Total War is unique amongst the Real-time strategy genre, in that you don't advance through a pre-set campaign with a few pre-set objectives, you don't simply control a small army of individual soldiers, or maybe groups, rather, you control vast hordes of customisable soldiers, thousands of men, all ready for warfare under your supreme command. And, rather than a pre-set campaign, you are given the chance to create a huge empire the way you see fit, with no vision of winning or losing, only conquest, and the freedom to do as you wish throughout the entire game. The idea in Total War is that you are in control of one faction, and you must lead that faction to glory (or annihilation if you feel like it).
Our story begins in 2000, when the first of the Total War series was released. Shogun Total War was introduced to the world as a game which added a new dimension to RTS games - freedom.
Shogun TW is set in Feudal Japan from the mid 15th century to the late 16th. This was the first time such a game had been released, so naturally, there was immediate interest and it became a success.
In the Grand Campaign, the Player is given the choice between controlling one of the seven Japanese Daimyos (leaders) which were warring for control of the Islands at the time. These were: Hōjō, Imagawa, Uesugi, Mori, Shimazu, Oda and Takeda. The factions all had an identical unit roster, but each was the more skilled in particular areas, for example, Uesugi recruits archers far cheaper than the others. The Campaign map is split into a large number of provinces. Each faction holds a certain number of provinces to start, and several are held by the rebel faction - allied to nobody and at war with all.
This is an image of a small section of the map, with armies and territory borders:
The Field of Battle, again, is handled uniquely. Before it begins, you have the option of deploying your force into a better formation or more appropriate for the terrain. The player may then start the battle. Soldiers are split into large units, up to 120 strong. To attack, the player simply selects his units, more than one if he so wishes and orders them to pile into the enemy. Archers attack in the same way, only they hang behind rather than moving forward. There is a rock-paper-scissors system of strength in combat - cavalry easily defeats archers, archers defeat spearmen and spearmen defeat cavalry. Later on, it becomes more complicated as stronger units, such as when Swordsmen and Naginata are introduced.
This shows a small section of a Hōjō army, formed into wedge formations.
The campaign isn't the only way to slaughter people wholesale, there are two other modes, all present in every game in the series. These are: historical battles - refighting some of history's greatest scraps - (such as the 4th Kawanakajima in shogun), and there is custom battles. This involves creating your own force from scratch with effectively no limits in terms of cost and power. You can then face it off against a foe you have also created and face them off against each other.
Shogun was an immediate success, so much so that an expansion to the game came out in 2001 - Mongol invasion. This featured a new playable faction - the Mongols - and covered their two invasions of Japan. It introduced new sides to the game - such as horse archers and explosives.
This introduction to the TW games didn't stop at Shogun - in 2002, Medieval TW was released. This covered Medieval warfare in Europe from the late 11th century to the late 15th.
This game was built upon the same engine as Shogun, however it had several improvements. First of all, it had a more detailed campaign map, and a total of 12 playable factions, including England, France, Spain and the Italians. Also, fleets had been introduced, so units could move between different landmasses for the first time.
This is a section of the new Medieval map, showing one of the later stages.
This is an image from a siege in MTW, showing little difference between it and Shogun.
In 2003, an Expansion was released - Viking Invasion. This allowed the player to play as 3 new factions in the standard campaign, or to play in the new Viking campaign, featuring eight new factions on a scaled-up map of Britain.
In 2004, however, the true advancement to the series succeeded MTW. Rome Total War was released and took a 95% positive reception upon release. Rome discarded the old Shogun game engine and used brand new one, which featured detailed, 3-d soldiers for the first time, and unique unit rosters for each faction. Ancient warfare in a new dimension had been introduced. The Campaign map had been fully animated with detailed animated army counters. Generals could now recruit mercenaries from the surrounding territory so the player could strengthen his armies on the move.
This is a small section of the new Rome map:
Artillery was introduced as well, from ballistae and catapults to massive onagers. One of the strangest units to be introduced were incendiary war pigs - set on fire once they reached the enemy line.
The trend with the TW games was to create an expansion, so with Rome it was Barbarian Invasion, released in 2005. This covers the period of war after the height of the Roman Empire, when barbarians attacked from all sides and the dark ages set in. The Map from Rome TW was unchanged but the the new Roman world was. The Roman empire is split in two - east and west, new barbarians - the Huns, the Goths, the Sassanids, the Saxons and the Franks beset the Empire from all sides.
These are a few screenshots from the drastically changed late Roman World:
Rome, however was to take one last turn before moving on.
In 2006, the Second and final expansion in the Rome trilogy was released. this took the game to the time before the Roman Empire existed. The new expansion was Alexander - the Macedonian Empire. This featured a new map heading further east than in the previous two games - bordering India. Unfortunately, only one faction was playable in the campaign - Macedon. (the others could be played by changing the files). This campaign covers the expansion of Alexander the Great further East than any other European had gone. Only three other factions were present: the Persians, the Indians and the Barbarian Dahae.
It was a small expansion, but still popular with the gaming community.
In Late 2006, the direct sequel to 2002's Medieval TW was released. This was the biggest full game yet - Medieval II Total War. This fully updated the MTW game system. A huge number of factions were available - 21 in total, 17 of which are playable. These include England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Egypt, Turks, Milan, Venice, Sicily and Russia.
Battles were similar in look and control to RTW, but far more options were available. A new feature was added to the Campaign - Crusades. The Pope could commission a Crusade against any given settlement and the player was given the option of taking that place for the honour of Christendom. This would lead to several advantages in the eyes of the pope and the people. A similar feature was added to the Muslim factions - that of a Jihad, but instead the player could commission them at will. Armies engaged on a Crusade or Jihad were free of costs and took strong mercenaries at a cheap price.
M2TW was similar to MTW in that similar factions, i.e. England and France, had similar unit rosters, however it was very different in that all factions had their own unique units. Sicily had Norman Knights, Milan had noble Famiglia Ducale and England had retinue longbowmen - all highly unique to their faction.
Here is a few images from the new M2TW battlemap:
The first campaign was Americas. This is the story of the discovery of Central America by Hernàn Cortes, and the resistance to it by the natives. The playable factions to this campaign are New Spain, The Aztec Empire, the Mayans, the Tlaxcalans, the Tarascans, the Chichimec tribes and the Apache. two other factions, New France and the English Colonies, show up at a later date but are minor compared to new spain.
This new game was Empire Total War. Empire took the time period from the medieval period to the start of the 18th century. The focus in this game is far different to that in all the others in that the main weapon of your armies is no longer the sword but the gun. Guns have taken over from the archaic sword and shield, and the tactics you applied to your forces as a Roman and medieval general no longer applies to your early modern armies. Artillery is now much more deadly than it was in Medieval and Medieval 2. And, of course, the campaign map is larger than ever before, stretching across 5 continents. The number of factions is too large to list, it includes over 50 factions both minor and major.
But the other major feature from Empire is that warfare had now been brought to the sea. Real-time naval battles could now be fought just like on land. Fleets of up to 20 ships could now battle against each other in a bid to control the now far more important theatre of war that is the sea.
It is little different to Empire, save the new unit rosters and the time period, and the fact the factions list has been largely reduced from Empire.
The Seventh game was announced to be in production at E3 2010. on June 2, a full preview of the new game was released. Fully a decade after the father of the series was released, Shogun 2 Total War promises to be as grand a game as its predecessors.
This video and these screenshots show a pre-release view of the game.
Note: the video and last bit of this article won't show up in slideshow form, so you'll have to expand the article if you want to see it.