Keepin’ it Tamriel in Medieval II: Total War.
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.
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.
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.