The Total War franchise has come a long way since its inception, captivating audiences with its immersive gameplay and strategic depth. From the fantasy-focused Warhammer trilogy to the theatrical Three Kingdoms, developer Creative Assembly has explored various themes and time periods. However, many long-time fans of the franchise have yearned for a return to Creative Assembly’s historical roots. Total War: Pharaoh seeks to fulfill this desire, offering a journey back to the Bronze Age and the rise of ancient civilizations. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of Total War: Pharaoh, examining its historical accuracy, gameplay mechanics, and overall appeal.
The Setting: The Bronze Age and Ancient Civilizations
The Bronze Age, a significant period in human history, brought forth remarkable innovations such as the wheel, written language, and metalworking. Total War: Pharaoh focuses primarily on three civilizations that coexisted during this era: the Hittites, Canaanites, and Egyptians. These civilizations thrived during the Bronze Age collapse around 1200 BC. While the campaign map may not fully capture the scope of the Bronze Age, it sets the stage for a strategic experience filled with political intrigue, warfare, and the challenges of maintaining an empire.
Gameplay Mechanics: A Blend of Familiarity and Innovation
Total War: Pharaoh incorporates elements from previous titles in the series, such as Total War: Attila and Three Kingdoms, while introducing new gameplay mechanics specific to the Bronze Age setting. The campaign begins with a focus on expanding your economy and empire on the turn-based map. However, a civil war erupts, forcing you to compete with other pretenders for the throne. The late game shifts its focus to withstanding the invasion of the enigmatic “sea people” and ensuring the survival of your faction through the Bronze Age collapse. This blend of scripted and freeform gameplay is characteristic of the Total War franchise, offering both strategic depth and replayability.
The Strategic Layer: Scope and Limitations
Total War: Pharaoh provides a strategic experience on a larger map compared to previous titles like Three Kingdoms or Troy. However, as a game that aims to deliver the “definitive bronze-age experience,” it still feels somewhat restrictive. The map’s size may be less intimidating, but it limits the inclusion of other key players in the era, such as the Assyrians, Mycenaeans, and Babylonians. These omissions not only limit strategic options but also detract from the historical accuracy of the period. It remains unclear whether Creative Assembly chose to exclude these civilizations or plans to introduce them as post-release DLC.
Diplomacy and Politics: A Test of Cunning and Influence
Diplomacy and backroom politics have always been staples of the Total War franchise, and Total War: Pharaoh is no exception. The court system in Pharaoh adds an extra layer of complexity, allowing you to compete with other leaders for positions of power. Manipulating and besmirching rivals behind their backs can increase your legitimacy and popularity as you vie for the mantle of Pharaoh. Skillful maneuvering grants you the ability to call in favors, whether it be filling your coffers or bolstering your ranks. This intricate web of alliances and rivalries adds depth to the gameplay, challenging players to balance military might with diplomatic finesse.
Religion and Culture: Embracing the Pantheons
The pantheons of the three playable cultures in Total War: Pharaoh play a significant role in shaping your empire. Each faction’s reverence for their respective pantheon conveys bonuses proportionate to their devotion. However, unlike the religious boons in Troy, the benefits in Pharaoh are primarily passive. While this aligns with the game’s grounded approach, it may leave players longing for more engaging interactions with the religious system. Expanding on the potential benefits of worshiping specific deities could have added another layer of strategic decision-making.
Tactical Real-Time Strategy: Warfare in the Bronze Age
Total War: Pharaoh captures the brutality of warfare in the Bronze Age through its tactical real-time strategy gameplay. The game offers a vast catalog of units, ranging from slingers and archers to axemen and charioteers. Each civilization has its own unique faction units and buildings, which can be supplemented with native units from specific regions. The inclusion of these regional units allows for more diverse army compositions, ensuring that players can adapt their strategies to different environments and opponents.
Weather and Terrain: Nature’s Influence on Battle
Total War games have always emphasized the impact of weather and terrain on battles, and Total War: Pharaoh continues this tradition. Dynamic weather conditions greatly influence how players approach each battle. Searing heat can quickly tire out units, while torrential downpours hinder ranged attacks and slow down chariots. Adapting to these changing conditions is crucial for success on the battlefield. The attention to detail in depicting these environmental factors adds an immersive element to the gameplay, enhancing the overall experience.
Aesthetics: A Technical Showcase
In terms of aesthetics, Total War: Pharaoh is a technical showcase in both its tactical and strategic layers. The golden dunes of the desert shimmer under the midday sun, while the battles unfold with epic scale and spectacle. Generals taunt each other amidst the chaos of clashing units, immersing players in the intensity of ancient warfare. The visual fidelity and attention to detail contribute to the overall immersion and make for a visually stunning experience.
Challenges and Limitations: Unit Collision and AI Pathfinding
Despite its many strengths, Total War: Pharaoh shares some of the challenges and limitations seen in previous titles. Issues with unit collision and AI pathfinding persist, often leading to large blobs of units becoming ineffective in engagements. Settlement battles, which require units to navigate narrow streets and chokepoints, can be particularly problematic. Additionally, the AI’s decision-making can be questionable when faced with attacks on multiple fronts. While these challenges may provide opportunities for players to outmaneuver the AI, it is essential for Creative Assembly to address these issues to enhance the overall gameplay experience.
Conclusion: A Journey Worth Taking?
Total War: Pharaoh seeks to provide an accessible and engaging experience that transports players to the Bronze Age. While the game offers glimpses of greatness, it falls short of delivering a truly memorable grand strategy experience. The blend of historical accuracy and accessibility may not fully satisfy either novice players or Total War veterans. However, for those with a keen interest in the Bronze Age and ancient civilizations, Total War: Pharaoh offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the challenges and triumphs of this pivotal period in history. Whether it will stand the test of time remains to be seen, but it is undoubtedly a journey worth taking.