The Total War cavalry charge

Attila 1


In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom marshals the mighty horse lords of Total War: Attila.

Elite Hunnic Lancers aren't the lithe fighters you might expect from a steppe nomad army. I wonder if their lightly clothed compatriots—launching arrow barrages at a gallop behind—envy the elite barding and glittering metal helmets. I suspect not. The bowmen are merely harassing and fragmenting the enemy line. The elites must use the chaos to close distance with the Roman artillery without being flattened. For me, it's a simple double-click. For them, it's a mad dash through a storm of arrows and flaming rocks.

They'll get it done. Some will fall as they skirt the enemy line, but but there's plenty of free space between the bulk of the Roman force and the trebuchets. It's a clear day, and dry, which means the cavalry will get maximum purchase on the terrain. They'll hit the poorly armed artillery crews at around 40 miles per hour with lances levelled. There won't be many survivors.

There's no time to watch the charge. Horse archers need careful management if they're going to tempt the well-drilled Roman footsoldiers to break formation. I order them to focus fire on lesser-armoured enemies, with fire arrows where possible. It's a race. I'll lose a battle of attrition—my archers can only carry so many arrows—but if I can force a route there will be no escape for the enemy.

Attila 2

It takes longer than it should for me to realise that the rain of rocks has stopped. The elites will be tired after their long artillery-smashing charge, but the Huns are born riders, and relentless. I order them to move in an arc that takes them over a nearby rise, giving them a downhill dash to the enemy's exposed back. They flow over the contours of the map beautifully, maintaining rough cohesion as they wheel for the final charge.

What's a spearman to do? Step forward and the horse archers feint back at a speed you can never match. Your unit is crouching beneath a raised shield wall being hammered relentlessly by flaming missiles. Your artillery has fallen silent, your archers are struggling to stack up casualties firing at the Hun's spacious formations, and you don't have enough horses to drive off the entire horde. You need emplacements—stakes, stone walls, cannon—but those are hundreds of miles away, in Rome. Here there's just an open plain. And an unstoppable enemy.

And a thunderous sound, behind you, growing louder every second.

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Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.