Total War: Pharaoh is the latest installment in Creative Assembly’s long-running Total War series of strategy games. Developed by Creative Assembly Sofia, Pharaoh transports players back to the Late Bronze Age Collapse, letting you experience the upheaval and uncertainty of Ancient Egypt and the lands surrounding the Nile valley during this tumultuous period.
As with previous Total War titles, Pharaoh blends turn-based campaign strategy with real-time tactical battles. You take control of one of several playable factions like Egypt, the Hittites, or Canaanite tribes, seeking to expand your empire and deal with both internal threats and external invasions that could destabilize your kingdom.
Pharaoh promises the classic Total War combination of empire management, court intrigue, sweeping battlefield tactics and grand strategy. The setting is a refreshing change from the more commonly explored eras like Medieval Europe and feudal Japan. In this review, we will dive into the various aspects of the game, from the richly detailed Egyptian campaign to the constrained bronze age battles, to determine if Creative Assembly Sofia has crafted an engaging historical title that does justice to the beloved franchise.
Can the relatively simplistic chariots and spearmen of the Late Bronze Age translate into compelling tactical combat compared to the complex gunpowder warfare of later titles? Does the court politics system add substantial depth to the campaign? And do the invading Sea Peoples and other new features help recreate this lost era in an immersive fashion? Read on to find out as we sail the Nile from Memphis to Nubia in this comprehensive review of Total War: Pharaoh.
Recreating an Ancient Empire in Stunning Detail
One area where Total War: Pharaoh clearly excels is in bringing the Bronze Age world to life through outstanding art design and visual presentation. Both the campaign map and tactical battlefields are filled with intricate details that showcase the diverse landscapes of Ancient Egypt and transport you right back to the era of great Pharaohs and towering pyramids.
Sailing along the Nile feels utterly sublime, with palm-fringed banks and sun-baked vistas passing by. The river valley cuts a vibrant green swathe through the arid desert, bringing life and fertility to cities buzzing with activity. Beyond the floodplains, the Sahara stretches to the horizon in repeating undulations of ochre sand dunes. Further north, the fertile Delta region fans out with serene pastures and muggy marshlands before opening into the gleaming Mediterranean.
The diversity of environments is remarkable. Your armies will trudge through barren canyons and rocky ridges in the Sinai, enjoy the shade of palm groves surrounding a remote oasis, and push through howling sandstorms blanketing entire battlefields. Night battles are especially atmospheric, with flickering torches and campfires illuminating the troops. Thunderstorms make for particularly dramatic scenes as lightning flashes menacingly over charging chariots.
The attention to detail also brings out the character of different cultures and factions. Egyptian cities have magnificent obelisks and statues of pharaohs watching over the streets. Hittite settlements feel brooding and imposing, with fortified citadels and ironclad troops. Each unit has stylish, distinct visual designs with lavish armor and weapons – you can easily tell Ashkelonite spearmen apart from Sherden mercenaries at a glance.
This eye for historical accuracy extends to the user interface. Everything from the menus to unit cards is stylized with Egyptian hieroglyphics and aesthetics. It perfectly complements the setting and is integrated so seamlessly that it feels like you’re commanding armies and building empires by directly interacting with relics from antiquity.
With such care put into the visual presentation, Total War: Pharaoh is easily one of the most immersive and atmospheric entries in the venerable strategy franchise. You’ll be hard-pressed not to be awed as you pan across the exotic vistas. This is truly one of the most beautiful representations of the ancient world ever depicted in a game.
Rule the Nile as Pharaoh…If You Can Survive that Long
The expansive campaign is the real star in Total War: Pharaoh. This is where you guide your fledgling faction through generations, aiming to crown yourself as Pharaoh or Great King and build an empire worthy of antiquity. There is plenty to manage, from a complex resource-based economy, courtly politics, civil wars, religion and more. Combined with external threats and a dynamic map, it makes for a challenging but engaging experience.
Without a doubt, the most fully-realized faction is Egypt. The mechanics and flavor text immerse you in the intricacies of ruling the bountiful Nile kingdom. You’ll constantly balance food and unemployment in your cities while keeping nobles and priests happy – no easy task. Decisions feel impactful, like building monumental temples to curry divine favor or sending expeditions down the river to discover new settlements.
Unfortunately, regions beyond Egypt’s borders lack this depth. Though aesthetically pleasing, playing as the Hittites or Canaanites cannot compare to the rich Egyptian gameplay. The peripheral maps feel oddly compressed and disconnected. You won’t enjoy the same dynamic challenges or difficult decisions as Pharaoh. It is still fun battling over supremacy in the Near East, but Egypt is undoubtedly the star performer.
Speaking of battles, petty squabbles and full-scale civil wars will regularly engulf your kingdom. As rulers vie for power, you build “legitimacy” to place higher in the succession line. It leads to an almost roguelike unpredictability – you may guides Egypt’s fortunes for decades or be abruptly dethroned after 12 turns. This constant instability, while historically accurate, keeps you on edge. You have to carefully consider military force projection and courtly allies to stay in power.
To defend your lands, you can construct outposts like mountain forts, trade outposts, supply caches and more. These mini-cities provide nearby armies with replenishment, faster movement and economic bonuses. Stringing outposts together creates a formidable defense network. But they aren’t indestructible, so smart opponents will target isolated ones first to cripple your armies’ mobility. This new system adds great strategic depth.
While battling usurpers, you also need to weather the Bronze Age Collapse. This sees apocalyptic waves of Sea Peoples invade Egypt’s coastlines with overwhelming force. As turmoil spreads, you’ll soon be fighting rebellions, collapsing public order, migration crises, and relentless coastal raids across your provinces. It is nearly impossible to fully contain the chaotic collapse, so you have to shrewdly prioritize threats. The dynamic disaster mechanics brilliantly reinforce the narrative of your civilization fighting against darkness.
Despite some AI deficiencies, Total War: Pharaoh successfully crafts an engrossing Ancient Egypt simulator full of uncertainty and adversity. Your best stories will come from desperately defending your chance at immortality amidst the swirling sands of history. Just don’t expect such memorable experiences playing more peripheral factions. For a true test of leadership in antiquity, rule Egypt and weather the Bronze Age Collapse. The gods will be watching.
Battle Tactics Hark Back to Total War’s Roots
When it comes to moment-to-moment gameplay, the real-time battles in Total War: Pharaoh will feel instantly familiar to series veterans. The fundamentals remain the same – maneuver regiments of infantry, archers, and chariots to smash enemy forces. Strip away the visual flourishes, and the combat mechanics are largely indistinguishable from early Total War titles. This reliance on simplistic bronze age military technology makes Pharaoh’s battles less diverse and tactical than ideal.
That said, they can still entertain in reasonable doses. Watching waves of spearmen crash together under a hailstorm of arrows never really gets old. Flanking distracted units with fast chariots, timing charges correctly, and using terrain effectively still brings tactical satisfaction. There are also some welcome enhancements like dynamic weather altering conditions, special unit abilities to gain an edge, and battlefield debris realistically building up over time.
But significant issues linger. Sieges feel like tedious slogs – enemy AI stupidly abandons the walls almost immediately, forcing a grueling street fight. Archers frequently fail to fire their arrows efficiently due to pathfinding problems. Chokepoint battles play out identically every time. The limited unit diversity doesn’t help either. You’ll see the same swordsmen and axemen over hundreds of battles across dozens of hours.
The simplicity is understandable given technological constraints, but compares poorly to later historical titles. There is only so much variety to be squeezed from spearmen and chariots. Combined with AI problems, the lack of evolving tactics makes combat grow repetitive over a long campaign. There are still occasionally epic clashes, but you have to tolerate a fair amount of mundane skirmishes.
In the end, Pharaoh’s battles reflect both the franchise’s roots and limitations of the setting. Veterans will enjoy the classic mechanics with a fresh coat of paint. But the repetitive nature and lack of diversity leads to a definite feeling of being back in the past rather than pushing the series forward. Outside of set-piece moments, combat lacks the sophistication seen in newer titles. Pharaoh will scratch the itch for bronze age warfare, but leaves room for improvement when it comes to tactical excitement.
Incremental Changes Add Up to Create a More Enjoyable Experience
While Pharaoh doesn’t revolutionize the Total War formula, Creative Assembly Sofia has focused on many incremental improvements that make the overall experience more enjoyable. There are the small quality-of-life changes that smoothly modernize older titles, as well as more significant areas like mod support and customization options. However, the addition of pre-order DLC raises some concerns.
One of the best new features is the ability to undo moves during your turn. Being able to roll back an accidental misclick or poor decision lowers frustration and allows you to experiment more freely. The UI also highlights movement paths and attack ranges when commanding armies, avoiding nasty surprises. Together, these tweaks alleviate a lot of minor annoyances that have long plagued the series.
Mod support has also been expanded to be more accessible. Steam Workshop integration lets you browse and subscribe to mods from within the game itself. Map editing tools are included for creating new start positions and scenarios. While the mod scene is still growing, these are big steps in the right direction.
Custom game modes allow you to tailor the experience by tweaking things like battle difficulty, economics, and AI behaviors. You can also choose victory conditions, starting era, and lands available. Combined with modding, this gives Pharaoh much more replayability than its prequels.
However, the inclusion of pre-order DLC that locks cosmetics behind additional purchases is worrisome. These kinds of monetary tactics tend to indicate a shift away from rewarding loyal players through expansions towards incentivizing spending. It also sets a precedent that may negatively impact modding. While the effects here are limited, the strategy does not reflect well on Sega and CA.
Overall, Pharaoh smartly improves upon old Total War conventions while granting players more creative control. The ability to undo moves is a true game-changer. But the pre-order DLC leaves a sour aftertaste compared to the goodwill built up by the rest of the enhancements.
The Sands of Time Deliver an Intriguing New Historical Chapter
After charging headfirst into the richly detailed battlefields of the Late Bronze Age, it is clear Creative Assembly Sofia took thoughtful strides to revitalize the Total War franchise with Pharaoh. Leveraging the fascinating setting of Ancient Egypt, they crafted an immersive campaign brimming with complex strategic decisions and ever-present threats. For history buffs eager to rule the Nile kingdom amidst swirling desert sands, it should not be missed.
That said, this jewel of antiquity is not without flaws. The highly engaging Egyptian campaign exposes the lacking depth of peripheral factions and regions. Though aesthetically spectacular, they cannot match Egypt’s hefty gameplay content and narrative focus. Additionally, while combat benefits from enhanced visuals and options, repetitive unit rosters and aging engine quirks hamper the tactical thrill of battles.
Yet Pharaoh still emerges as one of the most well-rounded and enjoyable Total War titles in recent memory. The innovative outpost system adds new strategic considerations for armies on the march. Dynamic disasters like the Bronze Age Collapse provide epic challenges to overcome. Meaningful court politics and civil wars encourage cunning manipulation on your quest for power. And quality-of-life improvements smooth out grievances old fans are well acquainted with.
For all its strengths, Egypt still stands out as Pharaoh’s crowning jewel, featuring one of the most engaging Total War campaigns to date. The battles may grow repetitive over long campaigns, but the courtly intrigue, religious ceremonies, and shifting sands of Egypt continuously compel you forward. Each new dilemma feels like peering into an ancient world as compelling as it is merciless.
Creative Assembly Sofia admirably advanced the franchise by reinforcing its strengths while diminishing its flaws. Their passion for the era clearly fueled clever ideas to resolve antiquated design. Is Pharaoh perfect? No. But it is a testament to thoughtful iteration and innovation. For that alone, it deserves to sit alongside the greats of the series.
Whether you are a returning fan or newcomer, if the allure of commanding legions in the shadow of sphinxes and pyramids appeals, Pharaoh makes a compelling case. As the sun sets on the Bronze Age, guide Egypt through upheaval towards immortality. Just beware, for fickle are the sands of time.
Total War: Pharaoh
Though not without flaws, Total War: Pharaoh succeeds at revitalizing a storied franchise by honing its strengths while diminishing its weaknesses. Creative Assembly Sofia has crafted an immersive trip to Ancient Egypt brimming with complex strategy, despite repetitive combat. The passionate attention to historical detail shines through in the richly crafted world that acts as a true star. For longtime fans or newcomers seeking to rule the Nile, Pharaoh is undoubtedly worth exploring for its engaging campaign alone. The journey through antiquity has its fair share of turbulence, but emerges as a memorable voyage nonetheless.
- Gorgeous, highly detailed graphics and art design that immerse you in Ancient Egypt
- Innovative campaign with complex economy, court politics, civil wars, disasters etc.
- Outpost system adds strategic depth to defending territory and managing armies
- Egypt campaign is highly engaging with excellent flavor and challenging objectives
- Quality-of-life improvements enhance user experience compared to past games
- Mod support and custom game modes increase replayability
- Regions outside Egypt lack depth and engaging campaign mechanics
- Battles grow repetitive over time due to limited unit roster and aging engine
- Sieges and archers are hampered by ongoing AI and pathfinding issues
- Peripheral factions like Hittites are not as fun or fully-featured as Egypt
- Inclusion of pre-order DLC sets concerning precedent for the franchise