Total War has been running for two full decades now. In that time, there have been no fewer than 14 core releases, as well as several spinoff games. Naturally, there’s a lot of talk in the community and on Metacritic about which game best represents the series, and which is the best overall.
Updated January 13th, 2021 by Jack Pursey: The Total War series, which has changed hands between three of the gaming industry’s juggernauts in EA, Activision, and Sega, has been fundamental in popularizing the strategy game genre. Although the series has never quite been able to recapture the magic of its first few entries, the franchise still provides solid strategy experiences with each new entry. To give the series the recognition that it deserves, we have opened up this list to include every main series entry into the Total War franchise.
15 Total War Saga: Troy – Metascore: 75
It’s never nice to come last, but Total War Saga: Troy is certainly not a bad game, exemplified by its respectable Metascore of 75. As the name suggests, it takes players back to the Trojan War that took place during the Bronze Age.
Being the most recent game in the franchise, Total War Saga: Troy has many excellent features that have improved upon the early iterations of the game such as the complex battle mechanics and impressive visuals. However, the game struggles with issues that feel as though they should be refined at this point, such as the user interface.
14 Total War Saga: Thrones Of Britannia – Metascore: 75
The first game in the Total War Saga sub-series, Thrones of Britannia takes players back to 878 AD. The Total War Saga sub-series intends to offer players a more in-depth look at a certain historical period, rather than spanning an entire era.
Although the 75 Metascore puts Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia joint-last on this list, Creative Assembly and Sega likely won’t feel too down about the game, as it won the Best Strategy Game award at the Independent Game Developers’ Association.
13 Total War: Rome II – Metascore: 76
Total War: Rome II narrowly lands above the joint-bottom position, though it is by far the most disappointing entry into the franchise. Following on from one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved strategy games of all time in Rome: Total War was never going to be easy, though not many expected to be as underwhelmed as they were.
Despite releasing nearly ten years after Rome: Total War, the second game suffered from numerous rudimentary issues, such as frequent technical problems and a poor camera.
12 Total War: Attila – Metascore: 80
Released in 2015, Total War: Attila begins in 395 AD, nine years before the birth of Attila the Hun. The game was an extremely important entry into the franchise, as it was the first release after the aforementioned Total War: Rome II. Following the disappointment of the second Rome game put a weight of expectations on Attila‘s shoulder, as a poor release could have seen an end to the series.
Total War: Attila was heavily praised upon release for providing one of the franchise’s best overworlds, as well as offering interesting playstyle varieties with its new factions. The game had its fair share of criticism though, particularly with its interface and technical performance.
11 Napoleon: Total War – Metascore: 81
As the name suggests, Napoleon: Total War takes place between the 18th and 19th centuries, and has two campaigns following the military career of the former King of Italy and Emporer of the French; as well as a campaign allowing players to attempt to defeat Napoleon.
Napoleon: Total War was praised for its improved emphasis on historical accuracy and immersion, but criticized for its lackluster A.I. The game picked up the Best PC Game award at the Milthon European Game Awards, as well as the Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Video Game Score.
10 Total War: Three Kingdoms – Metascore: 85
Total War: Three Kingdoms is Creative Assembly’s most recent mainline Total War game. While it’s widely considered to be good, many fans and critics hoped for more from the title — especially after the over-the-top Total War: Warhammer games. Fortunately, the Mandate of Heaven DLC does an excellent job rounding out the game’s core features and even adds legendary characters similar to the legendary lords from Total War: Warhammer. Despite falling towards the lower end of ratings for a Total War game, Three Kingdoms is definitely worth checking out.
9 Total War: Warhammer – Metascore: 86
Warhammer and Total War seem like a match made in heaven. One is a series about tactics and war on an epic scale, and the spectacle of large-scale combat. The other… well, that’s both franchises in a nutshell, actually.
One of Total War: Warhammer‘s biggest strengths lies in the diversity of its factions. For instance, the Dwarf Realms field heavily armored infantry and siege engines, while the Vampire Counts rely on a mix of undead fodder units, monstrous creatures, and potent spellcasters. Because of this, every army poses unique tactical challenges; players have to consider their own strengths and their enemy’s advantages before engaging in battle.
8 Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai – Metascore: 86
Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai is a standalone expansion for Shogun 2. It added six new warring clans and three foreign imperial powers (Britain, France, and the United States), and greatly expanded the scope of Shogun 2‘s campaign map. These changes, plus the new rifling and cannon units, generally made for a more interesting campaign. Still, the game drew criticism for its lackluster ocean battles, which became more important with the addition of naval bombardment.
7 Total War: Warhammer II – Metascore: 87
Total War: Warhammer II is more than just a sequel to Total War: Warhammer. Both games have similar strengths and weaknesses, but Warhammer II is generally considered to be more fleshed out. The game also has a ton of downloadable content. It’s easy to say that Total War: Warhammer II is the most expensive Total War game ever released. However, Warhammer II is single-handedly the largest and most diverse game in the series, benefitting from all of the content from Total War: Warhammer and seventeen unique content packs. Warhammer II also does an excellent job of expanding on features and factions from the first game through new scenarios, new tech options, and new warlords.
6 Shogun: Total War Warlord Edition – Metascore: 87
Shogun: Total War set the stage for the series back in 2000. At the time of its release, there just weren’t that many strategy games that were as large-scale or ambitious as Shogun. The game’s turned based map layer and real-time strategy battles drew heavily from the likes of Risk and tabletop wargames.
The Warlord Edition was released in 2001 and included The Mongol Invasion expansion with the base game. These updates brought with them new factions and units, and a new campaign mode.
5 Medieval II Total War – Metascore: 88
Medieval II Total War was the first full-bodied sequel in the franchise. On top of that, Medieval II has also been a source of memes in the Total War series. Most notably, fans recall cheats which added Elephant Artillery and Elephant Rocketeers to the campaign — and they’re about as fun as they sound. Medieval II is also a favorite game for modders. In fact, Total War: Warhammer is rumored to have been inspired by the full conversion mod, Call of Warhammer: Beginning of the End Times.
4 Medieval Total War – Metascore: 88
Even at its time of release in 2002, Medieval Total War wasn’t the prettiest game, but it expanded heavily on Shogun‘s foundation. Generally, critics and fans praised the game’s AI, which put up a good challenge on any difficulty setting. The campaign world was also larger and included numerous factions and religions, giving the game excellent replay value.
3 Total War: Shogun 2 – Metascore: 90
While a lot of games in the Total War series focused on expanding the play space with new factions, larger landmasses, and a broad selection of tactical units and abilities, Total War: Shogun 2 simplified things quite a bit. Fortunately, that led to an overall tighter and more polished experience.
One of Total War: Shogun 2‘s flagship features was the Realm Divine—a crucial step towards a victory that would cause all AI factions to declare war with players in the campaign. Players either loved it or hated it, but it was structured in a way that it could always be planned for. Overall, it helped put the idea of “total war” to the test.
2 Empire Total War – Metascore: 90
Empire Total War had a troubled launch, and it shows in the User Reviews. Players had issues with major bugs, crashes, and even install errors. Once those issues were patched out, though, the game’s core managed to shine through. Empire Total War marked a slight departure from the series formula. Since the game starts in the 18th century, players have access to a large array of artillery, cavalry units, and rifling squads. Dedicated melee units are few and far between, with each serving a specialized purpose.
1 Rome Total War – Metascore: 92
If there’s just one common theme for Rome Total War reviews, it’s that the game is engrossing. In fact, many would say the game does a better job of putting players in the shoes of historical leaders than any other game in the series. It has the perfect balance of speed, politics, and tactics to give players the drive to go “one more turn.” For many, Rome is the definitive Total War title.