November is shaping up to be a memorable month for PC strategy fans. With Warhammer: Mark of Chaos promising demented fantasy thrills in a few weeks' time, more real-world treats will be along sooner in Medieval II: Total War.
The fourth in the Total War series, after Shogun, Medieval and 2004's Rome, Medieval II returns to the Middle Ages for some gritty unpleasantness, hypocritically masked by the nosegay of chivalry. Huzzah!
Medieval II follows the same pattern as the previous instalments: position your faction's armies and agents (spies, priests, merchants and princesses) on the turn-based main map, then control battles on a real-time landscape. Fans of Rome will be very much at home here: the map and battle interfaces are substantially unchanged. This may put off fans of the first Medieval, which used a more abstract, Risk-like main map, although the newer system does give more tactical flexibility.
The battles themselves are more graphically varied and detailed than ever -- really spectacular, with individually animated troops -- but pleasingly the minimum spec has not changed much, so you can play a low-detail version perfectly well on a less powerful machine.
Having played Medieval II for a short time, we're hooked: while it doesn't change anything fundamental from the hugely successful Rome, it offers a much deeper experience, with many more factions, units and strategic options. Later in the game, we're promised, we'll be able to explore the New World and fight Montezuma's Aztecs. We can't wait.
Medieval II: Total War is out on Friday 10 November for the bargain price of £35. Expect a full review soon. -NH
Update: a full review of Medieval II: Total War is now live.