In an ancient world shaped by legendary figures, political backstabbing machinations, and sheer brutality, Total War: Attila effortlessly captures it all, placing players in a portal that takes you back in time to make your mark on history yet again in the ninth standalone game in the series.

Set in 395 AD, Attila takes place during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the early Dark Ages where the brutal nomadic raiders from the steppes if Central Asia have come to watch your world burn, for the “scourge of Rome” has arrived.

Combining turn-based strategy with real-time tactics, players can either choose to play as Rome and attempt to hold off its inevitable end, or play as one of her many enemies and carve out a bit of its empire for yourself.

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Old meets new… with a twist

All the aspects you loved about earlier Total War entries are still here: empire building on a grand scale with massive real-time battles, making allies and enemies, governing vast populations through kindness or sheer force, fighting battles on both land and sea, and engaging in politics, which has been heightened to an all-new scale. But the refreshing twist with Attila that helps the game stand out amongst its many predecessors comes with the game’s new survival take on strategy games.

For most factions in the game, it’s not about conquering the known world with brute force, building and capturing cities as you go across Europe, it’s about how long you can survive. The game hammers the statement “do you have what it takes to survive” into your mind from the very first turn. While the game’s title character won’t become the leader of the Huns for some time when you first begin your campaign, players will have a handful of other problems to address right from the get-go.

This is a time when life was transformed by climate change and the mass migration of entire peoples ravaged by the nomadic warriors from the steppes, who pushed them further south and ever so closer to Roman lands. The winters grew not only colder, but longer as well, drastically affecting crops and food supply. Players will be confronted early on with how to balance out food sources and squalor levels to avoid both starvation and sanitary problems. The fertility level of the land will also come in to play, which proceeds to drop as your campaign stretches on. From the moment you press start, be ready for a seemingly never-ending cycle of frustration thanks to the ingenious strategic systems put in place by Creative Assembly.

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Experienced Total War players have a lot more to learn than one might expect

While for many of the series’ veteran players the idea of just jumping into the game would be tempting, you’d be in for more than just a few shocking surprises. Many of the series’ core mechanics and existing features have been tweaked or changed, which may take some time getting accustomed to. And be ready to lose settlements… Lots of them… The idea of expansion and branching outwards has been flipped and the key focus has been placed on domestic affairs.

One of the biggest changes you’ll need to worry about is sanitation levels. Whereas before, building and upgrading settlements meant balancing out your food supply, Attila focuses more on balancing out a region’s sanitation levels. Different buildings lead to more town squalor, which leads to an increased chance of disease breaking out. While public order penalties and food management is present, their roles have been significantly reduced when it comes to building projects.

Food comes into play in compliance to the game’s new fertility level system. Every province in the game has a base fertility level, which will suffer climate penalties as your campaign stretches on. Net fertility levels will drastically affect how much food your empire has, and if you have a negative surplus, attrition and public order penalties will begin to engulf your nation. Certain food buildings are tailored to the fertility level, such as plus 40 food per level. So if the level is 3 for instance, that’s a bonus of 120 food.

Other provincial and city mechanics such as edicts have been changed by requiring a governor to be present. And through the skill tree system, Governors can also add public order and food benefits, reduce construction costs, increase wealth generated by commerce buildings, and so on. They’ll also personally lead their settlement’s garrison on the battlefield should the city be attacked or besieged.

The political system has been revamped as well in Attila from past Total War entries, with a heavy influence placed upon your family tree. Notably absent from Rome 2, the family tree mechanic allows players to set their faction heir, marry or divorce certain members, embezzle funds for your cause or rally support for one another. Male characters can be placed as governors and set in office, the latter of which provides certain military and construction benefits such as reduced upkeep costs for troops.

Your family’s overall power over your empire can lead to either positive or negative effects. This is determined by two factors: control and dominion. Your control can be hard to attain and is the relationship between you and the other ruling elites in the senate if you play as one of the Roman factions. Dominion is your control over the people, which is determined by your family’s influence. Influence can be gained on the battlefield or through political accolades attained through office or governorship. It can be spent as well on different political matters such as securing the loyalty of other members, carrying out assassinations, and so forth.

If the loyalty of a member within your empire drops to zero, a civil war will ensue and they’ll take whatever army or city they were governing/commanding with them. An army could also revolt should their integrity drop too far.

Another neat feature Attila brings to the table are the new horde mechanics for Barbarian and Horde factions to represent the massive, transcontinental migrations of the era. Hordes don’t have to occupy cities if they don’t want to and can choose to encamp themselves. Once encamped, they can upgrade buildings to bolster their economy, improve food production, expanding recruiting options, etc. The idea is that these hordes are looking for more fertile land to settle in, and once they find the most ideal place for them, they’ll settle down in their newly conquered city.

While they’re in horde mode though, whenever they attack a settlement, they can choose to raze the town or city which will give them a sizable sum, but wipe the settlement from the map. Should anyone want to claim the area from then on, they would need to pay a hefty price to recolonize the area and spend many turns rebuilding the settlement to its former glory. The defenders could choose to abandon the settlement however if they don’t think they could defend it, which would add a large amount to their treasury, but this also wipes the area from the campaign map and creates temporary public order problems for those who abandoned the settlement across their empire.

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The battle system has been reworked too

Perhaps the biggest change in the battle system for Total War games in Attila is the new siege escalation feature. The game encourages players to besiege a city or settlement for multiple turns, stretching the battle on for many years until it reaches its conclusion. The longer a settlement is besieged, the worse its condition becomes. Walls will have crumbled in certain parts of the city, towers will have been destroyed, and parts of the town may have been destroyed by fire.

Ignoring the siege escalation feature and attacking with any artillery equipment could prove disastrous for your army since buildings such as towers can wreak havoc on your forces. City capture points are more of a guidance system too, but one the defenders will want to take serious note of. Each point provides a significant moral bonus to whoever holds it and could quickly turn the tide of battle should one side gain the upper-hand by controlling more and more of the city. Certain units such as raiders will also have boosts to capturing areas of the map such as gatehouses and towers in a more timely efficient way. Camping in the center of the settlement is no longer an advisable strategy.

The pacing of battles has also seen an extensive overhaul in Attila. Fatigue is much more dynamic and running your troops around the battle map will cause them to tire much more quickly than before. If you give them time to rest however, their energy will recover at a much quicker rate. Cycling troops in and out of the fight based on their fatigue level could drastically alter the course of the battle.

Another key change to the battle pacing is tied to unit morale levels, which is now much more sensitive than ever before. If a stronger opponent attacks them or they’re rear charged by a cavalry unit, they’ll break much more quickly. On the other-hand, units also rally much more easily than before, which is largely dependent on how many troops are still left in the unit. A general’s role is much more prominent too since he brings an army-wide moral boost meaning should he fall, the entire army will suffer from a huge moral penalty.

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The verdict

Total War: Attila is the most refreshing entry in the Total War series since Empire: Total War launched back in 2009. This is Total War and RTS games at their finest hour. The entire dynamic at which you play the game as been changed from an emphasis on empire building to survival. Seeing the Huns show up at one your settlements can be a terrifying experience to behold and adjusting to the new battle pacing of Attila was a fun task. And with the return of the family tree and a much more intricate provincial & political management system to tinker with, Attila is bound to keep players glued to their computer screens for hundreds of hours.