The longevity of the Total War series is always one to admire, with developers Creative Assembly and Sega always looking to build on solid foundations and give players what they want. With the reveal of Total War: Pharaoh, the team is making some big changes to how players will fight their wars in ancient Egypt, and based on our time spent in several battles, there is much to dig into.
With so much history to take inspiration from, the Bronze Age Collapse felt particularly enticing to the Creative Assembly team, both for its historical significance as well as what that would mean for the players in Total War: Pharaoh.
“For a long time, we’ve been thinking about bringing the Bronze Age to the Total War historical series, because it’s such an interesting time filled with great empires from history,” shared Maya Georgieva, Creative Director. “The Bronze Age collapse is particularly suitable for Total War, because Total War thrives in times of crisis, where every survivor hinges on the balance, and everybody can fight against everybody else.”
With the three main factions of Egypt, Canaan, and Hittite and their leaders being part of the mix, together with the invading Sea People, it is indeed a ripe period for managing a kingdom while fighting off any would-be pretenders to the crown. To build an empire, hands must get dirty, and it made perfect sense for our early preview to focus solely on the improved battle simulation in Total War: Pharaoh.
The gameplay certainly looks familiar at first glance, with large armies being positioned to take advantage of the terrain and army composition, but therein lies a greater emphasis on a more realistic simulation that is both dynamic and engaging. That meant a number of changes had to be made.
“One of the main things that we did for Total War: Pharaoh is that we actually slow down the pace of the battles quite a lot, which allows for the players to not have this very quick micromanagement of units,” shared Milcho Vasilev, Lead Battle Designer. “It is going to be much more important on the tactical decisions that the players are making on how to best utilise the terrain, best utilise their strengths and their own troops compared to the enemies and make those tactical decisions that matter the most in the game.”
The less frantic nature of the proceedings makes it easier for new players to ease themselves in, and for veteran leaders, the added layers of other features like armour degradation, combat stances, and weather and terrain effects help to create even more meaningful encounters.
“The good news here is that the details are natural, and something intuitive and logical. It’s something you would expect in real life, so if you immerse yourself and just play the game, it should all make sense,” added Georgieva.
And indeed it proves to be, as prolonged battles in Total War: Pharaoh becomes more involved affairs as troops tire themselves out, leaving it possible for rousing comebacks or crushing defeat at the hands of a smarter foe. Stances like being able to move backwards without exposing the backs of a unit made it easier to defend chokepoints and can lay the groundwork for future flanking manoeuvres against an eager opponent without risking the loss of a contingent.
More impressive is the dynamic weather and terrain, with Mother Nature doing her best to affect proceedings in, once again, a logical fashion. Thunderstorms can render ranged combat an ineffective solution, while sandstorms and the like can reduce visibility to make stealth more viable. Land that becomes muddy can stop heavier units in their tracks, and it becomes clear strategic positioning has never been more important in the series than in Total War: Pharaoh.
Whatever advantages players can leverage apply to the enemy AI as well, so it remains to be seen just how well players will adapt to these changing conditions during the course of a campaign. As Vasilev shared, “out of all the Total War games, this is the one that terrain, weather manoeuvring around the battlefield, those are going to have the most importance for you to win the battle.”
The tweaks are also not just limited to battles happening out in the plains or hills, but also when it comes to sieges and settlement conflicts. Gone are the so-called pocket ladders that were prevalent in previous games, now, players have to build the actual ladders and assign them to enable units to get up high over walls. With no siege weapons like catapults or trebuchets, other tactics are required. You could undermine fortifications to make them crumble and open up a path for your troops, or use fire to smoke the defenders out.
“We’ve changed a bit how victory points work. Now, the major settlements have three victory points, each of them offering some sort of benefit to the defenders. So they need to kind of keep them in order to try and win to keep the settlement,” explained Vasilev about such battles in Total War: Pharaoh.
“But the attackers no longer need to capture all of them at the same time. Even holding some of them for a little bit would make sure that the settlement goes to them. So the defender can no longer choke up on a single spot in the settlement and wait for the enemies to come to them. They need to actively try and keep the enemies out of the settlement.”
There are always costs involved, especially if you end up taking over a city that has been burned down, and these are the decisions players will have to make during any conquest. Nothing tests a true ruler more than all of these important decisions that could easily turn success into failure.
The new changes to how combat unfolds have certainly gotten us more excited for the coming of Total War: Pharaoh. Yet, there is still much to learn about the game, especially when it comes to the city and empire management portions of the experience. But for now, at least we know that when there is a need for force, having a plan and the smarts will always count for something.
Total War: Pharaoh is set for an October 2023 release.