The Total War franchise has been running strong for the better part of twenty years now and the developers at The Creative Assembly have established themselves as leaders in the real time combat genre. Starting way back in early 2000, the games have been set in different periods and focused on particular empires throughout history. From feudal Japan to the Roman Empire, and even a game centered on Attila and the Huns, Total War is famous for its attention to the complexities of large scale battles, so much so that at one time The History Channel used the game engine for dramatizations of famous battles. In Total War Battles: Kingdom, the franchise offers up one of its “spin off” games, games that aren’t full scale real time strategy. So how does this new title hold up amidst the somewhat crowded market for strategy on mobile platforms? While the game hits a few of the right notes, the specter of micro transactions rears its head and, not for the first time, puts serious limitations on player accessibility and overall experience without the player ponying up money to win.
Set in mediaeval England, Total War Battles: Kingdom starts out with a familiar interface. Players start with a main castle and several of the standard fare supporting buildings such as barracks and resource gatherers. Rather than the old school way of creating workers and manually assigning them to various tasks, the game streamlines a lot of those trifles through the buildings themselves. For example, players can select the woodworking shop and then select a patch of woods, provided it’s close enough to the building, and harvest the trees from there. The same method applies to many different types of resources – farms will harvest food, quarries for stone, etc. Each harvest will take time to complete before you can reap the rewards, and while a few are in the acceptable 5-10 minute range, some are a lot longer at over 30 minutes. Although the longer times are frustrating, the resource management overall is a welcome departure from micro managing peasants and having to watch and protect them from enemy attacks. Additionally, players will have to manage the terrain itself. Building next to and around water is imperative for good farming, but you will face the danger of a river flooding and ruining their plans. To prevent this, players can build a dam and/or choose to elevate the terrain; turning a patch of land into high ground can be both a practical and tactical advantage, so use it wisely.
When it comes down to reaping and stocking the resources, the game starts to show its limitations to non paying players. Wood is a fairly plentiful resource and is rather quick to harvest, however silver and stone are severely limited. Producing and gathering these takes significantly longer and when the timer for cooking them is up, players will walk away with 10 silver and stone for their patience. Considering that upgrading your castle to level 2 takes 1500 of each, and that’s just the resource requirement, players will start to feel like they’ll never get to the upgrade without paying, and they would be right. To anyone familiar with RTS games, that is more or less a deal breaker if you aren’t planning on paying.
The upgrade problem is a long chain of smaller ones that limits the experience for those same players. To reach the resource requirement is all but impossible without paying, and the other requirements include – having another castle town to connect to, which of course you can’t do without upgrading your original castle, taking over a neighboring territory, which requires leveling up yourself and your troops, which, as you have no doubt guessed, requires a lot of experience and resources that you won’t have without paying. Placing multiple buildings of the same type can alleviate this a bit, but not enough to make it bearable or fair to non payers. Should a player decide to pay, the resource they would get is gold. Gold cannot be harvested, and a very small amount is occasionally given to players for completing objectives, but it’s not nearly enough to get by. The in game store has the typical deals on buying gold in bulk, with the larger amounts being the better deals.
So how does the combat hold up? After all, it’s probably the aspect that has made the Total War franchise famous. Unfortunately, it too limited. Combat is set up on a simple grid with an almost overhead view of the armies. There are three rows of troops that are 3 spaces deep each, although you’ll only have those 2 deep at the beginning. Each of the squares can be occupied by a certain troop type, and the combat will depend greatly on your set up. You can scout exactly what the enemy will bring to the battle, so plan accordingly. Swordsmen will work great against pikes, which will work great against cavalry, which will work great against archers etc.
At the start of the battle, the troops will charge each other, and the player can execute a timed charge to maximize that troops effectiveness at the start. In addition, the church at your town will provide you with a temporary power up, such as boosted attack for one square, which will last for a few seconds but can be used again after a cool down period. The main problem with the combat, however, is two fold. First, the troops will not make good choices on their own. For example, if your cavalry defeats the first square of troops they face, instead of moving onto an adjacent square to help others, they will stand where they are, often taking damage from back rows of enemy archers. Second, your troops will almost always receive some damage during a battle, and although they can’t die permanently, you will have to heal them with gold. The same gold that cannot be generated, only bought. Overall, the combat leaves a lot to be desired despite looking and sounding good.
All in all, Total War Battles Kingdom is a good example of how micro transactions and pay to win development can hurt games. There are plenty of games where the player can still have a good experience and maybe even compete with other players without paying money, but this is just not one of those titles. Although your castle and town are aesthetically pleasing, the management of resources, combat woes, and payment requirements add up to an experience where there is just too big of a discrepancy between paying and non paying players. If you’re not willing to invest a lot of money into this game, you just aren’t going to get an experience worth very much. If you are looking for a true Total War experience, I’m afraid you should look elsewhere.
Is it Hardcore?
Only play if you’re willing to pay for this “free” game.