With the release of Creative Assembly’s Total War: Three Kingdoms just around the corner, I feel like now is a great time to rank the previous 12 entries from best to worst. From Shogun all the way to Thrones of Britannia, let’s take a look back on the last 19 years of Total War.
Before we jump in, I just want to mention that I really don’t think there’s such thing as a bad Total War. Some are objectively/subjectively better than others, without a doubt, but none of them have been “bad”, yet. That being said, my opinions are heavily biased and all of these rankings are based on my own personal opinions. If you disagree, I would love to hear why in the comment section!
I’m not going to rank them based on how they played at release, instead, I’m going to rank them based on how they play as of now. Meaning, older entries might get lower scores than you think they deserve. But, that’s what subjectively-based opinions are all about!
12. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia (2018)
Thrones of Britannia could have been great… If it released as an expansion for Atilla/Rome 2 at a much lower price point. I think the multitude of changes that were made were great, but the price has always seemed too steep for what you get.
Unlike most other entries to the series, Thrones of Britannia just doesn’t have much in the way of replayability. Due to the time period and the setting, most factions use basically the same units with only slight differences.
If Thrones of Britannia was, instead, Medieval 3 with more varied options and a proper Grand Campaign, it would have undeniably found a spot on the opposite end of this list. Still… That doesn’t mean Thrones of Britannia is a bad game, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a great game, the first or second time you play it. It’s just, as far as a Total War goes, it simply doesn’t have the same degree of replayability one would expect.
11. Shogun (2000)
Shogun was the one that started it all. Although it wasn’t huge back in 2000, it was enough to put Total War on the map. Considering I was only 10 when Shogun released, I didn’t play it much until a few years later. But, when I finally found it after playing Medieval, I became completely hooked on the series and have been ever since.
However, 19 years is a long time when you’re talking about a game. To pick up and play Shogun today is like taking a step back in time; from the graphics to UI and even the gameplay, you can instantly tell how dated Shogun is. In its day it was an amazing game, but now, it’s just not that enjoyable anymore when compared to other options.
10. Medieval (2002)
Medieval was the first Total War I ever played, way back in 2002 around when it released. I remember being blown away by the massive 4x campaign, the massive (at that time) battles, and how there was really nothing else like it, or so I thought. That’s when I found Shogun, as I mentioned above. But, back to Medieval. It was hugely different from every other RTS on the market.
Similar to Shogun, Medieval was an incredible game in its day. But, now, I feel that it’s just really dated. It’s definitely fun to hop on and play a few turns for nostalgia/to see how gaming was 17 years ago… Short of that, Medieval probably isn’t the first Total War game you’d want to play if you’re just coming into the series.
9. Rome (2004)
Following the success of Medieval, Rome became the best selling Total War game – ever. So far, it’s the only entry in the entire series to move more than a million units. That’s saying something since RTS and 4X gaming is pretty niche when compared to a genre like FPS. It’s even more impressive when you consider that both World of Warcraft AND Half-Life 2 released that same year.
Rome was the one game that could easily pull me away from pretty much anything else. All of a sudden I would get an idea and I would have to load up Rome to test it out. Since 2004 was 15 years ago, you can imagine that Rome’s age is instantly noticeable now. To actually play it in 2020 isn’t as bad as say Medieval or Shogun, but games and wine often age in the opposite directions and that’s true for the Total War series.
8. Empire (2009)
Empire is a hard one. On one hand, its base gameplay mechanics and its setting + expansions were awesome. On the other hand, it has arguably the worst AI in all of the Total War games, without mods at least. When it’s modded, Empire can easily be one of the best, depending if you enjoy the 18th century setting it takes place in.
7. Attila (2015)
To me, Attila felt like Rome 2 but with slightly different mechanics and a darker setting. Playing the main Hun campaign is quite enjoyable, but playing any of the factions that existed in Rome 2 basically felt like nothing had changed. I always thought that Atilla would have made a better expansion to Rome 2 than a completely standalone game.
Basically, Attila is just Rome 2 with a few extra features, some new factions, and fewer problems at release. Even so, it’s still worth playing.
6. Warhammer (2016)
When Warhammer was announced, I was extremely skeptical. Not because I didn’t like the 40K universe, but because I didn’t necessarily want Total War to move away from the historically-based themes it had become known for. To my surprise, Warhammer was pretty good. I played quite a lot of it and enjoyed most of my time doing so.
By adding magic and flying mechanics while jumping into a fantasy setting, Warhammer was a huge step away from the typical TW formula, but in the end, it all worked out. If you’re a fan of the traditional Warhammer universe and you also enjoy 4X games, Total War: Warhammer might be worth checking out.
5. Medieval 2 (2006)
Medieval 2 is one I didn’t play a lot when it first released. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I really started to get into it. But, once I eventually picked it up, I was hooked on yet another TW. By the time I picked Medieval 2 up, all of the expansions had released and the overall timeline spanned hundreds of years. There was so much to do and ultimately just so much replayability that I easily put a couple of hundred hours into Medieval 2.
It still works well today, although its age is definitely starting to show, especially if you’ve played any of the more recent games.
4. Napoleon (2010)
Napoleon basically took what everyone disliked about Empires, and made it a little better. It takes place during the French Revolutionary War period and follows Napoleon’s Italian and Egyptian campaigns right up to the Battle of Waterloo. I loved the setting and the huge variety of units you could either use or encounter during a playthrough. Napoleon’s Grand Campaign was also one of the best and most varied out of everything that came before.
I have to mention that I’m fairly biased toward this timeline because I grew up reading the Sharpe’s series of books.
3. Warhammer 2 (2017)
Warhammer 2 was a huge improvement on the first. It offered a way bigger map and way more factions to choose from. But, the overall gameplay didn’t seem to change a whole lot – not that it really should have, mind you.
Warhammer 2 also offered a rather unique DLC in the form of another grand campaign called Mortal Empires. It combined everything from Warhammer 1 & 2 into one absolutely massive grand campaign with 75 starting factions. There’s a caveat though, to actually use it you have to own both Warhammer 1&2.
Overall, it offered more of the same as the first Warhammer, and that’s a good thing. It’s an enjoyable break from the historical setting of most Total War games and offers a nice dive into the Warhammer universe.
2. Rome 2 (2013)
Before you get the pitchforks and torches, hear me out. Rome 2 might have launched with more than its fair share of problems, but it’s actually really solid now. Without even considering mods, Rome 2 is easily the 2nd best historical entry to the TW series. When considering mods, it might even be better than Shogun 2.
With that being said… If you prefer a fantasy setting, Warhammer 2 is undeniably far superior in every way possible. Since I’m a military history nerd (to an extent) I prefer the more historical settings.
1. Shogun 2 (2011)
Shogun 2 has consistently remained my favorite entry into the entire Total War series. Being able to manually aim your cannons – and even Gatling guns in the Fall of the Samurai expansion – there’s nothing better in a TW game. Sometimes, all I would field was a couple of Gatling guns, 1-2 spear units, and of course the General, vs a full enemy stack. The Gatlings would hold fire until the last possible second, and then I would Last Samurai the enemy into Oblivion in slow motion while manually aiming a Gatling gun. Yep, easily the best TW to release so far.
The map in Shogun 2 felt huge, even though it took place on a much smaller chunk of land than every other game up until its time. The factions, although fairly similar in look, felt varied and unique. The expansions to come out did just that, expanded on the base game without feeling “useless” or “pointless”.
If you’re looking for a Total War to start with and you also enjoy a setting that spans across hundreds of years in Japan, Shogun 2 might be a good starting point.
From Thrones of Britannia to Shogun 2, this is how I would rank the Total War games up until now. With Three Kingdoms just a couple of months away (at the time of writing), I’ll be interested to see if Shogun 2 can hold its #1 spot. If TK is as good as I think its going to be, I don’t think Shogun 2 stands much of a chance, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
If you disagree with how I’ve ranked the Total War games, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Or, if you agree, I would love to hear about that just as much!