Total War: Attila devs talk units, Hun politics and the apocalypse

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The end is nigh! For the Romans, Attila was a terrifying symbol of the apocalypse, largely thanks to the fact his rampage coincided with a period of drastic climate change and global turmoil—the perfect setting for a grand strategy wargame. But how will the latest Total War game build on the formula that made The Creative Assembly famous? I spoke to designer Simon Mann and artist Pawel Wojs about exactly that, with particular focus on new units, the new roaming factions and combat changes.

PC Gamer: What were your main design aims with Attila?

Simon Mann: The main thing we wanted to do really is try and show a new era in history, as we do with every game. It's an era that we hadn't really touched on. We kind of glossed over it with Barbarian Invasion, but I think we've now made a totally new, fresh title.

We really wanted to make a strong, character-based game to show this era, which a lot of people don't actually know very much about. I'm sure there are a few people who never even knew the dark ages were a thing.

Pawel Wojs: And at the same time, close the chapter on the history of Rome. Rome II documented the 200 year period plus of Roman history and this was a nice way of telling the story of the end, the fall essentially, and that also is paving the way to the dark age, and then eventually the next chapter in Europe's history.

PC Gamer: It's interesting to play with barbarian politics in factions that are often wrongly assumed to be completely anarchistic and uncultured. You seem to have expanded on those systems for Attila to give those guys personality.

Simon Mann: I think all total war fans, and certainly myself especially like this idea of narrative. You kind of create your own narrative, the actions you take, you get your favourite generals; we really wanted to push that because we're got a much smaller time frame we could make something really intimate. So we've really tried to make your family tree intimate, you've got your family, and that creates that feeling of dynasty.

But then also, you've got your non-family characters, you've got other factions' characters getting involved as well, and we've also put in things like an event feed, which you can save and then publish on and share with other players. We really wanted to bring that closer, and it seeps into various factions of the game. So there's some diplomacy now, you're dealing with the faction leaders and they've all got their own personality quirks, as I like to call them. The will treat you in different ways, certainly at the very start of the game they'll be fairly historically accurate in they way they react to you.

PC Gamer: I was playing with the rolling hordes, the Ostrogoths. Describe how that the roving clans systems work in Attila.

Pawel Wojs: Well the Ostrogoths, it's a really nice example, actually, because going back to the whole narrative thing, where people build their own narrative. You start off as a displaced horde and the objective is to migrate, to move away from the Hun to the east. And so you go west and the western Roman Empire is crumbling, it's ripe for the picking and as the Ostrogoths you've got a nice little faction trait—the Inheritors of Rome, I think. It allows you to recruit Roman units from captured Roman settlements and buildings, and you don't get penalties for capturing Roman settlements. So you basically want to move away from the threat of climate change, from the threat of Hunnic hordes. So you move as you develop your infrastructure in the encampment mode, and then move, and once you're ready you settle. You go to a more fertile place and start your civilization afresh.

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PC Gamer: Once you've settled, you can pick up and migrate again...

Pawel Wojs: Yeah, you can begin to migrate as well.

Simon Mann: So as long as you've only got one region, you will be able to start migration again. You will raze the province that you have, burn it to the ground, and then you're a horde again.

Pawel Wojs: So, for example, the Saxons who start settled, and you can continue being a settled faction, you could go and take Britain, for example. But you could also choose to migrate, so you would burn the city you start with and then you'd become a horde, so you do have that ability as the other varying factions as well.

Simon Mann: It makes it kind of frightening to have the Barbarians when their back's against the wall, they have an out. They can migrate, which is really historical from the period.

Pawel Wojs: Because as the Romans, you can't do that.

PC Gamer: I guess that should encourage a more changeable world map.

Simon Mann: I think it will be really interesting. Especially because you can upload your game and see others. I think there's going to be so many totally different maps, it's going to be so much less static. Where Rome II all the factions had settlements and things like that, this is going to be wild.

Pawel Wojs: It's going to be a lot more dynamic, because you'll have regions that have been abandoned and other factions, maybe emergent factions, liberated factions will come and settle. So yeah, the landscape does change a lot. Things happen that you'd kind of expect are quite surprising, for example the west Romans choose to abandon Britain in the game, they do consolidate and move all their forces out, which is really nice because that's what happened.

Simon Mann: As you progress, I think factions are going to be forced by the climate change that's occurring. So the snow line's moving again, you're going to get longer winters, winters in areas there wouldn't previously have been winters. Which is also going to get linked in with the fertility line which lowers all your food and the amount of gold you get—supporting your armies is going to get harder. Then they're going to get hit with the cold winters coming in, so it's the sort of double-whammy of attrition coming at you.

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.