Ramblings On… Total War: Attila

Total War is arguably one of the most popular franchises in gaming, and is certainly one of the most well-known strategy games out there – a collective I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t call it a generic cesspool, from within which small diamonds may sometimes float. Okay, so some metaphors don’t always quite makes sense; just let it go already!

Anyway, if you’re reading this, then the chances are you already know what Total War is and, no doubt, you already have at least some information on the latest instalment in the eponymous series – but I’m going to ramble on anyway; partly because that is kind of the point of this little article, but mostly because my Daddy always said to ‘never assume nottin’, cos’ assumin’ makes an ass outta you and me’. Actually, he never said that, he never will say that and I can’t imagine why I read the line back in a stereotypical backwater Kansas accent when he’s a Scouser, but anyway – Total War!

The franchise has crossed time and geography throughout its lifespan, moving from the days of the Shogunate Japan to Medieval Europe, from Roman occupation to Alexander the Great’s lifetime and the Napoleonic Wars; it is currently going through something of a reiteration of itself, in that Creative Assembly, the team that has been behind Total War from the very beginning, has continued to make the same times and locations for subsequent games; as in, Medieval and Medieval II, Rome and Rome II and Shogun an Shogun II – it’s not that hard a concept to wrap your head around.

I’m sure Attila would be proud to learn that all his achievements in life have been boiled down to an angry character in a video game.

Total War: Attila is something of a step in a new direction for Creative Assembly, as this is the first game to be directly drawn from an expansion pack rather than a full retail release – a connection which angered many gamers when it was announced cos’, y’know, that’s a hard thing to do. The influence behind Attila is the Barbarian Invasion expansion from the original Rome: Total War and, as it was one of the more interesting expansions, I was close to foaming at the mouth in excitement for the game’s release, even if I had issues about said release.

You see, the previous instalment in the Total War franchise, Total War: Rome II, had a rocky release – particularly with bugs and glitches and the entire game being unplayable for huge numbers of fans for weeks after its release, and CA were so busy on working the sort the problem out that they had minimal contact with the players trying to access the game, which made them come across, in many people’s eyes, as another one of these cold, uncaring game design companies which doesn’t care about its fanbase.

Even ignoring that, the game itself was somewhat disappointing; there just didn’t seem to be much in the way of content, despite the size of the game’s map, and after a few hours it felt like you had seen all there was to see, done all there was to do and, perhaps most damagingly, the AI on both your side and your opponents side was completely idiotic. It became, to an extent, a question of fighting the game itself, rather than battling your opponent and for a franchise which has offered one of the most incredible strategic experiences of all time this was a hugely crippling factor.

As a long-time player myself – actually, it’s almost scary to think how many hours I’ve sunken into the game over the years; I could’ve been a nuclear physicist or something otherwise – I understand how so many people could have such a negative reaction to the game and to CA in general. Of course, CA have tried to make it up since then, particularly with the recent free upgrade to the Imperator edition of Rome II, which included a whole extra campaign, but I think a lot of fans react somewhat negatively to a game that they have been playing for years, a game on such a grand-scale as Total War, offering small DLC campaigns in place of the world-redefining expansion they are used to.

Total War, as a franchise has, of course, grown over the years and many of the strategies CA are using can clearly be seen in the franchise’s past. DLC now seems to be based off of the ‘Kingdoms’ expansion for Medieval II, – one of the best expansions, actually – which offered four more-focused campaigns, rather than a complete world overhaul, and this could go some way towards explaining why Attila is a standalone game in of itself – an issue I know many long-term fans have brought up time and time again on the build up to its release. I think the issue of many gamers is that game design companies are just looking for ways to screw money out of them – to an extent one should agree with them, I mean, that is the entire purpose of an industry, not just video games – but many gamers seem to forget that they do not have to buy video games. They are not owed games as a birth-right, no matter how long they’ve been playing a franchise or on a specific console.

When we come to the game itself, Attila is a good addition to the franchise, and not really much more than that. Barbarian Invasion was one of the best expansion packs the franchise ever produced, and I am satisfied that CA decided to focus on the same setting. That is, perhaps, where this game truly stands out from other Total War titles – this game actually has an atmosphere. There is a kind of pressure on every faction right from the start – even the main objectives you are given typically tend to be ‘Survive until Year X’ rather than ‘Control X amount of settlements’. This subtle change also helps to feel like the world is moving on with or without you intervention, a feeling which has been lacking in recent iterations.

God, he’s a cheeky-looking fellow, our Attila, ain’t he? I like to imagine if I said ‘Party on Attila’, he’d somehow get the reference and reply ‘Party On John’.

Total War Attila boasts a kind of desperation which I have never before seen as standard in any Total War game – the kind of atmosphere you get when your city or favourite army is under attack by a much more powerful opponent. There is the knowledge that, if you aren’t playing as the Huns, you are essentially holding out until Attila arrives and only then does the real threat begin. This adds an edge of desperation to the game which I haven’t felt, and experienced players won’t have felt, since their early days with the franchise.

Total War is, as I previously said, a 2x strategy game. This means that unlike, say, the Civilization franchise (perhaps the most popular strategy franchise of all time; certainly if Let’s Players are to be believed) where the player controls the nation in turn-based advancement, in Total War the player also takes command of individual battles, adding a much greater awareness of the units you build, the terrain you fight on, the abilities of your generals and your own strategic ability. Though the world map is this huge, sprawling thing upon which the fate of a nation might be decided by the movement of an army or a declaration of war, the battlefield is a much more tense environment, where the fate of that same nation might be decided by which of these two units breaks first, how quickly you can take out the enemy’s general, or how devastating that last volley of arrows could be to an enemy’s moral.

Do not mess with the Danish. That’s what I told the British and do you know what they did? They messed with the Danish.

Much of the game has been lifted directly from Rome II, with often very minimal changes. For example, you no longer need to own all the cities in a region to enact a policy which should have negated the driving force behind controlling ever city in a region, but with the new ‘Razing’ mechanic, it is an invaluable addition. Now, instead of simply taking over a settlement, you are given the option to raze it – a brand new concept in Total War and one which adds a new tool in the strategic aspect of the campaign map. If you are unable to hold it from the previous owner’s counterattack next turn, for example, you can raze the city to the ground, earning you a little extra cash, whilst simultaneously denying your opponent a key base of operations. This is a key component for factions like the Huns or the Northmen (Jutes, Danes & Geats – yeah, there was day one DLC, of course there was) who might need some quick cash or, more likely, don’t necessarily need to be tied down to a specific base. Particularly for the Huns in fact, as their ability to move quickly and burn everything in their path is hugely important to their continued existence.

The cities can be rebuilt, of course, it isn’t like some kind of ‘Carthago Delenda Est’ manoeuvre, but it costs quite a considerable amount of gold to rebuild a ravaged husk of a settlement – as I found out when I attacked Britain as the Danes and had to raze Cadmulodunon so that I could have some breathing room to replenish my depleted armies. In my Danish campaign, half of Britain is black with ash and the Romans have already been completely kicked off of the island. When you do raze a settlement, the fact the entirety of the land owned by that settlement is also razed, by a wave of fire that does look like some vague Biblical threat, is hugely satisfying, and the first time I saw it I may have felt momentarily guilty for leaving Northern England in such a state.

When your last city has been razed, or you have decided to abandon it, your surviving armies turn into Hordes – Barbarian Invasion style – and these are your last hopes in finding a new home for your people. Of course, whilst in a horde, your army itself acts as a city, and you can upgrade relevant building within the army’s campsite, as well as levy local troops into joining your force. This is one of the main new mechanics which meant that Attila couldn’t be just another piece of DLC under Rome II’s banner and it adds entirely new play styles and allows a much greater sense of freedom for your faction – and it will be incredibly useful when Attila and his million horsemen show up with Roman blood on their hands.

The general system has been carried over from Rome II, although it has been adapted into a generalised skill tree now, meaning that you can see the direction you would like to take your general/admiral/agent in right from the outset. It does feel like there is less choice for personalisation now, and that many of the upgrades are completely superfluous, adding little to a character or army besides a ‘4% bonus to livestock related income’. Rock’n’roll!

Fire is more useful than ever in the game, as you can set entire cities alight whilst you fight in them, and the more damage done to a city, the weaker the defenders will become – their morale will suffer too! However, I found it most useful when I was attacked by a force of Geats out of a forest – my Onagers and archers set the entire forest on fire; it was pretty incredible.

I can’t help but feel that CA missed a trick by not having a trailer where Attila is dancing to Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’. As a side note, he’s pretty good live!

Total War: Attila is a good addition to the series, but simply because it is what Rome II could, no, should have been. This is a game without the bugs and glitches and the AI failures, with a slightly more complex gameplay whilst on the campaign map and a more responsive interaction whilst on the battle map. I’m enjoying it at the minute, and I’ve sunk about twenty hours into the game since it came out without any lapse in enjoyment, but I still can’t shake this nagging feeling that Attila is little more than an apology for Rome II. I mean, I enjoyed Rome II, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, whilst Attila is.

It’s probably just me, because I have held the franchise in such high-esteem over the years, but Rome II was a definite low and Attila is the subsequent raising of quality. I’m not blown away by the game, I’m not going to run around and tell people that they HAVE to play this game; it’s just an enjoyable experience, and a solid contribution to the franchise, but there isn’t really anything new about it. Then again, do I really want something new? Am I not simply attached to the Total War franchise by my love of previous titles; by my memory of leading hordes of Apaches into North America; by holding out against the Vandals with an increasingly meagre Goth force; by setting France on fire with a thousand English Longbowmen?

Attila is a good game, a solid game, and I will be sinking a lot more of my time into it over the coming weeks, but it isn’t incredible. It isn’t reinventing the paradigm or altering the Zeitgeist of the gaming world – anyway, it’s on the PC, so most people will probably wait for a Creative Assembly Humble Bundle appearance or a Steam Sale before picking the game up.

Brief Ramblings On… Total War: Attila

As I’ve only played the game for a few hours, just long enough to beat the prologue and play as the Danes for a very short while, this is only a first impression of the game – Be assured, I’ll be doing a complete Ramblings On once I’ve tried out a few other factions and just generally gotten a better feel for the game as a whole.

I had a very mild complaint with Total War: Rome 2 when it came out – if we ignore the bugs and the rocky launch and the somewhat inept AI – and that complaint was that it was, simply ‘too big’. I didn’t feel like I could really concentrate on any one aspect of it, because there was so much going on and factions I had never even met declaring war on me for no real reason. Although I enjoyed the game, it didn’t hold my attention for as long as the earlier iterations of the series did, even if we include the DLC campaigns and the free upgrade to the Imperator edition.

I was reticent about purchasing Attila, simply because I knew it would have the same aspects of Rome 2 that I didn’t like and, unfortunately, it has expanded on them. The politics system, for example, is essentially worthless – it isn’t a fun mechanic and it feels like it has been integrated for the sake of innovation.

One of the main changes that I’ve noticed, so far, are the changes to the General/Army ranking system, which has turned into a generalised skill tree rather than picking out different skills. Now, you can direct your armies and leaders down specific pathways depending on what attributes you want that army to possess, whether that be they are better at looting, raiding, sailing, or have more specific subsets of units, such as missile units, cavalry or melee infantry. Again, this doesn’t really feel like an improvement, but something that has been changed simply so that Creative Assembly can show that they have changed aspects of the game for a new release.

Obviously, the main change to the game’s mechanics are the way cities can be captured. Whereas, previously, there was the opportunity to either loot, occupy or raze a city – with each action resulting in a different outcome – these choices have become far more integral to the way you play the game. Now, you can completely raze a city, so that there is nothing besides the ruins of the city, and any faction can take the ruins over, so long as they have a hell of a lot of money to resettle the area. It does provide an interesting new mechanic, particularly in relation to the ‘new’ migration aspect of the campaign.

If I’m going to play as the Danish, I feel like I need to come up with some Sea Shanties. Something about blood and gold and spilling seed across the sea, sea, sea!

Clearly realising that some of the better innovations have been made before, Creative Assembly have leant heavily on the Barbarian Invasion expansion for the original Rome: Total War, and a sceptic (albeit an honest sceptic) could say that Attila is little more than a combination of this expansion and Rome 2.

Obviously, with such a wide, expansive game as Total War, I can’t decide on a definitive opinion after only a few hours playing the thing, but I am slightly disappointed with it at the moment. There is a nagging feeling that Total War: Attila didn’t need to be a stand-alone game and is, rather, the game that Rome II should have been.

Ramblings On… Elegy For A Dead World

Elegy For A Dead World

Developed by Dejobaan Games and Popcannibal Games
Published by Dejobaan Games
Available on Steam & The Humble Store
Released on December 10th 2014

When I came to start this ramble on Elegy For A Dead World, I felt unsure how to approach it. Whilst many games have been difficult and, in some occasions, downright impossible to ramble on in the same vein as other titles, Elegy is the only game for which there isn’t really either a story, a difficulty, or a gameplay mechanic upon which I can ramble.

Visually, one cannot argue that the game is stunning. Every shot looks more amazing than the last!

Firstly, the premise; you are an astronaut, trapped in something of a portal hub after a catastrophic space ship accident; each portal leading to an abandoned alien planet. These three worlds are supposedly inspired by Keats, Shelley and Byron, three of the most commonly read poets of the British Romantic movement. Once on these worlds, you are able to make your own notes in your own electronic journal about what you see and hear and, depending on the setting you choose can change which, or if any, writing prompts appear.

Of course, it is no small leap to dive straight into full-blown fiction but, with only a thousand characters per journal page, you are encouraged to keep your notations short.
This is, probably, because few people intend to read more than a few sentences per page and that is one of the major issues with this game.

Ostensibly, Elegy For A Dead World could probably be considered something of a social, if not a literary, experiment, and it is somewhat staggering to see how similarly many users interpret the same images – though many will use the writing prompts provided, imagining that they are trapped on an alien world, there is little to no variation in the scenarios they imagine.

If anything, there has been too much set up for such an experiment to work as well as it could do. If the player was, say, dropped into a Minecraftesque world, or another form of sandbox, i.e. DayZ, or even an alternative like Mount & Blade, with little in the way of explanation as to why they are there and the ability to actually create their own stories within the game, then the ability to write might be useful.

Essentially, the trouble with Elegy is that feels too constricted – Sure, you can write whatever you want on the freeform writing selection, but that isn’t really different than just writing without having to spend ten quid on the game itself. Eventually, with more worlds, or some kind of randomly generated world, the game might be amazing enough to stand on its own two feet, but it seems a little sparse at the minute.

Elegy For A Dead World is certainly a different approach to gaming – it judges your success at the game through the community’s reaction to your writing and the only three achievements to be unlocked are when a thousand people say that your writing is good on each of the three worlds.

And, don’t get me wrong, I like Elegy, I’m enjoying my first run-through of the worlds, I’m enjoying something a little different from the rest of my Steam Library, but I can’t help but feel it might be better suited if the ‘gameplay’ is not the main feature, but instead an additional component of another game.

Sure, being able to read other player’s journals and their stories is a cool idea, but when most user’s stories turn out the same as your own, the entire process becomes either: a kind of heightened narcissism, affirmation that you aren’t as creative as you think you are and certainly no more creative than anyone else, or a waste of time which could be spent writing wholly original work.

So, I had to force my ending into the few characters I had left, as the game would not allow me to add another page – I was a little irritated and, seeing as it was two o’clock in the morning, I really didn’t have the energy to think of a new one.

I would definitely recommend trying it, if only because it is so completely different than any other game I have ever played, and it is certainly one of the most innovative. Besides that, the settings are visually stunning, the first time you play, and the minute details to be found are incredible; until you notice them all. On my very first play through I used the free form writing selection – as I have continued to do – and it got to the point where the game wouldn’t let me add anymore pages in. I don’t know if that was because they were too close together or because I had written 25 pages, but it was annoying that I had to rush the ending into two hundred characters in place of the thousand I desired.

Anyway, be sure to check it out if you’re interesting in new concepts of game design, but unless new worlds are coming, don’t expect it to hold your attention for extensive periods of time.

Brief Ramblings On Total War: Attila announcement!

Today Creative Assembly announced the release of their next installation in the Total War series; Total War: Attila, and you can watch the announcement trailer here!

Now, I’m quite excited by this. It isn’t really an area of history I know much about, so a lot of it will be new to me. Of course, I know the basics of Mongolian history, Genghis Khan and his wars against China, but still, it is a period of time I know about Western history, over Eastern. I’m looking forward to it, with only a few niggling little doubts (which won’t stop me buying them game when it comes out, of course).

1.) After the rumours abounded of SEGA buying the rights to Dawn of War and the Warhammer 40k Universe franchise, I was part of the crowd which immediately thought ‘Dawn of War is a great franchise, Creative Assembly make fantastic games – yes, yes, oh please God, yes’. I may have built my own little hype train, modes of useless transportation I tend to avoid, and I’m having to deal with the disappointment that it won’t be Total War: Warhammer or Dawn of Total War or some clever combination of the two franchises.

‘Judging by the history books, Attila is really going to mess up the lovely Empire you spent all of Rome II building!’

2.) Total War: Attila is going to be a stand-alone game. Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, I mean, there are already three other DLC campaigns for Total War: Rome II, but I can’t help but think that Attila will not really need to be its own title. The mechanics aren’t going to change much, I can imagine, after the amount of time CA spent winning the audience around to the Army and Internal Politics systems, though I don’t think that they will transfer as well to a Mongolian Horde as they do to the heavily regimented authority of the Roman Legions; they even felt a little out of place on Gallic Tribes, so to constrain the vast majesty of Mongolian independence in such a way wouldn’t really do history any justice.

3.) Within seconds of the announcement reaching social media, I saw Attila compared to Total War: Rome’s Barbarian Invasion DLC, which managed to introduce the emigration/Horde mechanic amazingly well, to the point that fighting off thousands of Eastern Barbarians as a Roman Legion felt like an achievement, rather than a guaranteed victory. I’m not surprised this comparison has been drawn, and I would be even less surprised to see an updated version of this Horde mechanic within the game, but again, whilst under the constraints of the ‘Army’ system Rome II was so proud of, I can’t see how it would work out.

So, what am I expecting?

In short, the mechanics will remain largely the same, as they have over the course of Total War’s entire franchise history, but the Army system will vanish. They cannot place such a tightly-organised system on Attila’s Huns! It wouldn’t be fair to history and it wouldn’t be making the most out of such a rich area, to limit the ‘Barbarian Hordes’ in such a manner.

Ramblings On… Invisible Inc.

The door clicks open and the guard, resplendent in his white and black uniform, hits the floor before he even has chance to draw a breath. Banks steps over him, her trench coat opening a little about her knees, and glances at the camera. The light still flickers, it still pans the room in slow motions, the whir of a motor the only sound disturbing the room. Internationale knows what she is doing, a loop of old footage replayed for as long as they needed it.

Shalem follows her in, rifle held casually in long, pale hands. Deckard had vanished, no doubt into one of the many adjacent rooms from the corridor. Shalem nods at her, his thin lips twisting into a smile of approval at the shot. She ignored him, already moving towards the next door, crossing the tiles with quiet speed. Internationale steps in, kneeling beside the guard to rifle through his pockets. She knows better than to make her triumph audible, but she still waves a wallet and a pass card in the air, to attract Shalem’s attention.

He nods at her, and they follow Banks across the room. She is peeking through a doorway, the metal heavy in her hands as she peers into the darkness beyond. The red lights of sensors glitter evilly, and she fancies she can make out a pair of lights towards the back of the room, display cases for the Corporation’s treasures.

The sound of mechanical whirring reaches her and metal stabs at the floor a few inches from the doorway. The drone, shaped like a great insect with a blinking red light in place of a head, patrols past the doorway and comes to a stop directly behind it. She curses and settles back on her haunches; Deckard had the EMP and he was nowhere to be seen. Shalem and Internationale take their place on either side of the doorway into the corridor, and she lifts the guard’s arms to drag him over the smooth floor. She guesses they will just have to wait and hope Deckard didn’t get himself killed.

Klei have a proven track-record; unleashing such games as Shank, Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve. Early access is a thing I tend to approach with some consternation, that little blue box on the Steam Store so often acting as marker for games that are all but unplayable, games offering only the very basic of mechanics which are likely to be abandoned before a v.1.0 update is released. There are examples of the opposite being true, of course, and it is impossible to mention Early Access without the triumph that was Don’t Starve, the game getting bigger and bigger for the loyal fanbase over an acceptable period of time unlike, say, other Early Access titles (Dayz, cough, cough).

Them are some dapper-looking SoB’s right there!

I don’t have a problem trusting that Klei are going to continue with Invisible Inc; I would have been happy with the content it already contains. Let’s be honest, it isn’t like I am likely to ever finish the Story Mode; the game is so loin-tensingly hard that I haven’t been able to get past the second day out of three.

The only issue I have had with the game, that I hope to be fixed at some point, is the fact that full screen mode, on any resolution, cuts off large portions of the screen so that it is unplayable unless I use Windowed Mode, but that is not so great an issue as to detract from the enjoyment of the game, merely a minor annoyance.

Previously titled Incognita, Invisible Inc is a procedurally generated turn-based stealth strategy game (is there an acronym for that? One better than PGTBSSG anyway,) and it is both a Hell of a lot of fun and simultaneously makes you want to pull your hair out as you forget to put one of your operatives on overwatch and a invincible drone comes barging through the door.
Your team begins with two operatives, (two more can be unlocked when you gain enough experience from retiring your agency, which you should expect to do often,); Deckard, the most suspicious looking man in the world (think James Eldridge from Spaced, and you’ll know what I mean) and Internationale, a kind of cyber-punk who clearly took some fashion tips from David Bowie. The other two are Banks, a former bank robber who I like to imagine is only working with the Agency to keep herself out of prison, and Shalem 11, a gunman who looks like a sickly version George Orwell (so, just Orwell then, amiright?) I would expect other operatives to be added a later date, and I can’t really see a reason why some limited aesthetic customisation couldn’t be implemented, it isn’t like these characters have intricate backstories which are essential to the plot of the game. (it isn’t like there IS much of one.)

There are a hell of a lot of places you can visit and, thanks to the procedurally generated aspect, you can garauntee that no two areas will be the same.

They each have their own unique starting equipment, but they don’t really translate to much more than an aesthetic, as any operative can be given any equipment, so long as they have the necessary level in that skill. There are four skills, one for each of your operatives to specialise in, if you so choose; Stealth enables your character to move further in a turn, increasing the Action Points they possess, Hacking and Anarchy dictate which items your operatives can use and Inventory increases the amount of items they can carry, fairly basic stuff then, but it is the items which are the key between a successful mission and an ignominious defeat.

Weapons; from neural disruptors (Tazers) to dart guns and rifles, paralysing serums to be injected into the unconscious to make certain they stay down for a few extra turns, Medi-gel for the inevitable moment one of your operatives finds a bullet hole in their chest, EMPs, items to help with hacking or traps to place before unwary guards, the variety isn’t huge but it is varied enough to add an even deeper level of strategy to the game. You can also buy augmentations to add permanent upgrades to your operatives, such as giving them additional AP whenever they use an item, kill a guard or knock them unconscious.

The missions are, equally, varied enough to keep the game interesting. You can rescue operatives from detention centres (and they will join your team if you manage to get them out alive), vaults filled with lockboxes and cultural artefacts, building plans to open up additional mission and security centres to steal the priceless trophies of the Corporation. It would be nice if the game managed to implement a kind of ‘Freedom Fighters’ mechanic, where your actions in another area affect those in another. If taking out servers in one building could weaken the electronic defences in the next, or you could steal enough wealth that the Corporation has to employ a few less guards in the next building.

There are various corporations in the game, each with their own favourite type of unit, so that if you come up against certain ones, they will deploy drones and armoured sentries in place of the average guard. SENEKA, for example, favour floating cameras and Droideka-looking things which, when they’re armoured, are an absolute nightmare to deal with.

When you mess up, you mess up big. It’s good to get everyone a gun as early as you can. The unconscious wake up again; the dead don’t.

The game is simple, with no particular innovation over other examples of the genre, say, XCom, but it is addictive. It is hard, not Dark Souls hard, where one dies from the game’s terrible handling and awkward camera angling, but State of Decay hard, where the player’s operatives die because they leave it too late to leave the building and, eventually, trap themselves. Greed is the thing which will kill the most players in this game, God knows it’s already wiped me out enough, and therein lies the genius. I keep coming back to it, not because it’s new, not because it is particularly unique, but because I know every time I die it is my own fault and, as a tentatively self-titled Gamer, I can’t deal with the knowledge that this thing has beaten me.

I’m having fun with it but, honestly, I don’t know if it is the kind of game I will keep installed on my hard drive until judgement day, or if I’ll even play it again after I’ve managed to beat it. It is still in Early Access, so no doubt additional content will drag me back when it gets closer to completion, but it already feels like a mostly completed game and besides adding more variation to mechanics already implemented, I can’t see any major changes Klei are likely to make.

I’d recommend giving it a go, it is addictive and fun and often rage-inducing, for all that said rage is directed at yourself, and it’s worth the money simply for the refreshing challenge.

Ramblings On: Total War Rome II – Imperator Augustus

The guys over at Creative Assembly decided to upgrade everyone’s copy of Total War: Rome II (which you can read my review of here!) to the newly released Emperor edition (no doubt as an apology for the horrible state the game devolved into after it was released, with so many bugs that for many day one purchasers it was unplayable, as much as because they seem to care about their community) and in this upgrade came the brand new campaign Imperator Augustus.

They may have stuck to the way all the currency made him look, but Octavian (Augustus) is one weird-lookin’ dude. Think blonde Marilyn Manson, without the makeup.

As the name suggests, this campaign starts after the death of Julius Caesar at the hands of Brutus, Suetonius and other m     embers of the Senate and during the time of the Second Triumvirate breaking apart, when the Roman Empire was all but split between Octavian (Caesar’s heir until his son Ptolemy Caesarion reached adulthood, which he never did, incidentally) who would later take the title of Augustus, Mark Antony (a General of Caesar’s who took the second post as consul when he crossed the Rubicon) and Lepidus (another of Caesar’s supporters who takes something of a backseat to both Antony and Augustus in the history books).

Another of Caesar’s lackeys; this one didn’t have the sense of liberty to stab him up on the Ides of March. What? I’m not the only one on team Brutus, am I?
Yeah, I wouldn’t worry… I’d never heard of him before either.

Obviously, these are the three main factions, but they aren’t the only ones and, in fact, they are the ones which I believe hold the least amount of pleasure in playing as. For all that they are portrayed as the main players on the world stage (and for all that they are, according to history) there is little enjoyment to be found in subjugating weaker enemies and facing those who match your faction’s strength.

There are barbarian tribes, such as the Gallic, now firmly under Roman authority after the failed rebellion of Vercingetorix years before (a man I happen to believe was a great deal more interesting than Caesar but that’s another argument), the Iceni (the British) who are not owned by the Romans but, unless the island can be united they will not have the strength to repel a Roman invasion if, and when, it comes, amongst others.

Notice how Pompey doesn’t get a cool-looking poster? I guess that treatment is reserved for despicable power-crazy madmen.

I, however, decided not to play as the British for a change and, instead, chose the fourth Roman option. On the island of Sicily, Sextus Pompey, son of Caesar’s old enemy (and head in a jar) Gnaeus Pompey, holds the last hope for a Republican Rome over the Empire any of the other three would desire to create (Augustus in particular).

Once again, the writers of the game have positioned us on the side of Rome, but it is clear they EXPECT Augustus’ faction to be the one everybody clamours to play as, simply because it is the one which eventually took Rome and the semi-civilised world under its control. The cinematic focuses heavily on Augustus and Antony, not even mentioning either Lepidus or Pompey, and it is clearly attempting to paint Augustus as some kind of hero when, in fact, he was a power-hungry disciple of Caesar’s and little else. Antony, in comparison, is shown as some dark warlord illuminated by the fires of a burning city or lounging in an Egyptian palace with no interest in the good of Rome, so caught up is he in his affair with Cleopatra

.There is the usual bias towards Rome, with both the history books and the title of the game making it obvious why, but it is refreshing to see that the bias matters less when there are other Roman factions checking any one’s glorious conquest across the world. It will not be as easy for the player to take over the world now, but it is still a great deal simpler than if one was playing as the Gallic or the Parthians.

The world is as big as it ever was, but with more cities crammed in and less factions. At least it doesn’t take minutes for the AI’s turns anymore.

In the opening cinematic an advisor tells Octavian (Augustus) that ‘We don’t need more politicians, we need soldiers’ and this is odd in that politics seem to have become a great deal more important than they were in the Grand Campaign. Now it is important to keep other factions on your good side because, when you’re waging war with one of the greater Roman factions, even a small army in the rear can conquer cities whilst you’re forces are busy elsewhere. The added degree of difficulty has added a whole new challenge to a game which I had begun to find a little stale, when I could know that this faction would betray our non-aggression pact when I did this or that.

The politics don’t just end there either, the internal politics of your faction seem to take on a more pronounced threat, with situation arriving with greater expedience than otherwise; every other turn unveils some new political crises the player needs to deal with in order to maintain their political faction’s authority over their own faction. Now general can pick up traits simply from waiting around, laziness and abstinence, swearing and over-drinking all making them less popular the longer they remain in a city and less effective in battle; leaving an army to rot in defence of a city can no mean, not only a wasted force, but eventually a useless general.

Politics is a bloody, bloody business; be prepared to play dirty against your own faction!

The starting technologies, and buildings in the cities you own, offer a much quicker start than the Grand Campaign. Whereas the player would have to wait several turns before being able to recruit any units which allow legitimate strategy, they can now be recruited almost from the get-go, cavalry, siege weapons and animals all appearing quicker than they did in the Grand Campaign.

In a way, the Free-LC feels like an answer to Rome Total War’s Barbarian Invasion expansion pack, which dealt with the end of the Roman Empire as this does with the end of a Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire.

The gameplay hasn’t changed from the Grand Campaign, but the whole thing feels a little tighter, a little more exciting; like the player has to think on their feet a little more than the slow build up the Grand Campaign offered. Whilst the idiom ‘breathing life into an old game’ could apply here, it isn’t like the game is particularly old, but I certainly felt it required ‘breathing life into’. The other DLC campaigns inspired me not at all, but for some reason Imperator Augustus has me playing again.

I’d definitely recommend revisiting the game, and if you haven’t bought it yet, you should! I still love the game, and Imperator is just another, more exciting, way of experiencing Total War. Fighting off a legion of Romans with a much smaller force is amazing, but managing to win when playing as a barbarian army genuinely feels like an achievement, and I am close to making that little ‘bleep-bloop’ noise every time I repulse those Latin b*stards from my otherwise peaceful little shores.

Ramblings On… Actual Sunlight

‘Take a walk on the thin line between hope and despair in Actual Sunlight: A short interactive story about love, depression and the corporation.’ Created using RPG Maker, Will O’Neil’s Actual Sunlight is the gaming world’s answer to Literary Fiction.

‘I guess it was the first time that I realised that you could just get dealt a shitty hand. That there could be something wrong with you, and that no matter what, you would never be able to do anything about it.

Will O’Neil – Actual Sunlight

I had intended, when I first began to play Actual Sunlight, to join in that crowd who will proclaim, on internet forums unread save for the same few pairs of eyes over and over again until they all end up staring at each other around one of their number’s grave, that this is not a game. I had intended to call it a treatise on something beautiful, on the terrible reality of humanity. The very first text I saw was ‘Why Kill Yourself Today, When You Can Masturbate Tomorrow’ and I knew then exactly what this programme was.

I had barely played for ten minutes when I came to the realisation, as I did with The Stanley Parable and Gone Home; that at no point was I really playing a game. And then the writer, Will O’Neil, left a message in one of the faceless characters on the street:

‘This game is not a game: It’s a portrait.’


‘I’ve created it to document something that I think is human and beautiful and real, and if you appreciate that, great – that’s what art is.’

I came to dread, very quickly, whenever the screen went black and that white text spit across the screen in jarring episodes, each one brought on by my own application of pressure to the Enter key. I dreaded it, with the obscure fascination one applies to honesty. I dreaded it like one doesn’t want to know what happens on the next page of 1984, the threat of discovery a consistent trend throughout the narrative. I dreaded it as though the very text I was reading was seditious, that it spoke out against a system we all knew to exist, and yet had refused to realise.

It has captured the loneliness of the modern man, the ageing, overweight business man that seems to form the core of civilisation. It takes the pretentiousness of writers dealing with topics that they cannot begin to wrap their minds around, though they might believe they do. It provides arguments against itself, often says how lucky Evan Winter is to have this life, providing examples of immigrants and crippled old men working for minimum wage, whilst he has shelter, food, warmth and entertainment. In a way, it says that this is the beauty of humanity, if not one of our major attributes; that we can be jealous of those who have less, that we can consider any life to be better than the one within which we live, that we, alone of all evolution, have the ability to hate ourselves with such fervent apathy, with such dull passion.


The project is littered with paragraphs and phrases that could easily be attributed to some great literary mind of the past, Albert Camus, George Orwell or Alain Robbe-Grillet, if any of them were thrust into the modern era and experienced a lifetime in a few condensed moments. It is obvious that this is the product of a mastermind, though I cannot offer the pretence of understanding the creator, simply from this project.

This is the game I wish Always Sometimes Monsters had been. Occasionally, of course, if one could get past the cast of irritating characters, capitalist obsession with money and irrelevant activities you endure along the way, ASM had glimpses of this game. It focused, less on making the player uncomfortable, with knowledge of their own worthlessness, but instead on the fact that ‘none of this is your fault’, that the character was that way because of extenuating circumstances, because he helped his friends and dealt with bastards. Evan Winter is, instead, who he is because that is who he is. He is, as the project describes in its final moments, an Impossible Man.

The only way I could accurately relate to you the skill involved in the creation of this program, the style of language used in every black-screened celebration of life, if not its misery, would be to make some poor attempt to recreate the entire experience myself, using Will O’Neil writing. If you only ever read one modern book, one example of literary fiction originating in what we understand as the modern world, then abandon the pages of Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling, ignore the drivel of E.L. James and John Green and, instead, turn to the innate honesty of Actual Sunlight.