Ranking the Total War games from worst to best

Ohhh man. This is what I live for.

Ohhh man. This is what I live for.

*Note: List doesn’t include Britannia .I haven’t played through the game yet, so therefore it would be unfair of me to include it in this list.

It’s Saturday, 11am. You’ve just polished off the leftover pizza in the refrigerator and knocked out 3 episodes of Bojack Horseman. Cracking your knuckles you think enough of the day has passed to respectably sit down in front of your PC and spend the next few hours playing a video game. I mean, you don’t want to be one of those ridiculous gamers with no life that waste their entire weekend playing in virtual worlds, right?

You look up, it’s 12:30. Wow, how awesome is this, you’re having the time of your life playing a really great game and you’ve got so much more time to play it before you have to leave for your friend’s party tonight.

You look up again, it’s 5:30. You don’t think you’ll make it to the party. Best to text them and tell them you’re sick. Looking up again you notice it’s midnight. Your eyes are heavy and the sweat has accumulated on your back so much that you have to wrench yourself off your faux leather office chair with a spatula.

Just another hour.

Or two.

If this sounds familiar, more than likely you probably own a Total War game - one of most endearing “grown up” PC franchises available. Combining the roles of General, Minister, King and Spiritual leader

Here are all the Total War games (no add ons or DLC) ranked from worst to best:

11.  Shogun: Total War


I’ll get some boos for this one, I know that. However it should be noted that I don’t want to confuse pedigree with enjoyability. While this game may have been somewhat mind blowing at the turn of the Willenium (rock the caaaaasbah, rooooock the caaasbah), it barely scratched the surface when it came to replay-ability. It’s one great downfall is the setting; set in Japan during the Sengoku period, one clan unfortunately became essentially the same as the other, with no real discernable tech tree. That’s why it takes the bottom spot, not for its lack of creative ingenuity, but because quite simply the game itself isn’t set up to make you a slave to its own existence. Of all the titles, it’s the game that I’ve sunk the least amount of hours into.

Pros: Kickstarted the series. 3D rendered RTS was a revelation in 2000.
Cons: Limited enemies. Little variation in troop types. Didn’t really feel grand enough.

10. Napoleon: Total War


Napoleon, like Attila (the games, not the historical figures), didn’t particularly bring anything new to the party, besides changing the outfits of the in-combat 3D sprites. It has to be noted that Empire: Total War is definitively one of the top 5 Total War games ever produced, but slapping on some new uniforms and re-skinning the cannons is the same in my mind as throwing a hat on Malibu Stacy and expecting children to lose their minds over it. There were some improvements in range and some added battlefield effects, but honestly, if Napoleon: Total War disappeared forever I probably wouldn’t shed a tear.

Pros: The Napoleonic era is rad. Really nice battlefield effects
Cons: Napoleonic warfare deserves something more than just a re-skinning of Empire: Total War. Silly campaign time limits

09. Total War: Attila


Look, right off the bat I have to say that this game is gorgeous. The period models are rendered so wonderfully and combat is genuinely rad. However just like Napoleon: Total War, Attila was nothing more than a glorified expansion and suffered the same fate as all the games that came before it on this list – a lack of replay-ability. With little to no depth when it comes to empire building, as a player I’ve really got no reason to come back. Before you say anything, I’m aware the aim with this game was to recreate and modernize the Barbarian Invasion expansion for Rome: Total War, but that doesn’t mean that it really hits the same mark. A beautiful game it may be, there’s only so much of doing the same thing over and over before it gets boring.

Pros: Slight enhancements to Rome II. Great combat units.
Cons: Meh. Doesn’t build a desire to play it more than once.

08. Total War: Warhammer II


I’ve got some words to say about the first Total War: Warhammer instalment later on, so without stealing my own thunder the only thing I can add to this dialogue is the fact that the game, really, is just more of the same. While definitely still a great game, it’s just Warhammer I with a different map.

Pros: Warhammer!!!!
Cons: Same old.

07. Total War: Shogun 2


 I’m sure there are plenty of people that would put this game further up the list and there are definitely lots of really points of this game. I’ve put it at number 7 because although it attempts to bring in some of the complexities of Empire: Total War into the Shogun campaign map, inevitably the game suffers the same fate as the first Shogun title. The combat is a wonderful synthesis of the fluid hand to hand styles of Medieval II and the graphic updates of Empire, but the lack of different historical combat units means the game’s tech tree revolves around upgrading basic units and trade or cultural improvements. I mean, variety is the spice of life and here in the world of Shogun 2, there’s little to no variety. That isn’t to say this is a bad game (although siege combat in Shogun 2 is thoroughly unenjoyable and feels like an afterthought), the impression I get while playing is that it’s nothing more than a stripped back version of Empire: Total War.

Pros: Vast improvement on the original. Espionage feels important in comparison to other TW titles.
Cons: Little variety in units. Simplistic color palettes.

06. Total War: Warhammer


Initially I didn’t hold much hope for this game, but it really didn’t take long for me to become pretty engrossed and pull out old issues of White Dwarf to flip through and fanboy-out over. While it’s definitely not the hardest of all the games in the TW stable, the obligatory Golden Horde/Mongol undefeatable enemy scenario ups the ante for the campaign a million fold and beating back the hordes of Chaos becomes one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. One issue I’ve always had with the Mongol/Timurid horde factions is knowing in advance when the enemy is coming. Each successive playthrough is slightly diminished by the knowledge you’ll need to shore up defences and finish any minor skirmishes before the factions emerge. In Medieval II this lead to the Timurids being an easy challenge – all you had to do was capture major cities like Antioch, put an emphasis on wall building, stock the city full of spearman and then target elephants with flaming arrows to make them rout and go crazy. This time around however the Chaos hordes feel a little different. There’s no distinct advantage to playing defensively and breaking them against your walls, because the more time they spend strutting around the campaign map the deeper the taint of chaos spreads through your faction. The unit models are gorgeous, the map is wonderful and the addition of magic ended up working a lot better than I thought it would. In all, while it will be disregarded by the TW purists as being ‘non historical’, it’s proven itself to be an exceptional addition to the franchise. Some factions however are pretty boring to play: The Vampire counts and Bretonnia are positioned on the map so they never have any real chance of completing their long campaign goals, usually leaving the player to throw valuable resources into campaigns that never really go anywhere on the map. In all though it sets a great precedent and shows that the TW model can be applied to even more exciting fantasy franchises in the future.

Pros: Incredibly unique unit types. Magic and personalized hero weapons. Gorgeous map and units.
Cons:  Repetitive campaign. Smaller map in compassion to other games like Empire. DLC factions.

05. Total War: Rome II


Of all the total war sequels this was definitely the one I was excited about the most. The Rome: Total War pedigree is outstanding, so to say this game had big boots to fill would be the understatement of the century. While it certainly didn’t tick all the same boxes as its older sibling, the addition of boat landings into the ground battle maps and the vast, I mean, vast update to combat is worth the price of admission alone. I think it’s fair to say that I spent the most time in Rome II of all the TW games just zooming in and watching the individual soldiers batter and slice at each other in melee. Of course the beauty of Rome II is that the pacing of combat actually allows this to happen, with other games (except Medieval and Empire, mentioned later) treating melee combat like it’s bank robbery; get in, get it done, get out quick. Rome II recognizes that melee combat is more than just a necessity for conquering the main campaign map, it’s also a cinematic experience too. The game has some major flaws however: the ‘ancient’ styled troop-type counters on the campaign map may fit the Roman and Greek aesthetic of the game, but most of the time they’re absolutely indecipherable. Seriously, half the time I don’t know what my armies are composed of. Secondly, I didn’t think it was possible to make AI controlled missile cavalry units any more annoying than they have been in previous games, yet somehow, they’ve done it! That’s quite an accomplishment.

Pros: Great map. Cool generals. Amazing time period.
Cons: Annoying campaign. Doesn’t feel as grand as the original.

04. Medieval II: Total War


In 2006 I got a new computer and this was the first game I played on it. I still remember the first mission when playing as the English faction: capturing a city. I watched my men marching up a street and sawing their way through a group of peasants that were defending a town square. I giggled with glee at the amazing new unit animations and couldn’t believe how much of an improvement the game was over Rome and Medieval. I was in love. And I think everyone else reading this feels exactly the same way. There isn’t much else to say except the DLC /Add-ons were the BEST of any TW game; the Native American campaign was amazing, the Britannia map was incredibly fun and the Crusades add-on was complex and well designed. The only let down was the exceptionally boring Teutonic campaign.

Pros: Excellent character models. Exceptionally complex. The best DLC’s of all TW games.
Cons: The Mongol horde was incredibly one-dimensional and easy to defeat. The plague, oh god the plague.

03. Medieval: Total War


I don’t like to assume anything. As we know, assuming makes an ass out of you and me. I realize how silly it seems to WRITE out that idiom, primarily because it only works audibly, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Medieval: Total War was most people’s first foray into the Total War franchise. The graphics may seem a little hokey in 2018, and truth be told looking back I can’t believe how much of the artwork was blurred or pixelated, but its incredible depth and historical accuracy made the game one of the most endearing Total War games ever made. Haunting music, an awesome medieval aesthetic and the inevitable Sophie’s choice of risking ex-communication by expanding territory or upholding your Catholic duties and doing nothing instantly put this game light years ahead of all the ones before it. It was a game of TOUGH decisions where marriages felt useful and actually moved you towards completing your campaign objectives instead of being an oddity or quirk of the gameplay. Interestingly, while some events were calendar driven (such as the plague, the Crusades or the Mongol invasion) that didn’t seem to have an effect on replay-ability. While you knew ahead of time these events were coming, the impact of them was usually so severe that it simply enhanced the challenge factor of the overall campaign; they weren’t annoyances, they were genuine obstacles to overcome. In all, M:TW will stand the test of time by being the entry that provided the blueprint for all TW games that came after. For that we are eternally grateful.

Pros: Excellent music. Useful diplomacy. Great maps.
Cons: Lining up trade vessels to create trade routes is unbelievably annoying. Boo.

02. Rome: Total War


While Medieval: Total War was the audience’s “in” to the Total War franchise, it was R:TW that took it to the next level and launched the fandom into the stratosphere. The 2D sprites evolved into detailed 3D models and everything from the campaign map to the battle screen was completely overhauled. In all its penchant for endless playability comes from players like myself learning the intricacies of the game through endless repetition. You see, like a group of Dothraki women sitting and discussing what is accepted fact and what is supposition, when it comes to saying that R:TW had quirks, well, “It is known”. For instance, playing as ANY faction outside of Rome meant removing the Roman factions out of the game early, otherwise the inevitable future war destroys your trade and empties your coffers. The same goes for Egypt, who would send wave after wave of Nubian spearman crashing against your armies without any apparent effect on their economy. Also cities became infinitely defendable once you realise that it’s easier to just pull your soldiers into the town square and let exhaustion and constant arrow fire wear down enemy attackers. Using this tactic, only a handful of units could survive multiple city sieges. There were other little quirks too: Hoplite and Phalanx units could block city streets, turning them into cavalry slaughter houses and AI horses and elephants would instantly charge through a broken city gate, regardless of how many soldiers with spears sat on the other side of it. However it’s these little foibles that made the game so wonderful. It gave R;TW so much character and did nothing but make it infinitely playable.

Pros: Amazing campaign map. Accurate factions. Introduced elephants.
Cons: Rebel units served little purpose and posed little to no challenge.

01. Empire: Total War


I must admit, the first time I played E:TW I wasn’t convinced. In fact it sat on my PC for months unplayed while I went back and relived glory in older games like Medieval II and Half-Life 2. It all seemed so overwhelming at first: micromanaging towns, establishing trade routes in multiple theatres, naval combat. Ughh. But little by little I came to appreciate the game in ways that no other TW game could be appreciated. In essence E:TW is a game that understands the enjoyment of watching battle. While soldiers in pantaloons and tight shirts dug in and lobbed musket fire at each other, as a player you had a chance to sit back and properly play general. You see the game seems to understand that battles shouldn't be done and dusted quickly, they should be enjoyed with a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits. What it lacked in troop diversity it made up with in tactics. Even the campaign screen became extra tactical, I can’t count how many evenings I jumped into bed with my brain buzzing, thinking about extended expeditions to India, the Americas or North Africa. I lived and breathed my empire, it was part of me and every move I made was more calculated than any move made in any TW game before or since. In fact, I might even dust it off and give it a crack right now.

Pros: Massive campaign map across multiple theatres. Trade felt organic. Replaced cities with ever-expanding towns.
Cons: Naval combat, while novel, still wasn’t perfected. Guarding trade ships was almost impossible.

- Andrew Archer