It’s quite possible to play PC games for years and still never get around to the Total War franchise. Some people find the sheer size of the franchise intimidating, and they don’t know where to start. So, we’ve put together a list of the all-time best Total War games. In fact, we’ve got almost all of them in our SEGA Summer Sale.
The problem with listing the best Total War Games…
Listing the best Total War games is perhaps one of the best ways to start a fight with fans. Since it’s such a subjective topic, everyone has their own opinion on it. Still, we’re sure that most will agree with this lineup. And if you didn’t know where to start before, you’ll know what’s what after.
SHOGUN: Total War seems like a game from a different era. Since its sequel grabbed the spotlight, almost everyone overlooks it. Despite this, the original game has some truly unforgettable moments. If you’re picking between the best Total War games set in feudal Japan, the better choice is playing the sequel. Still, this is worth playing for posterity—a retrograded snapshot of the series that followed.
Like SHOGUN: Total War, much of Medieval has been refined and improved in sequels. However, there’s still loads to love about it. Adding elements such as loyalty, religion, and espionage, it bravely expands the scope of the game. In fact, because of this, it feels like a deft representation of the brutal period. It’s also the first game that really clenched the feel of Total War’s battle system. Lines of gleaming armored troops smashing into each other, rousing music and improved graphics. Shogun started it all, Rome refined it, but Medieval expanded the series in a unique way.
Total War: Warhammer II is not only one of the best Total War games, it’s also one of the top 21 turn-based strategy games. IGN Spain sums it up quite nicely:
“Total War: Warhammer II is the sublimation of both the Warhammer fans’ desires and the work in the previous game. With this second game, Creative Assembly is expanding its universe to a major scale. But we know that they can do it better (and they will with the next DLCs).”
9 / 10 – IGN Spain
Rome was the first game where the scale of the conflict completely overwhelmed. It’s immediately and deeply satisfying, and the only thing better than driving the Roman war machine across Europe and beyond is defying history and withstanding it. Chuck in the savagely unforgiving Barbarian Invasion—the only Total War game that forced me to become a Roman vassal—and you have the best example of this time period in the series.
Napoleon takes everything Empire: Total War did well and refines it, streamlining and improving the best bits of its sprawling predecessor. But it’s more than just a mere improvement: Napoleon represents Creative Assembly learning how to properly apply a story to an emergent game. The game is a testament to Bonaparte’s brilliance, and the conquests are especially relevant because they’re conducted with humanity and impartiality.
This entry stretched the series so well that it almost made “Total War” a misnomer. Attila is not just about fighting: it’s a game of politics, feasting, famine, desolation, and migration, set during one of the most fragile and fascinating periods of history.Europe still feels like a unformed concept, ready to be shaped or smashed as you see fit.
So, this is not actually one of the best Total War games because it’s only an expansion. Still, like any good expansion, it doesn’t just add things to the original, it changes them. You’ll get an experience much more like a Civil War-era war game with Fall of the Samurai, as opposed to a medieval wargame with the original Shogun 2. That alone already justifies the cost of admission, not to speak of the new units, locations, abilities, and factions.
Since we managed to pop that first expansion in there, let’s try another. Kingdoms is definitely an expansion focused on adding lots more content. The new campaigns are very challenging and offer vastly different experiences depending on the factions you choose so there’s lots of replayability here. Getting a chance to experience four entirely new wars from a variety of perspectives is more than enough of a selling point for Medieval II.
Empire did an admirable job of integrating systems that were alien to a game previously about hammering conflict and cavalry charges. It embraces concepts that would be impossible in earlier games, and the technology trees have a much more direct effect on the game (plus there’s something hopeful about the abolition of slavery being the ultimate expression of enlightenment).
The battles lack the muscular impact of melee in the other best Total War games, but the sound of cannon roaring on a crowded battlefield is still exhilarating. And one final, very minor thing: the theme tune from the main menu is incredible.
All roads lead to Rome. Everyone wants a piece of that sweet little Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. It comes as no surprise, then, that Rome II ruffles as many feathers as it does with every little stumble it makes. While initially plagued by a bad launch, the game now stands proudly among the 3 best Total War games in existence.
Medieval II owes a debt to the games that came before it, doubtless. Still, it has something magical that sets it apart. It’s an exemplary setting for a Total War game—a time of conquest, crusades, and corruption. Also, there’s enough stability to make each faction relatable and there are emboldening opportunities for expansion and invasion.
And, of course, we already covered its awesome expansion in Kingdoms.
If you could play just one of the best Total War games, it should be this one. All the series’ best ideas come together in SHOGUN 2. With its Fall of the Samurai expansion, SHOGUN 2 also turned into the best gunpowder-era Total War. No other Total War game does a better job combining the fantasy, the history, and the game design. This is the series at its very best.