This is my first introduction to the long-running Total War series. I’d considered trying out the previous titles but was put off by the complexity. However, when I was gifted this title for the Holidays, I figured this was my chance to give it a shot. What I found was a game that, in all it’s facets, sets a new bar for strategic depth and control. It’s also a darn good game, to boot.

The first thing I did upon booting this game up was fight a battle, which is what the Total War franchise is known for. Of course, with my standard layman RTS style of hurtling units at my foe, I lost badly. A few runs through the tutorial and a couple battles later, I was able to tell who to place where and how to go about combatting certain foes. Medieval 2 is a game about commanding your army to put it in the best position to win, and to do this you have to take everything into account – weather, landscape, climate and most importantly, the perfectly balanced unit/counter unit balance that the game hinges on.

However for all it’s fun and depth, the battles are only a small fraction of a much greater whole, by which I mean the Grand Campaign. It is in the GC mode that you will experience the wonder and breadth of the game. Through generations, you will lead one of a number of empires to either glory or utter defeat, depending on how well you understand the game.

In my main GC game, I have lead the English to both periods of prosperity and deprivation. We’ve known riches and rags; feast and famine. You have to be adaptable to compete in the Grand Campaign. For example, agents are a huge part of your empire. Using merchants, diplomats, spies, assassins and priests, you can manipulate the world around you. Each agent is rated in their craft, so it’s to your advantage to micromanage them to keep your best ones where they can best do what you need done. For example, having a skilled assassin is a great – yet hard to earn – agent, so keeping him alive and yet near enough to your enemies is key. Therefore, you’d best use a lower ranked one on easier targets.

Your main special units are your the members of your Royal Family. Boys become men through the course of the game, and can then govern cities for you, as well as command armies. Placing a skilled commander in a fighting force gives them a tremendous advantage over soldiers marching alone. Of course, they are also extremely valuable units that need to be used judiciously – you don’t want to kill off all of your family heirs and then have no-one to inherit your empire when your faction leader dies! On the flip side, girls grow into princesses that can marry men into your family, or be used as diplomats and sent off to negotiate using their charm.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m hooked on this game. In the short time I’ve had it, I’ve put in well over a dozen hours, and I’m nowhere near through with it. Of course there are caveats, with the biggest one being the 11 gig, two DVD install. When I saw that I just about flipped out. The hardware requirements aren’t extremely high but you’d be best off to meet the recommended specs to really enjoy the battles as they were meant to be. Other then that, if you can tread the depth and invest the time needed, this is a wonderful addition to your library. Civ-lovers, strategy-junkies, and history-buffs, this is a game you must play. Alphasim out.