MOD SPOT­LIGHT

Keepin’ it Tam­riel in Me­dieval II: To­tal War.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Matthew El­liott

To­talWar meets TheElderScrolls.

The orcs have a crappy deal in the Elder Scrolls se­ries. They’re the elves no­body fan­cies. Their god got eaten. Their full name, Or­simer, lit­er­ally trans­lates as ‘pariah folk’. They don’t even have their own home­land, in­stead shar­ing the prov­ince of High Rock with the magic-lov­ing Bre­tons. Well, that’s about to change.

Like the vanilla games, The Elder Scrolls: To­tal War mod lets me re­di­rect the course of history. But in­stead of sav­ing Carthage or keep­ing hold of Bri­tain’s colonies, I want to make the orcs a world power. And there’s scope here to go as big as I want: the mod fea­tures all of Tam­riel, so my or­cish king­dom could stretch from the far western re­gion of High Rock, through Skyrim, all the way across to Vvar­den­fell, home of the Dark Elves. (Spoiler: it won’t.)

It starts how any To­tal War game should. I have a few mi­nor set­tle­ments, in­clud­ing the fa­bled orc cap­i­tal of Orsinium, and I’m in no im­me­di­ate dan­ger. There are rebel set­tle­ments dot­ted around me, so I can ex­pand quickly and build armies with­out risk­ing con­flict with a pow­er­ful en­emy. It’s an in­ter­est­ing place to start: I’m right next to the city of Wayrest – essentially a pow­er­ful Bre­ton sub­fac­tion – and I can barely even take a step out­side of Orsinium with­out tres­pass­ing on their land. This means diplo­matic re­la­tions with the King­dom of Wayrest are al­ways at risk. It could be a de­sign over­sight – which is for­giv­able, given the in­cred­i­ble de­tail of the map – or it could be a smart way of rep­re­sent­ing orc sup­pres­sion. Ac­cord­ing to Elder Scrolls lore, the orcs are al­ways hav­ing their cities sacked and their ex­pan­sion cur­tailed – so per­haps Wayrest wants to keep an eye on me.

As I be­gin my ex­pan­sion, I’m struck by how much like both games this feels. Me­chan­i­cally, it’s pure To­tal War. If you played any of Me­dieval II, you’ll pick it up im­me­di­ately. But tonally it re­calls the quiet mo­ments of

Obliv­ion. The ex­plo­ration mu­sic plays on the cam­paign map, and fac­tion voices come straight from the in-game NPCs. I grew slightly tired of re­peat­edly hear­ing the same orc proverb over and over again, but it’s a pleas­ant flashback to the hours spent bim­bling around your favourite Elder Scrolls game. Lit­tle touches, like the

Skyrim level-up grunts play­ing when­ever you end a turn, or the

Obliv­ion menu mu­sic swelling be­fore a battle, all give the sense that not only do the mod­ders love the Elder

MY ORCS SPEAK WITH FRENCH AC­CENTS ON THE BATTLE MAP, WHICH IS DIS­CON­CERT­ING

Scrolls games, but that they un­der­stand what it is that makes them mem­o­rable.

Wild World

As well as bul­ly­ing my neigh­bours, I send out orc diplo­mats – yes, they’re a thing. Cross­ing the map with my or­cish en­voy is a great re­minder of the scale and scope of the mod. There’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about see­ing maps you recog­nise from full Elder Scrolls games, all knit­ted to­gether in a re­al­is­tic way. My diplo­mat passed through High Rock, crossed north­ern Ham­mer­fell into Cy­rodiil, then took the same road north you do at the start of Skyrim. It’s lovely mak­ing this jour­ney over a num­ber of turns, meet­ing neigh­bour­ing fac­tions and see­ing which ar­eas now be­long to whom.

Mak­ing this jour­ney is a re­minder of how the fac­tions have been ex­panded in a metic­u­lous, lov­ing way. I don’t just meet Bre­tons or Red­guards; I see the ex­panded lands of my prob­a­bly-ri­vals Wayrest, and meet new fac­tions like the Crowns. There’s a rich­ness here which re­calls the cam­paign map from To­tal War: Warham­mer. Dark Elves, for ex­am­ple, aren’t one fac­tion. In­stead, you pick one of the Great Houses and share Vvar­den­fell – an in­ter­est­ing way of rep­re­sent­ing the frac­tious re­la­tion­ships of the Elder Scrolls. Ev­ery fac­tion has dif­fer­ent forces, too, with their own strengths, weak­nesses and the op­tion to sup­ple­ment armies with units from or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Fighter’s Guild. It’s de­tailed and in­ven­tive, and it feels like ex­actly what Cre­ative As­sem­bly would have done with the li­cence.

Un­der con­struc­tion

It’s an in­cred­i­ble labour of love, then, but there are some gaps. It’s not com­plete yet, so be pre­pared to paste over some cracks in your imag­i­na­tion. My orcs speak with French ac­cents on the battle map, which is dis­con­cert­ing, and you’ll see var­i­ous text boxes that still need trans­lat­ing. That’s hardly a sur­prise when you con­sider how com­plex the mod is.

Sta­bil­ity is a big­ger prob­lem, how­ever. My first ten turns play out fine, but I suf­fer nu­mer­ous crashes after that. This could be an is­sue with sav­ing my con­trol set­tings – it seems to re­vert them to de­fault after ev­ery game crash – but even after I’ve fixed that, I still have is­sues. Ev­ery turn ends with the added dan­ger of the whole game col­laps­ing on it­self. But per­haps the great­est com­pli­ment I can pay is that I’m happy to keep quick­sav­ing and reload­ing. While my con­quest re­mains unfinished and orcs are still be re­pressed, I’ll suf­fer through the in­dig­nity of reloads. Be­cause, after all, what could be more Elder Scrolls than that? Crush­ing tech­ni­cal is­sues and some mys­te­ri­ous, other­worldly force halt­ing the progress of my orcs. They’ve been through ev­ery­thing.

No, king has a stupid name.

Ahh, those front­line orc troops that the Em­pire loves to ex­ploit.

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