifully. It is the game that Rome: Total War should have been.

    Like I said, there is little that is really new. The Mongol and Timurid invasions are familiar faces (Well, the Mongols at least - I've never played MTW), modelled after the hordes introduced in Barbarian Invasion (though this has some side-effects - more on that later). The papal state and its relationship to the rest of the Catholic world mirrors the SPQR and the Roman factions in RTW, though one would have thought that the papacy would place restrictions on Catholics attacking the Byzantine Empire. Gunpowder is Marian reforms on a less significant but more global scale. To the RTW veteran, only the castle/city system, the Crusades/Jihads, and the discovery of the Americas are anything new. (And yes, I delibrately avoided using the term "New World") Most of the rest are little tweaks and changes and lessons learned from RTW, and it is these little things that make M2TW a much better game.

    First, all factions are now playable. Well, not exactly ALL factions, and not exactly playable - there are a total of 22 factions in the game. 5 of them - the Papal States, Mongols, Timurids, Aztecs and Rebels - are mechanically different from the other factions, and it is understandable why they can't be played. Of the remaining 17 factions, only 5 are available from the start - England, France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Venice. If you win a campaign using one of these factions (the full campaign at least - I'm not sure about the short campaign rules), the remaining are unlocked. Should you fail to win the game in the prescribed time, you can still unlock any factions that you destroyed while playing. This is in contrast to RTW, where only the Roman factions are playable in the beginning, and even if you unlocked all the unlockable factions, there are still a number of "normal" factions that you can't play without some modification (which was thankfully easy), and there is absolutely no reason why some of these factions couldn't be played, seeing as they included obviously interesting choices like Macedon. No such problem exist in M2TW, though of course the impatient player could always opt for a mod. (Be careful however: a certain fathead, thinking that the process is identical to RTW's, managed to prevent the Mongols and Timurids from appearing, thus making for a very dull game.)

    Not only are all these factions playable (in the sense that you are allowed to play them), but they are also playable (in the sense that it is fun to play them). Balancing in M2TW has undergone a quantum leap from RTW and even Barbarian Invasion, which, while more balanced than the original game, still had several very limited factions. In M2TW, there are still some factions that are obviously better endowed than others, be it their campaign position or their unit variety (which translates to online play as well) - for example, France is strong in all unit types, whereas Scotland's units feel a little underwhelming, with their supposedly strong infantry on par with France at best, and a clearly inferior selection of units compared to most factions. Unlike some (or rather many) of the factions in RTW which lack any cavalry/heavy infantry/archer worth mentioning, however, all factions in M2TW have at least solid units of each type in each of the three arbitary time periods; for example, though Scotland's cavalry is unremarkable at best, they at least have the solid Mailed Knights in the early period, and the fairly powerful Hospitaller and Templar Knights for the later periods. This still doesn't bring them up to the level of France, of course, but the difference is far more marginal than it used to be, and with some skill, the Scotland player has more than a fighting chance against the French or English, despite the fact that the latter two have a small edge across the board. In a way, this does reduce variety (Mailed Knights and Templars are available to all Catholic factions), but for multi-player balancing this is quite necessary, and in the campaign it's unlikely that the player would want to play with "generic" units only.

    The balancing occurs in more than one way. In RTW, some factions have to fight tooth and nail for survival - Armenia, for example, starts with a shrinking treasury - whereas other factions like Egypt have a ridiculously easy time with a secure position and a powerhouse economy. In M2TW, there are still easier and tougher factions, some having relatively secure rears while others are surrounded by rivals (and thus opportunities) - surprisingly, one of the easiest factions is actually Denmark, which has many port settlements that can bring in huge amounts of money, but are also incredibly easy to defend simply by holding the access route to Scandinavia at Hamburg. Thanks in part, however, to the historical background of the middle ages, which puts all its players on a more even playing ground than in the Roman era, the difficulty level never gets too extreme either way. Yes, there are tough factions faced with many foes while strapped for money like the Holy Roman Empire, but some aggresive expansion early on is usually enough to provide a sufficiently secure position. Yes, there are factions in relatively safe positions that can at the same time never be too troubled about money, but they also have their own challenges; Egypt, for example, will face the Timurid invasion, and if they are unlucky, even the Mongols. All factions will have their challenges, but at the same time they are never too tough. Perhaps the best example is in the Iberian peninsula; here, Portugal, Spain and the Moors each start with one city and one castle, and are in equally good (or bad) position to take the two remaining unclaimed settlements and drive the other two out of Iberia, after which they will have a fairly safe haven
    (The winner, of course, is always the player, who gets to move first). As for online play, the cost of identical units beyond the fourth now increases significantly per additional unit in custom battles, thus encouraging players to increase variety. This still doesn't prevent players from picking a faction with a lot of cavalry types and going for an all-cavalry army, of course, but it goes a long way, and is probably the most elegant way to do so. Cavalry charges may still be devastating, but it is actually possible now to bog down and kill knights using the lowly spearmen.

    The seperate unit recruiting trees for castles and cities make take some getting used to at first (particularly the fact that castles could not recruit gunpowder units), but after some time this ceases to be an obstacle, and in fact planning attacks using the right units actually becomes part of the fun.

    Diplomacy has improved by leaps and bounds, though to tell the truth many of the improvements were feature that should have been obvious. You can now tell the attitude of the AI opponent and the state of your relations, how good your reputations are, your relative powers, and perhaps most importantly, whether a deal is likely to be accepted or not. While still not a particularly important part of the game, at least it feels like a functional part now.

    The AI, unfortunately, is still weak, and still prone to charging with the general. In M2TW, though, this is in fact something to be careful of, as a single charge could easily take out half an archer or infantry unit, and the AI does seem to know to avoid sharpened stakes (most of the time) and spear walls (most of the time). This is only truly suicidal in sieges and bridge battles, where the AI general seems to believe in leading by example and thus set an example for his men by dying first, after which his men do obediently follow. Overall, however, there is no doubt that the AI has for the most part improved quite a bit from RTW, be it on the strategic map or the tactical map, and will actually qualify as an opponent for the casual player. On the strategic map the AI has the blatantly stupid habit of not putting anything resembling a reasonable garrison in their settlements, making it easy to strike at  the virtually undefended cities, but when on the attack they are dogged and determined, and can be dangerous. On the battle map the AI still does stupid things, but now it is reasonably effective at using its units, and is especially dangerous with artillery. You can actually be pretty hard-pressed when the AI has a superiority in strength, and even a battle between forces of similar quality and quantity could turn out to be fairly demanding, requiring skill, attention, and even some bold moves in order to win - though the player still tends to come up on top. You will realize that superior numbers actually do mean superior numbers once you come upon the Mongol or Timurid hordes - the AI has become competent enough that it you will feel the numberical superiority, forcing the player to actually use alternative tactics and fight a war of attrition. One of the improvements which I was most impressed with was, surprisingly, bridge crossing. Yes, defending bridgeheads against the AI is still among the easiest things to do in the game, but then, there is no right way to cross a bridge to start with. (The right thing to do would be to avoid bridge battles altogether) As far as trying to force their way through a bridgehead is concerned, the AI really does the best it could, and even though most of the time it ends in a slaughter, it is worthwhile to remember that human players would probably do just as bad.

    None of these in themselves are particularly huge changes, but together they add up to a game that feels far more complete and polished than RTW was, and most importantly, more fun. In fact, RTW almost feels like it was an experimental project paving the way for M2TW, existing mainly as a testing ground for features, and that the real goal had been M2TW all along.



    "Mom...this is still broke..."

    That doesn't mean that M2TW is free from issues. In fact, many old nemeses that plagued RTW make a return, some milder than before, but in some cases even worse then they were in RTW, and there are also some new annoyances.

    First and foremost, of course, is the AI. Yes, the AI is smarter than it was in RTW. That does not mean, however, that it is smart. Rather, it is kind of all over the place - the AI "shines" in field battles featuring large armies with a fair variety of units on both sides, but doesn't do all that well with small armies, in particular against certain types of units. The siege and sally AI is especially bad, being really predictable and really, really easy to defeat. It will sit with all its forces close by to the walls while bringing in siege engines, as if inviting you to shoot them, and once the gates are broken the first thing it does is charge a general into the fray, regardless of what is behind the gates, making defending against an assault ridiculously easy but for some quirks and issues in sieges. If that was not enough, however, the AI is even weaker in assaulting multi-tiered fortresses and citadels. It knows "how" to, yes, but it certainly takes its time in doing so - it will break through one layer with a ram, go back to its original position to pick up a new ram to break through the second layer, and then fetch yet another new ram to attack the third. What this means is that, by the time the AI starts assaulting the third layer of walls, the timer would have almost ran out, and the defender would win by default, having done nothing except sit behind the third layer of walls. It's easy, and it's extremely boring. To avoid this excruciating process (and the attrition that the defenders suffer when besieged), you can sally out. One of the cheapest - and very effective - tricks is to build the cannon tower improvement in a city, then sally out when besieged, but sit behind the safety of the walls for the duration of battle. The cannon towers would more often then not blow away 90% of the AI army, and the AI would just let it happen (though it may shoot back if it has cannons), never thinking once to pull back out of range. It's a variation on a familiar trick in RTW, and it really takes restraint not to exploit it. I won't even start on the AI of allied reinforcements; it's safe to say that it's better to do without a reinforcement army rather than put it in the hands of the AI, even if the reinforcements are 20 units of elite knights at the highest experience level.

    The strategic map AI also has its problems. Yes, it can be aggressive and annoying, but most of the time it's just annoying, for example besieging a city with an inferior force, with no apparent purpose in mind except to bother the player. In defense it suffers badly, because it never seems to garrison any settlement - even those on the frontlines - with anything more than three or four units. The AI does go on a recruitment panic when your armies approach their gates, but by this time, it's too late. This may or may not accurately reflect history, but it certainly makes for some not very exciting gameplay. In addition, the AI's armies and agents also make nonsensical movements - for the armies they might represent M2TW's version of patrolling, but I couldn't for my life figure out what a foreign diplomat is doing at my capital, making "open negotiations" animations every turn (and thus slowing down the game), but never actually opening the diplomacy window. All these quirks are minor, at least compared to the fiasco of a siege AI, but they are substantial enough to be annoying.

    But the worst part, and the one thing that takes away the most enjoyment, is in unit behaviour and pathfinding. It's exquisite. It's a piece of art, like some modern artist whose lines are all convoluted and orderless. If anything it's a big step backwards from RTW, and none of it makes any sense whatsoever. It happens with all units, but it's especially bad with cavalry. They will abandon the formation that you set at the beginning and automatically adopt a useless and vulnerable one with extremely deep columns and a narrow front for no apparent reason, which weakens the effects of a charge and messes up the skirmish mode of missile cavalry. Even worse, stragglers are a frequent occurence - "a few" men out of a unit will often move at walking speed when the entire unit is ordered to run. This is just a minor annoyance when you are lining up and in no real hurry, but it is a matter of life and death when  your cavalry archers are running away from a menacing knight unit, and some men just seem to take their time enjoying the gorgeous graphics and getting cut down. It would have been fine if all you lose was those few men (Because they deserve it!), but when the few stragglers engage the knights, it potentially causes the whole unit to stop running and get bogged down into a melee, potentially causing the whole unit to be destroyed. And that's not all; stragglers completely mess up the way units judge their distance to the enemy, which breaks all game mechanics based on distance. Heavy cavalry will not use their powerful charge attacks if there are stragglers, instead marching into a melee and suffering heavy losses while inflicting little. Cavalry archers will also fail to skirmish effectively when there are stragglers, allowing even heavy infantry to catch up with them and tear them to shreds.

    In fact, the skirmish mode just doesn't work very well in general. As in Rome: Total War, it's pretty pointless to set javelin infantry on skirmish, because their firing range is about the same as their skirmish range. However, whereas Rome: Total War's skirmish mode worked pretty well as far as cavalry archers are concerned, the same cannot be said for M2TW - left to their own devices, it's quite easy for cavalry archers to be caught by much heavier cavalry, especially when in loose formation, because they really start running too late. The weird deep formations that they will often automatically adopt with no reason, and the problem with stragglers, all compound the problem by messing up the distance calculation. Add to this the fact that skirmish mode doesn't work properly at all in hilly terrain and when obstacles are present, and the directions the units will move is haphazard, sometimes even causing your units to move towards the enemy, and one can't help feeling that it might be better to turn off skirmish mode altogether and just rely on micromanagement to keep the archers out of trouble.

    That is, assuming your units obey your orders. There is a delay between the issuing of an order and the unit receiving it, which is a completely reasonable feature, but you really would expect your units to follow them. However, this is not always the case, especially when a unit is caught in a melee; they will often not obey orders to pull back, therefore getting destroyed. Again, the worst cases are found in cavalry, because they are the units which will move the most. Cavalry archers sometimes refuses to back off when caught in a melee with heavy cavalry, even if it's just a couple of stragglers that are caught. It's also difficult to pull back knights after a charge, particularly if some men are stuck behind the enemy unit. The charge-retreat-charge cycle that the game recommends is truly touch-and-go at best. Units ordered to pursue fleeing enemies also frequently act up, just sitting there immobile while the enemy runs to safety beyond the battlefield - which can get quite infuriating when the fleeing unit in question is the enemy king!

    All the aforementioned problems are aggravated on hilly maps - and oh are there a lot of it! Battling in hilly terrain is perhaps the most annoying part of the game because the camera handles elevation poorly, and the many impassable pieces completely ruin any semblance of pathfinding and formation. Some of the hilly maps are so annoying that one wonders if they have been playtested at all, because pathfinding is so convoluted that it's virtually impossible to navigate these maps, much less fight on them.
    Of course this was in part intended, but problems with the camera probably shouldn't be considered a feature, and some of the hills you'll encounter are simply ridiculous. Not only are cavalry quite useless in hilly terrain, for some reason, cannons can't fire effectively at different elevations either. While artillery from high ground may seem like a good idea at first, artillery pathfinding is so abysmal to start with that it's really better not to make it worse.

    Heavily forested maps are equally annoying, and these maps penalize the player heavily (compared to the AI), simply because the player can't see and give orders to his units effectively, but the AI can. As in RTW, all you can see when zoomed out are trees. You can't see your units, you can't see enemy units, you can't see where your units are going, and you can't see very well in general. Artillery bothering you? Tough luck finding it, because the only way you could hope to see it is by zooming below the leaves, but at such low zoom levels it's quite impossible to give orders, you can easily be lost in the forest, and without pausing the game it's exceedingly difficult to find the artillery piece before it kills off your entire army. And, after you find it, you still have to go back to your army, find a nearby cavalry, and order it to attack the artillery (assuming you could find it again, of course). And you'd better pray that there are no enemies between the cavalry and the target artillery, because you won't be able to tell. All that is without camera restrictions; if the limited camera option is turned on, it's time to click that withdraw button, because you will never find that artillery (Good luck, too, with getting the units to obey the withdraw order if they are caught in melee, and turn off skirmish mode, or it will mess everything up). Again, this difficulty is a simulation of what happens in the real world, but the AI opponent never experiences such troubles, and I think that for gameplay purposes it would have been reasonable to show the positions of your own units more clearly. (There is the minimap and an option to flash and show friendly, allied and enemy units, but it's not really enough)

    The real problem, however, is that you can't tell what kind of map you would be going into. The battlefield could feel pretty flat on the strategic view, but once you get into battle the first thing you see are mountains and rock ridges all over the place, and the same case happens with forests. In real life generals didn't like hills and forests either, but they can at least avoid them. This option is not available to the player, however, as the player has no way of determining whether the battlefield is indeed hilly or forested. A preview of the battlefield would really have helped - if the developers want to simulate the difficulty, in real life, of fighting on such terrain, they should also have simulated the options, in real life, that would have been available to a general.

    And then there are the cities. Once again, mankind has outdone mother nature in messing up pathfinding. Small gates, narrow streets and the occasional tree all do wonders to your men. Yes, an entire unit could get stuck behind a tree planted by the roadside, and whether you are the attacker or the defender, you need to babysit all your units through the battle, because they are prone to stopping with no apparent reason, or, in ironic comparison, run blindly through an enemy unit, getting slaughtered without even drawing their swords to fight. The latter phenomenon also has a tendency to occur on routing units, particularly on walls, where a broken unit would run towards and through the enemy unit that broke it, instead of running away from it, and getting completely annihilated in the process.

    Actually, the problem starts in the deployment phase. It would be unfair to say that the developers did not make efforts towards improving siege combat; the walls are now wider and easier for units to walk on, while low enough that it won't screw up the camera. However, some areas were definitely a step backwards. Weird things happen during the deployment phase, making it difficult to put your units where you want them, be it on or off the wall. The player is often unable to deploy units in street areas that seem completely accessible, and in fact they are - it's fairly simple to get them to move to said area or deploy in the formation you want after the battle starts, but for some reason you just aren't allowed to do it during deployment. Mostly, it's just a matter of reorganizing your units in the first few minutes of battle, but there are cases where you can't even get the unit near the area you want. Who knows, perhaps this is intended as an equalizer, to compensate for the dreadful siege AI?

    Apart from cavalry, there are two types of units which I would like to single out for bashing - gunners and artillery. Gunners refer to arquebusiers and musketeers, which historically came to dominate the battlefield after 1500 - but by their performance in M2TW, no one would have guessed. Whereas all men in the other missile units in the game fire at the same time, with gunners only the first rank will ever shoot (meaning that the width of the line has some pretty significant effect on firepower). The reduced firepower, however, is not compensated by an increase in rate of fire, because the second rank does not step up and replace the first rank as they should; instead, the unit goes on a lengthy reloading process, long enough for even heavy infantry to charge right into them. Despite claims to the contrary in the in-game help, their rate of fire is comparable to, and perhaps even lower than crossbowmen.

    Despite this, their great firepower, the ability to pierce armour, and the morale effect these weapons have on enemy units should have made gunners a very solid unit nonetheless. Unfortunately, arquebusiers and musketeers are plagued with behaviour issues that make them extremely difficult to use effectively.

    Like all missile units, gunners are vulnerable to cavalry. The natural counter to this would be to pair them with pikemen, but in M2TW this is impossible, because gunners move. In fact, the first rank do move to the rear after firing, it's just that this doesn't yield any increase in rate of fire, because the second rank only start loading after the first rank has moved away. As each rank moves to the rear after firing, the entire formation would have moved back quite a distance after a few volleys. And guns, unlike bows, cannot fire over the heads of other units, effectively making it impossible to place pikemen immediately behind musketeers/arquebusiers, much less in front of them. Even positioning them to be adjacent to the gunners is troublesome, because gunners have an inexplicable tendency to rotate - perhaps something to do with their current target, meaning that once again you have to babysit them to shoot only at targets in front of them. Any screening unit for the gunners, be it pikemen or cavalry, have to be placed at least a short distance away from the gunners themselves, and often this is just a little too far to prevent the gunners from being annihilated by enemy cavalry. Sorry, no tercio tactics here. Add to that the fact that gunners are weakly armoured and thus vulnerable to arrow fire, and one must wonder how these weapons ever became more than a novelty. Musketeers, with their impressive range, could make up for their drawbacks, but they are only available to a select few factions. The widely available short-ranged arquebusier, on the other hand, is truly more of a danger to itself than to its enemies.

    As for artillery - ok, let's face it, artillery in Total War had never been smart, and probably never will. RTW artillery have terrible pathfinding, and having them turn to face another target is a nightmare. In M2TW nothing has changed except for the worse, and the greater emphasis on cannons doesn't help. Cannons don't seem to be able to fire on units on a lower elevation, at least not with any degree of accuracy. "False fire" can occur, where a unit says that it's firing, but doesn't actually do anything (this occurs more with ribaults). It's difficult to screen cannons, since a cannon will blow away friendly units in front of it, and if an enemy unit closes on an artillery its crew will drop it and fight melee, regardless of whether there are friendly units who could protect them, and you'll have to babysit them to pick up the artillery and fire again afterwards. The next installation of Total War would be set in the Napoleon era, where cannons and muskets are the norm, and by the way they behave right now, it would really take a significant improvement to make it playable.

    There are quite a few other minor problems, though none of them detract seriously from the game experience, at least not nearly as much as the unit behaviour issues. Guildhouse offers feel quite arbitary, and certain guilds almost never appear, even though you are quite certain you have been fulfilling requirements for those guilds. The Mongols and Timurids, for some reason, are dead set on Antioch (or Kiev, depending on where the Mongols spawn), and ignore everything else in their path; in addition, the fact that they use the same mechanics as the Hordes in Barbarian Invasion mean that even if they lose their last settlement (after they settle down), there aren't destroyed, but instead go on as a horde; the only way to beat them is to kill all their family members. One of the more serious ones is that your cavalry could run through your own sharpened stakes and get wiped out, but this is a relatively rare occurence which happens only to a few factions, and can be avoided with caution.

    Finally, despite the balancing improvements, the online platform still takes place over Gamespy, and, as far as I could tell from my one experience online, nothing has changed; it remains an unstable and unsatisfying experience, although the fact that the average human player is far more devious than the weak AI does almost compensate for it.



    Verdict

    M2TW does have its fair share of problems, and a "fair"ly large share at that. However, the underlying game is clearly excellent, and the fact that even with all these problems it remains a superbly playable game is proof enough of its merits. There is little doubt, in my mind at least, that Medieval 2: Total War is a much more complete and better game than Rome: Total War.

    I was in love with M2TW, and I still am. I am quite certain that, when I finally move on - perhaps to Empire: Total War - I will do so with fonder memories than I had of Rome: Total War.


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