After fans declared total war on Total War, Creative Assembly completes the apology tour with a major free expansion for Pharaoh this month

(Image credit: Sega)

The latest entry in Creative Assembly's long-running and storied strategy series is 2023's Total War: Pharaoh, and unfortunately things all went a little pear-shaped. Pharaoh itself is a pretty good game, but it was no great step forward for the series and landed at a time when fans were losing patience with the pricing and value of myriad expansions, which all came to a head with both Pharaoh and a DLC called Shadows of Change for Total War: Warhammer 3.

The latter's release especially caused a full-on explosion among players and a sustained campaign of review bombing and complaints that got nasty at the edges, with some players crossing the line and harassing CA developers. The Total War subreddit, Discord and forums were overrun for weeks with the controversy, and it ended up with Creative Assembly issuing an apology, promising to improve the DLC for players with additional content, and making a commitment to "better meet your expectations going forward" and "full transparency around the content before you see 'Buy Now' buttons."

Total War: Pharaoh was also part of this because, the argument went, it was a smaller-scale entry in the series that launched at a full-price $60/£50. CA accepted this complaint by dropping the price by $20/£30, refunding the difference to anyone who bought it at the original price, and removing all higher-priced special editions of the game.

Since then the studio has been on something of a mission to repair its relationship with Total War players, which has mainly meant giving away a lot of content for free. As well as the price drop, CA further committed to making Pharaoh's paid DLC a free update, and has now announced that Total War: Pharaoh's Dynasties will launch on July 25.

This will be the last official expansion for the game, but it's a huge one. The revised and expanded map is a Bronze Age feast that includes the Aegean and Mesopotamia, and adds Assyria, Babylon, Mycenae, and Troy as playable cultures with around 150 new units between them. It doubles the number of factions in-game from 95 to 189, while there are now 349 provinces, and CA estimates the expansion "renders the world approximately 1.8 times larger than the current map, offering players a vast expanse to conquer and explore."

Now you're talking my language. Some of this may look familiar to players of Total War: Troy (heck, you can play "the Aeolians led by the fabled Achilles") but there's clearly a whole lot more going on on a much grander scale. The change that has the most potential is what the expansion's named after, a new dynasty system "to ensure your empire stands the test of time." Creative Assembly's description makes this sound a bit like Crusader Kings lite: "Reign over the tides of mortality and succession, navigating strategic marriages, heroic deaths on the battlefield, assassinations, and the looming mortality of old age to leave behind a legacy that will last the ages."

I love to think about the looming mortality of old age as I drive my enemies before me. One other interesting addition is a new modifier simply named "Lethality" which strives to make the virtual battles more realistic by making everything, well, a lot more lethal. 

"From the outset of our design journey on Total War: Pharaoh, our vision has always been to deliver a grand-scale recreation of the turbulent Bronze Age Collapse; one brimming with historical intrigue, authentic representations of iconic civilisation, and a sandbox theatre that allows you to rewrite the course of human history," said game director Todor Nikolov. "We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and whilst this will be our final content addition, we hope it serves as a love letter that encapsulates our continued passion for this wonderful age."

It also serves as the final stop on the Total War apology tour, and fans should perhaps acknowledge how CA has acted since late last year. The studio hasn't just talked the talk, but addressed players' grievances in a direct and meaningful manner, taken responsibility for its mistakes, and now seems to be over-delivering with free content for a game it's already issued partial refunds for. Players will no doubt feel they were justified in declaring total war on Total War: but maybe it's time to call off the hounds.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."