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Medieval 2: Total War

We're getting medieval on your ass - time to saddle up for a full hands-on playtest of the best RTS in't world

Hello. You may remember me from such reviews as Shogun: Total War and Medieval - the multiplayer experience. Both great games, reviewed with typical subjective fervour. I would have reviewed the others too, if it wasn't for that Martin F***ing Korda muscling in on my territory.

The Creative Assembly know the score. They've had it up to here with him too. On being asked if someone from PC ZONE could come down to play Medieval II, they simply said: "So long as you don't send Korda." Apparently he swans around likes he owns the place, drinks all the Yop! from the fridge and bear-hugs everyone in sight. So I'm here instead, playing through the early stages of a campaign game and eager to reclaim the throne, as it were, while Korda sits at home playing indie garbage. Ha!

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Sitting down to play Medieval II, even in the sterility of CA's meeting room, is like falling into your bed, only with fresh sheets and a bigger, softer, fluffier duvet - with knights on the cover, obviously. It just feels comfortably right. The first Medieval may seem like a game from the Dark Ages in comparison, but it had authenticity pouring of its ears and over its gorget (neck armour, duh). That authenticity has been carried over - indeed it's been built up further - with the variety in terms of units, their fluttering banners and new map furniture making the series come alive like never before.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
You can see that perfectly well yourself though, thanks to the accompanying marketing-approved images. And yes, it really looks that good. CA can be proud at what they have achieved in terms of the graphical finery on show, but such beauty can only impress for so long because you're not going to conquer much if you spend the battles watching your knights doing fancy Soul Calibur moves.

While Medieval II will rock your world because it looks bonza (it was largely made at CA's outback studio), what will really make fans announce in the pub that 'actually, this is the best yet by heaps' is down to a couple of what may seem like minor features.

One is the massive influence that your piety will have on your relations with neighbours, more so than in the previous game, with favoured cardinals able to affect papal policy to a certain extent. In order to get into his good books, however, you have to accomplish missions for His Holiness. Missions will even come from traders, spies and other guildhall leaders too. Impress your local chapter of assassins, and they may be tempted into relocating their European HQ to your capital, thereby allowing you to train the überest killers in Christendom. There's certainly more to do this time around than simply shuffle army counters around the place.

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SKIP TO THE END
My favourite feature, and one I didn't have time to explore fully, was one that should address a problem that has been inherent in all the Total War games. Veterans know the one, where you're two-thirds of the way across the map, your enemies are scattered and really you're just sweeping a broom around. Games rarely ended in thrilling climaxes unless you were on the losing side. Now, with the Americas opening up later in the game - effectively an expansion in itself - there's an endgame that requires new strategies to deal with what will be literally hordes of sun-worshippers happy to die for the cause. In short, Medieval II will be a game worth wanting to complete.

To end with the traditional bluster, Medieval II looks good, nay it looks oorsome! It's probably the best Total War ever made, ever. Hollow words? Of course they are. After all, we've still to play a siege battle, a feature CA have yet to get spot-on. And being a pansy, I played in easy mode, so I can't vouch fully for the AI either. I can, however, confidently predict that Medieval II will be the improvement we expect it to be, and to improve on a classic is no mean feat. Already this is to Rome what the first Medieval was to Shogun, bigger and better in every way, yet comfortingly familiar and infused with the usual Total War-ness of games gone past.

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