If there’s one line of games that PC gamers would have been proud to flaunt as exclusives, that would be the Total War games. They’re the epitome of strategy games, allowing you to play as both a statesman on a grand map and a general on the battlefield. The best Total War games, for that matter, are at the pinnacle of this unique gaming experience.
We’re here to rank all of them from worst to best, just in case you’re looking to binge. Be warned though; each title can easily consume hundreds if not thousands of your waking hours. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
Total War: Attila (2015)
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you can run it down in a dozen hours or so, especially if you pick what’s left of the Roman factions in Total War: Attila. It covers the start of the Dark Ages in human history when the Roman Empire was splitting apart at the seams, with the final nail in the coffin being those brutal invaders and Huns from the East.
Attila didn’t exactly contribute anything groundbreaking to the franchise, but it introduced a distinct mechanic called Horde mode which simulated how nomadic factions performed. Moreover, the general apocalyptic atmosphere in the game is memorable, especially in stark contrast with the more boisterous and proud Rome 2.
Rome 2: Total War (2013)
Speaking of which, Rome 2: Total War had huge shoes to fill since its predecessor revolutionized the whole franchise. It disappointed a lot of fans both new and veteran upon release, sadly. But it found its solid footing after several updates and patches to its rather buggy mess.
Rome 2: Total War eventually became a decent sequel to the masterpiece that is Rome (more on that later). The game and its DLCs cover a huge period in the Mediterranean and European theater of war, ranging from Rome in its infancy, then to the golden age, and finally, to its twilight years.
Shogun: Total War (2000)
Creative Assembly had to start small, but even when it did, the scale was already grand and promising. Shogun: Total War was a software marvel back in its heyday (2000). While other strategy games were still stuck in 2D and RTS scopes, Shogun introduced pitched battles that were as close to the real ones as possible.
Even its 2.5D sprites were impressively detailed and put a lot of other strategy games to shame. This is a tradition that the succeeding Total War games would uphold– challenging PC hardware and the gaming hardware budget of its fans.
Medieval: Total War (2002)
The next logical step after Shogun‘s success, was, of course, the low-hanging fruit of the Medieval theater of war. It has everything Medieval war nerds could ever dream of– Crusades, throne room dramas, and knights. It was one of the best Total War games that represented its chosen period.
And while the graphics were not much better than Shogun: Total War from two years prior, Medieval would eventually pave the way for a bolder direction from Creative Assembly, and a bigger theater of war.
Medieval 2: Total War (2006)
Medieval 2: Total War was not just a refinement of the old Medieval, but also in many ways, an atmospheric improvement over Rome: Total War. Graphically, it added variety to the soldier designs so you no longer have “clones.” Gameplay-wise, it’s a beautiful and chaotic mess of feudal Europe.
You have the Pope throwing a tantrum over your absence in a Crusade, duke rebellions, and even Teutonic Knights encroaching in your territory. And the music? A splendid banger as always, full of Gregorian chants and knightly fanfare.
Empire: Total War (2009)
Empire: Total War is currently one of the latest periods that Total War has covered. It seems the developers dare not go past the colonial warfare era and for good reason; Empire showed just how difficult it is to simulate warfare involving guns on a massive tactical scale.
But if there was one aspect in which Empire excelled compared to other historical Total War titles, that would be ambition. Empire covered not just land-based colonial warfare but also naval. It has one of the most complex ship battles ever conceived for strategy games. That’s all the while you’re juggling with your trade routes and colonies from halfway across the globe.
Total War: Three Kingdoms (2019)
Total War: Three Kingdoms was an uphill battle for historical Total War games because it came at a time when the Total War: Warhammer lineup became the franchise’s bestseller. Suffice it to say, Three Kingdoms surprisingly competed well. In many ways, it was an improvement to the archaic historical Total War formula, especially to diplomacy and the strategic map gameplay.
As for its real-time battles, Three Kingdoms introduced a “Romance” mode that weaved in Wuxia fantasy, turning your generals into dueling demi-gods. So far, it’s one of the most inspiring adaptations of both factual and fantasy facets of the Three Kingdoms era of China. Besides, the new oriental playground alone makes it worth the price of admission.
Shogun 2: Total War (2011)
In general, we consider Shogun 2: Total War as the most polished and most elegant among the historical Total War titles. It was a belated sequel to Shogun 2 after all. Much of its commendable execution was due to the smaller scale since you’re just tackling feudal Japan in its warring states era as opposed to Europe or the entire globe over several centuries.
That isn’t to say the gameplay isn’t grand. It’s like being able to participate in Akira Kurosawa’s war movies (we had Ran in mind). And there’s no shortage of atmosphere here while cohorts of samurai slash one another to ribbons under a hail of cherry blossom petals. That’s why a lot of players keep coming back to this game despite newer Total War titles.
Rome: Total War (2004)
All roads lead to Rome, and all Total War achievements trace their roots back to Rome: Total War. It was the first Total War game to be rendered in full 3D. Back then, it was deemed so realistic that a History Channel show used the game for its simulated reenactments of historical battles.
This game put Total War on the map and made the franchise a household name. It wasn’t just empty bluster either; Rome‘s chosen historical period was ripe with gameplay opportunities. Where else could you make Alexander’s Macedonian pike phalanx skewer Roman legionnaires in (a rather unnecessary) testudo formation? Rome: Total War poetically is an important historical cornerstone in gaming.
Total War: Warhammer Trilogy
But when it comes to sheer content, gameplay variety, presentation, and scope, it’s still hard to beat fiction. Total War: Warhammer 1, 2, and 3 changed the rules and reinvented the wheel in a way the historical titles couldn’t. It’s based on the ever-warring world of Warhammer Fantasy where humans are mere footnotes in a game universe dominated by Elves, Lizardmen, vampires, Dwarves, and Orks.
The asymmetrical warfare approach to tactics and strategy practically provides you with nigh-infinite replayability. The only issue is that you have to purchase all three games since by the third game, they all add up to become one huge custom campaign that will ruin other Total War titles for you. That’s enough for it to earn the top spot among the best Total War games.