As an example, Venice will be particularly interesting to play. They begin the campaign with a strung out starting position, and no real 'uber' military unit. They'll have to concentrate on bringing in the cash - making money so that they can use bribery, assassination and mercenaries as their tools for expansion and domination.
What are the major improvements on the strategic level of the game in Medieval 2?
Bob Smith: Well for starters, the campaign map itself will be busier with several new types of agent, including merchants, princesses and priests. These will give players more opportunities to interact with the other factions without spilling blood, unless of course they choose to put their assassins to use. The map will also be bigger and later in the game will give the player the opportunity to discover the Americas.
Opening up this area of the map and discovering the New World offers rich rewards, but the Aztecs won't take to visitors too kindly. The Aztecs might lack the military technology but there are an awful lot of them and they're as brave as lions, so while the Americas are there to be conquered, they'll certainly put up a considerable fight.
Another of the big changes in the way the campaign game plays out concerns the management of settlements. In Medieval 2 the player will have the option to choose whether to develop each settlement as a castle or a city. Castles emphasize the military, and cities the economic. As a result, the player has to think carefully as their empire takes shape and there will be a great deal more strategy involved as they look to expand across the campaign map.
What would you say are the major differences on the tactical front?
Bob Smith: We're still experimenting with the scope of what we can do with new unit abilities and battlefield tactics, so we're not in a position to go into detail as yet. However, there'll definitely be new tricks you can pull. For example, some archer units will be able to deploy pointed stakes to protect themselves from cavalry, while other units will allow you to form a wagon circle to protect vulnerable units.
Sieges will certainly demand new tactics and strategies from both the attacker and the defender. Seizing a settlement in Medieval 2 will involve stripping away layers of defenses and it goes without saying that cannon will play a rather important role here.
How have you improved the in-game battle engine this time around? Is it a big advance over even Rome: Total War?
Bob Smith: The engine used for Medieval 2 is completely unrecognizable in comparison to Rome. We stripped it down and totally refurbished it to include major enhancements. There's a complete upgrade of the battlefield rendering system, new methods for building and rendering cities and the combat animation system has also been heavily revised.
One of the key enhancements involves the variation of troops within an army. Medieval 2 removes the clone armies you saw in previous Total War games; instead, units are made up of soldiers that are individuals. Each model is now constructed from a variety of heads, bodies and limbs. The engine combines these together to make each man far more individual. On top of this there is also a great variety of shields and weapons too, so each soldier has character and each unit of men looks and behaves like a realistic group of soldiers. Armour and weapon upgrades are also evident when you look on your units in battle. This introduces a great deal of individuality to the soldiers and ramps up the realism and immersion of Medieval 2's epic battles.
What new technologies and tech will you be able to utilise this time around?
Bob Smith: We knew that we wanted Medieval 2 to look spectacular, so we set about a complete replacement for the battlefield rendering by applying shaders everywhere. There's all-new settlement rendering with per-pixel lighting effects and localised damage (what you hit is what you break). We've also allowed cities and castles to be perched atop cliffs and sprawl down the sides of mountains so that they blend naturally with the terrain around them.