Total War: PHARAOH, An Exceptionally Polished Bronze Age Experience

Manufacturer: CREATIVE ASSEMBLY Total War: PHARAOH, An Exceptionally Polished Bronze Age Experience

At this point there are a lot of Total War games to chose from, spanning from ancient history to the colonization of North America and the Napoleonic wars.  Their focus lately has been bringing the entire Warhammer fantasy world to the computer.  With this many games a way has to be found to make Total War: Pharaoh unique and interesting enough to convince players to abandon their current favourite game and spend $80 to try the new Total War.

For the first few turns, it seemed that they had unfortunately failed at their goal.  There are an extremely limited number of leaders to chose from, the map is rather small compared to previous games and the units are uninspiring to say the least.  In the north you will find more swords or axes and shields, while in the south the armies seem to rely on missile combat.  You will eventually get chariots and some other heavier units, but those two sets of units are all you get.  Your first battle is going to seem just like every other Total War game and you might be considering a refund.

Then, things start to change for the better.  You start grasping what those new icons on the UI are and what they do for you; and there are a lot of them which have no precedent in recent Total War games.  There is a new political system to grapple with, changes to diplomacy and even choices offered which will have large effects on your faction and how you should play them.  Once you start to get the hang of what is happening, you will definitely be entering the lands of “just one more turn”.

Manufacturer Description

In Total War: PHARAOH, the newest entry in the award-winning grand strategy series, immerse yourself in ancient Egypt at the zenith of its power and experience the dramatic events that threaten its destruction. With dynamic real-time battles and incredible turn-based empire management, can you rise above your adversaries to become Egypt’s last great Pharaoh and stand against the collapse of an iconic civilization?

Total War: Pharaoh Does Settlements Differently

Once you’ve won that first battle you are likely to check out a settlement, and the first of the new features reveal themselves.  The panel at the bottom has both Settlements and Outposts, the latter of which is brand new.  In addition to building up your settlement you can create several Outposts at specific locations in the region, easily seen on the map.   Outposts offer a permanent bonus to that region, or armies in the region or for some an increase in the favour of gods or even your leader’s Legitimacy.  The region you are in determines which gods are available to build a monument to.

When you are moving through a region, an army can touch an Outpost on the way.  Doing so will grant the army an additional temporary boost to one of their attributes, such as morale, combat ability or a variety of other interesting perks.  One of the most valuable protects troops in the region against any attrition damage, which is a huge part of a game set in the desert.  There are safe roads in most regions, but as you expand your empire you will eventually go off-roading and attrition is brutal in this game.   Once you’ve taken a Settlement however, you can protect your army from taking more damage when they next venture out.

The building browser will be familiar to anyone who has played Total War before, but there are some new twists.   To construct a building you need to have enough stone, wood and gold to spend instead of simply spending from a single resource.  To make it even more interesting, there is also a workforce cost.  You can see how much idle workforce you have in the left side of the screen, as well as how fast it is growing.   It is good to have enough idle workforce to spend on construction, however they also increase unhappiness in the province and can become a serious problem if they stack up.

The province you are in dictates what gods you can worship, you will expand your pantheon as you travel the world.  Some lands are sacred to the Egyptians and grant Legitimacy to your ruler by owning them.   While this is not terribly important at the beginning of the game it has huge long term effects which will be detailed soon.  The river provinces are great food producers for part of the year, but as the Nile floods you will see a drastic drop in food production until the next growing season.  Food is very important in Total War: Pharaoh as you need a steady income to feed your armies as well as your cities.  All troops come with a food upkeep cost, advanced troops also require bronze.

New Choices Pop Up Frequently, And Can Have Huge Effects

Legitimacy is key to winning Total War: Pharaoh, if you can garner enough of it you have a chance to trigger a civil war.  If you can come out on top, you can become the new Pharaoh of Egypt!  In the mean time the Court has five other positions, including the one you occupy yourself.  You can scheme and connive against the other members, on your own or with the help of another member.  You can also work towards making the other councillors more willing to help you out and a little less likely to work against you.  You will have a chance to make one action in the Court each turn, assuming you can afford the cost.

You will be tasked with choosing an ambition shortly after starting, they differ depending on who you are but generally require you to perform a task to receive a fair sized reward of resources.  You will also have a chance to chose one of four different focuses for your game.  They each offer their own benefits and drawbacks, and will dramatically change how you play the game.  If you choose to build monuments, you will get benefits from them but will also have to post garrisons as other civilizations are going to want to take possession of them.  If you prefer a more combative approach, another ancient tradition will let you target a civilizations capital and subject it to penalties or give yourself benefits for when you finally siege the city.

Keeping Your Tribe Together

The best way to see how you are doing is at the top of the screen, mouse over the Pillars Of Civilization to see how prosperous your civilization is.  If that rating starts to fall you will start to have bad events causing you serious issues.  If your Legitimacy remains low or declines, it can also trigger similar negative events which will put a serious cramp in your plans.  The four different tribes each have a unique command they can use during certain times, to give a positive boost to their cities and troops.

The tech tree starts from the centre, and as with previous games Total War: Pharaoh requires you to unlock lower tier techs in order to unlock the ability to research higher tiers.  The icon indicates if the tech is considered Civic, Economy or Military, which gives you a good idea what will be affected by your research.  You shouldn’t expect help from other civilizations with that research either.  In Total War: Pharaoh you will find diplomacy a little different as there are no constant trade agreements, of resources nor research.  You can, and certainly should take advantage of the ability to make a one time trade for resources from others.  The trades can provide you a large amount of needed resources immediately, or you can accept or provide some for a set number of turns if that works better with your strategy.

Onto The War Part

Total War: Pharaoh does something with battles we haven’t seen before, the closest would be the night assaults in Medieval II.   You will find weather plays a huge part in your battles, as there are sandstorms and downpours you might have to deal with.  A heavy rain will ruin your archers range, high sun tires troops quickly and a sandstorm not only makes it hard to find the enemy, it will happily kill you as quickly as they would.  This can also be a beneficial thing if your enemy has an advantage over you that weather would equalize.

Generals go up rank, which allows them to boost one of the three abilities you can see on their unit card.  The topmost will reduce your army’s upkeep, the second help with their recovery from wounds and the third will increase your mobility.  There are several special traits you can choose to add to your generals, as their ability score increases to it’s requirements which often require more than one boosted trait.   The inventory is a little hard to find at first, surrounding their image in the details but once you’ve found them it is easy to add weapons, armour and other items.  The tabs on the right include a General tab, to let you quickly find them if they happen to have gotten away from you.

You will quickly discover that the AI loves to build large armies of cheap troops to overwhelm yours and you should plan accordingly.  The growth of your armies is limited to two troops per turn by default, though you might be able to instantly buy special troops from the recruitment screen if you have the resources and they are available at the time.   Troops take a fair amount of punishment so don’t expect to easily route lower tier troops immediately.  They were tough in the Bronze Age and it will take a bit of work to break them.


Walk Like An Egyptian?

The question is, is Total War: Pharaoh worth leaving your other campaigns and spending the money to play?   The gameplay is certainly different, the cyclical nature of the Nile is well represented in the other game mechanics, such as when you can use your leaders special commandment and the importance of food.  The battles on the other hand lack the immense diversity of the Warhammer series or even previous games.  As you progress you will get more interesting troops but apart from some exceptions like the chariots, you’ve various flavours of close infantry and archers.   The technological level of the Bronze Age severely limits the variety of troop types, and you should expect that coming into the game.  If you enjoy battles where small differences hold the key to success then you will enjoy how effectively Pharaoh pulls that off.  On the other hand if you like taking advantage of special troops you may well be frustrated.

It would be hard to completely drop Warhammer for Pharaoh, considering how insanely varied the civilizations are in that series.  If you are starting to get fatigued with your current Total War campaigns then the differences Pharaoh offers, from the larger resource management to the importance of attrition or managing the favour of the gods make it a solid choice.  There are enough changes under the hood to make it feel new, while still being unquestionably a Total War game.

I hate sand, it gets in everything

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About The Author

Jeremy Hellstrom

Call it,, or PC Perspective, Jeremy has been hanging out and then working with the gang here for years. Apart from the front page you might find him on the BOINC Forums or possibly the Fraggin' Frogs if he has the time.

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