Game Reviews

Complete Battle: Pharaoh is extra of a pretender than a real inheritor

It’s fairly wild to think about the bottom the Complete Battle franchise has managed to cowl since its inception. With the introduction of the fantasy-focused Warhammer trilogy, and the theatrical Three Kingdoms, developer Artistic Meeting has introduced its large technique franchise to entire new audiences. Nonetheless, except for the remastered Complete Battle: Rome, this has left many long-time followers of the franchise craving for a return to Artistic Meeting’s historic roots. Whereas Complete Battle: Pharaoh is extra grounded than its supernatural cousins, and deploys a slower general tempo, its makes an attempt to bridge accuracy and accessibility depart its Bronze Age marketing campaign and fight feeling a bit dusty when in comparison with its larger-than-life counterparts.

If, like me, you solely have a obscure recollection of your high-school world historical past course, the Bronze Age is that interval in human historical past that introduced us bangers just like the wheel, written language, and metalworking. Whereas dozens of civilizations coexisted throughout this time interval, for the needs of Complete Battle: Pharaoh, Artistic Meeting has targeted totally on the Hittites, Canaanites, and Egyptians as they existed across the Bronze Age collapse circa 1200 BC.

A screenshot of Total War: Pharaoh displaying an overview of the campaign map in the faction select screen

The marketing campaign map actually doesn’t do justice to the scope of the Bronze Age on this period.
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

Complete Battle: Pharaoh most intently resembles Troy: A Complete Battle Saga in its presentation and gameplay. Pharaoh additionally incorporates some facets from different entries within the sequence, like Complete Battle: Attila, and Three Kingdoms. Pharaoh’s marketing campaign is much less scripted than among the more moderen entries within the franchise, however it nonetheless leans on some long-running conceits of the grand technique/4X style. You spend the early levels on the turn-based marketing campaign map increasing your economic system and empire earlier than the eruption of a civil warfare forces you to compete with numerous pretenders vying for the throne of your faction. The late sport, then again, is concentrated on withstanding the invasion of the enigmatic “sea folks” and making certain your legacy can persist by way of the Bronze Age collapse. The freeform nature of the marketing campaign following these story beats is a staple of the Complete Battle franchise, however the lack of course left me stumbling someplace round flip 50. The broad victory circumstances do supply an alternate within the lengthy sport aside from “portray the map,” however they don’t result in something practically as compelling because the early sport rush.

A screenshot from Total War Pharaoh showcasing the game’s strategic layer

The strategic layer for Complete Battle: Pharaoh is much like what we noticed in Troy
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

On the strategic stage, Complete Battle: Pharoah contains a bigger map than Three Kingdoms or Troy, however as a title that’s been touted because the “definitive bronze-age expertise” by Artistic Meeting, it’s nonetheless considerably restrictive. This truncated map has the advantage of being much less intimidating, however leaves little room for most of the different key gamers of the period. There’s no denying the significance of the cultures featured in Pharaoh, however it ignores civilizations just like the Assyrians, Mycenaeans, and Babylonians, to call only a few. These omissions not solely restrict your strategic choices, however make for an inaccurate portrayal of the interval. Frankly, I’m not sure what can be worse — that Artistic Meeting forgot about them, or that it left them out to incorporate as post-release DLC.

A screenshot from Total War: Pharaoh showing the faction select screen

Eight leaders can be found at launch, with half of them assigned to the Egypt faction
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

Diplomacy and backroom politics, staples of the Complete Battle franchise, are on full show in Pharaoh, with the most important adjustments current within the courtroom system. This layer means that you can compete with different leaders for positions of energy, and even besmirch them behind their backs, with a purpose to acquire legitimacy and recognition as you compete for the mantle of Pharaoh. Taking part in your playing cards proper even means that you can name in some well-timed favors, whether or not that’s filling your coffers, or filling your ranks.

A screenshot of Total War: Pharaoh displaying the court system screen

Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

The respective pantheons from the three playable cultures additionally play a task in shaping your empire, conveying bonuses to your faction proportionate to the reverence you present them. Nonetheless, not like the spiritual boons in Troy, the advantages listed below are largely passive: Your military of Ra worshippers received’t be capable to summon searing beams of sunshine to show the tide of battle, as an illustration, irrespective of what number of temples you construct. That is comprehensible, contemplating Pharaoh’s extra grounded strategy and presentation, however having extra tempting causes to interact with this method might need been good.

A screenshot of Total War Pharaoh displaying the religion screen

You’d suppose the advantages of worshipping the solar god can be higher than some extra staff
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

On the tactical real-time technique stage, Pharaoh successfully captures the brutality of warfare within the Bronze Age. Even on this primitive period, Pharaoh maintains an enormous catalog of items to construct out your military, starting from slingers and archers to axemen and charioteers. Every faction within the sport contains its personal roster of distinctive faction items and buildings, which, over the course of a marketing campaign, may be bolstered with native items from particular areas.

A screenshot of Total War Pharaoh displaying the general screen

The RPG-lite techniques from Troy: A Complete Battle Saga return in Pharaoh
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

Whereas having distinctive unit swimming pools from every area of the map could make the general roster really feel a little bit bloated, these additions permit you to even out your military compositions when combating outdoors of your house turf. For instance, your nimble and calmly armored Egyptian military is finest suited to warfare within the open desert, however may endure towards the extra closely armored Hittites until supplemented with some native items from the northern realms.

A screenshot of Total War Pharaoh showing the game’s encyclopedia

The record of faction-specific and native items is actually staggering
Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega by way of Polygon

Climate and terrain have at all times performed a distinguished function within the Complete Battle franchise, and Pharaoh’s dynamic climate drastically alters the way you strategy a battle. Searing warmth that tires your items out rapidly can provide technique to torrential downpours that impede ranged assaults and lavatory down chariots.

A sandstorm swirls over Mennefer (Memphis) in Total War: Pharaoh

Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega

Aesthetically, Pharaoh supplies a superb technical showcase in each its tactical and strategic layers. The horizon of golden dunes shimmers beneath the noon solar, whereas the dimensions and spectacle of the battles really feel appropriately epic as generals taunt one another amidst the chaos of clashing items.

Hittite soldiers set fire to palm trees in the middle of Egyptian troops in Total War: Pharaoh

Picture: Artistic Meeting Sofia/Sega

Sadly, most of the points from earlier titles proceed to persist, significantly with reference to unit collision and AI pathfinding. Items on both aspect of an engagement can flip into large blobs, rendering them ineffective — that is particularly problematic in settlement battles, which require items to barter slim streets and different chokepoints. Moreover, the AI can typically be plagued with indecision if it’s introduced with assaults on a number of fronts, making some quite questionable tactical selections. Throughout these moments, I’d wish to suppose my technique is operating circles across the AI, however it’s tough to inform how a lot of this habits is a function, quite than a bug.

Finally, Complete Battle: Pharaoh is an try to supply an accessible expertise that delivers what looks like an abridged model of a world historical past course. A lot of the techniques in Pharaoh supply glimpses of greatness, however aren’t deep or refined sufficient to ship a memorable grand technique expertise. Artistic Meeting’s tackle the Bronze Age is just not thematic sufficient to interact a novice, however not correct or expansive sufficient to attraction to Complete Battle veterans, leaving us with a Complete Battle title that’s unlikely to face the check of time.

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