Geek Review - Total War Pharaoh

Geek Review – Total War: Pharaoh

There is a sense of apprehension when approaching Creative Assembly Sofia and Sega’s latest turn-based strategy extravaganza, Total War: Pharaoh. With a hyperfocus on historical warfare and era, the team had their work cut out for them when it came to crafting an engaging combat system representative of the time period but thankfully, that shortcoming is well compensated by the comprehensiveness of its overarching campaign, and the deep strategy involved on the sandy dunes of Egypt.

The Late Bronze Age in 1200 BC is certainly ripe for political manoeuvring and daring military gambits, as the Pharaoh Merneptah attempts to hold onto his power while rising powers plot to take advantage of a power vacuum. Players stepping into the breach will assume the role of either Egyptian, Canaanite, or Hittite factions and attempt to carve their names onto monuments for the future.

As with all Total War games, Pharaoh tasks the player with achieving dominion over the entirety of the world. Yet, within this goal lies several exciting layers of gameplay opportunities that can be exploited by the wily, and used against the unprepared in equal measure. 

For starters, the potential crowning of a new Pharaoh begins as early as the first 20 turns, when players can decide how to fully use the Power of the Crown, leading them down the path of either becoming the bonafide Egyptian Pharaoh or ascending to become the Great King of Hatti. Either choice comes with its own sets of pros and cons, but the similarity is that it ignites an all-out civil war that takes no prisoners. 

Geek Review - Total War: Pharaoh

Even if you choose to be a bystander, it doesn’t take long for conflict to knock on the walls of your borders. Should the window arise for a stake to the crown, players will compete against all other vying leaders to accrue Legitimacy, representing the influence and power you will wield as ruler. Naturally, this means winning fights against others, conquering lands, ensuring infrastructure is up to par, and even manipulating court matters to your advantage.

This speeds things up tremendously and, in some ways, forces players to be more active than trying to turtle their way to victory. Early audacious decisions can pay off handsomely, but even in failure, there is still every chance to turn things around, as becoming Pharaoh is only the beginning of the end. Putting a target on your back means constantly having to worry about usurpers and conniving subjects, which creates a different kind of experience than being one of those subjects scheming for victory.

That comes in the form of endearing yourself to the Pharaoh’s court, either in a position of power like being the Grand Vizier, or just cosying up to these individuals in the hope of currying favour when it counts. Assuming such significant roles bring excellent benefits like constant resources and actions that can eliminate threats preemptively, but smart leaders can also access these abilities with a good enough relationship that can be built up over time.

Whether it’s open conflict or clashing knives in the back, there is no escaping the strife that will soon envelop Egypt, and Total War: Pharaoh masterfully represents the collapse of society with its Pillars of Civilization system. As more pivotal lands and structures get damaged, the entire game world gets plunged into chaos. A darker mood takes hold both visually and in gameplay, as the Sea People start invading with entire fleets, bringing death and destruction to all along the Nile. 

Trying to keep control of everything becomes even harder, and the game’s take on resource management helps to add another layer of tactical complexity to the proceedings. Mining enough gold, bronze, and stone in peaceful times can already be testing, but to do so during open hostilities elevates the challenge even more. Here’s hoping you made some good friends over the years and can engage in meaningful trading and bartering when supplies run too low.

The logistics involved are something everyone has to contend with, but there are ways to help prepare for the inevitable. Outposts can be built at specific points within territories, allowing for various benefits like increased favour with deities or garrisons that can be helpful in supporting a nearby city. Armies are also able to be granted temporary bonuses when visiting one, turning an otherwise arduous march across the sands into something more manageable with boons like increased movement range and lower upkeep. 

Geek Review - Total War: Pharaoh

It becomes clear that becoming Pharaoh and keeping things running takes more than an iron fist in this Total War experience. Throw in other mechanics like religion and milestone bonuses, and it can descend into an overwhelming deluge of things to deal with, more so compared to the other recent entries in the franchise. The taste for conquest is an acquired one in this case.

The state of things isn’t helped by the actual battles in Total War: Pharaoh, which are more than functional but are ultimately the weakest link in this rising empire. While the addition of dynamic weather conditions and varied environments make for more unique engagements than to be expected, especially with the added tactical element of using weather as a weapon, the armies themselves leave much to be desired.

This is an unfortunate manifestation of following history accurately, which isn’t a wrong move to make. However, there are only so many variants of melee and ranged units to build an army with before things get a little stale, with factions only having slight differentiations from time to time. This malaise extends to the leaders available to choose from as well, with dour personalities failing to elicit the right kind of emotional investment in their rise and fall. Even if the world is barrelling down a bad path, having a charismatic leader can make a whole load of difference; alas, that is not to be.

Geek Review - Total War: Pharaoh

As a whole, Total War: Pharaoh is more than a capable entry into a storied franchise, with the grand strategy elements much more intriguing than before. While it fails to match up in bloody battles when compared to Warhammer or Three Kingdoms, everything else maintains that level of quality that fans know and love. Just like entering a new age, the game is still in its nascent days, and it has plenty of room to capitalise on its potential, we can only hope that’s the case in the coming days.

Total War: Pharaoh is available on Steam for $54.90.



Both helped and hindered by history, Total War: Pharaoh sacrifices battle fun for a more in-depth and strategic campaign experience.

  • Gameplay - 8/10
  • Story - 8/10
  • Presentation - 8.5/10
  • Value - 7.5/10