Total War games are undoubtedly the greatest real-time turn-based strategy game series ever made. Total War enables players to re-live the lives of some of the most iconic generals in history, such as Napoleon, Caesar, Alexander, and Hannibal, and all other prominent historical figures in massive real-time battles involving thousands of troops.
The best part is that any battle strategy conceivable by the mind can be executed on the battlefield. It’s a phenomenally well-made series of strategy games where one can hide troops in forested lands and position troops on higher grounds.
The goal in Total War is to eliminate the enemy general early and demoralize enemy units before the crunch encounter, or offer a faint retreat and pick isolated units one-by-one, basically, anything that goes to win the day.
Over the years, Total War games have represented many historical eras and their associated political entities ranging from empires, small kingdoms, frontier barbarian tribes, and even vassals and client states with as much historical accuracy as possible. This makes up for an equally engaging turn-based campaign map with plenty of court intrigue, hardline diplomacy, and trade.
Battles on the campaign map are immediately transformed into a separate real-time battlefield at the point of conflict on the map. Battles can be large-scale field battles, sieges, naval battles, river crossing battles, and even ambushes depending on the situation you are facing.
Furthermore, the Total War Games have also re-created hundreds of famous historical battles. In Historical Battles, players can either choose to preserve history or rewrite their fate for that day.
Cesar and Mark Anthony’s heroics at the battle of Pharsalus, Alexander and Darius’s gargantuan encounter on the plains of Gaugamela, the famous battle of Waterloo that led to Napoleon’s fall, and the disastrous ambush Rome suffered at the Teutoberg Forest at the hands of the Germanic tribes can all be re-played in Total War games.
Timeline of Total War games
Shogun: Total War – 2000
Medieval: Total War – 2002
Rome: Total War – 2004
Medieval 2: Total War – 2006
Empire: Total War – 2007
Napoleon: Total War – 2010
Total War: Shogun 2 – 2010
Total War: Rome II – 2013
Total War: Atilla – 2015
Total War: Warhammer – 2016
Total War: Warhammer II – 2017
Total War Saga: The Thrones of Britannia – 2018
Total War: Three Kingdoms – 2019
Total War Saga: Troy – 2020
Total War: Warhammer III- 2022
Having discovered the Total War series precisely a decade ago, and after having tried the majority of the Total War games in the above-mentioned list, the following is a personalized re-arrangement of all the Total War games, from the bad to the good ones.
Note: This article reflects the author’s opinion.
All 15 Total War games ranked in one list
15) Total War: Shogun (2000)
Released in 2000, Total War: Shogun was the first-ever entry of the Total War game franchise. It was a historic entry as it was a first-of-its-kind take on a real-time strategy game featuring colossal field battles involving hundreds and thousands of troops rather than controlling individual units in titles such as Age of Empires.
Despite being the forebearer of the Total War games that followed suit, Total War: Shogun is made with an outdated engine where battle mechanics don’t hold up quite as well today, as the Total War franchise went on to release far superior real-time strategy titles in subsequent years. Nonetheless, Shogun was an important milestone for the Total War series that paved the way for better things.
14) Medieval: Total War (2002)
The second entry of the Total War franchise, Medieval: Total War, followed suit in Shogun’s footsteps, but the timeline was shifted to Medieval Europe. Medieval: Total War built upon the successes of Shogun by creating a far-running gameplay engine that represented a wider variety of cultural and political entities that existed during Medieval Europe. This was also the first Total War game to introduce siege and single-player battles.
Like Total War: Shogun, Medieval is another Total War game that’s not worth picking up due to its outdated gameplay and battle elements. The title was followed up by Rome: Total War in 2004, which completely revolutionized how strategy games are played, and as a result, blew the first two titles out of the water.
13) Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia (2018)
As the first entry of the Total War Saga, Thrones of Britannia is a very well-optimized title produced by developers Creative Assembly. The game introduced new elements such as a new mustering system, governors, estates, and reworked provinces that were implemented in the later Total War games.
Despite being one of the technically best-ever renditions of the Total War game series, Thrones of Britannia suffers from overall variety in its campaigns regarding a limited variety of factions and unit diversity. After a while, the grand campaign of uniting the British Isles under one banner feels repetitive and boring.
12) Empire: Total War (2007)
Empire: Total War is a title in the Total War game series that divides opinion. With this edition, Creative Assembly decided to take players into the 18th century, where gunpowder weapons, large-scale naval combat, and colonial imperialism were at their peak.
The game occurs in an exciting era where gunpowder weapons dominate the scenes. The battles at Empire: Total War is not as dynamic as ancient warfare. Empire: Total War also has some of the best naval battles created in Total War history.
Despite having a ton of various military units, from Musketeers to horse riders and Ballistic Cannons, Empire: Total War is fraught with bugs and glitches, and some of the problems continue to persist even to this day.
11) Napoleon: Total War (2010)
Napoleon: Total War is a fine-tuned version of Empire: Total War in terms of overall gameplay and battle mechanics. This particular Total War game takes players back into the 19th century and revolves around the life of the charismatic French general Napoleon Bonaparte. The game follows Napoleon’s rise to military power as the ultimate dictator of Europe from a humble beginning as the commander of a small army regiment.
The title contains fascinating recreations of some of the massive gunpowder battles fought during the 19th century, which include the likes of the famous battle of Waterloo and the battle of Austerlitz, where the elite French army singlehandedly defeated a coalition of European superpowers, among many others.
Napoleon: Total War offers one of the best story-driven narratives compared to any previous Total War game. However, the campaign map doesn’t have enough playable factions on offer. It feels more like a Total War Saga edition than a full-blown independent title representing a specific bygone era. That is the only reason Napoleon didn’t make it to the top 10.
10) Total War: Warhammer III (2022)
Released recently in February 2022, Total War: Warhammer 3 is the latest rendition of the Warhammer Trilogy. After the first two titles of the Warhammer series hooked the gaming community’s interest, Creative Assembly was expected to end the Trilogy on a high note. However, they failed to do so. Unfortunately, Warhammer 3 is riddled with bugs and poorly optimized features that came off as a major letdown.
The newly added factions in this title are pretty cool, and the game does manage to offer a rich inventory of unit abilities and magic on the table. It might take a few more years for the developers to perfect the shortcomings of Warhammer 3. It is highly recommended to pick up the first two titles from the Warhammer Trilogy.
9) Total War Saga: Troy (2020)
Yet another Total War Saga entry that failed to live up to the hype it initially generated, Total War: Troy took players way back into antiquity into an era where the classic Greece of Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander was yet to be realized. Instead, it was the age of Mycenean Greek culture when the concept of the Hellenization of Greece was just about to unfold.
Players find themselves in the politically charged situation of the Trojan war, and it’s up to them to pick up either the Greek alliance brewing across the Aegean or be the defenders of Troy.
Although Creative Assembly had promised to accurately depict the historical timeframe of the Trojan war era where Gods roamed the Earth as Heroes, they ended up integrating too many fantasy elements into the mix, completely transforming the battle dynamics.
Total War Saga: Troy did provide some new diplomatic settings and fantastic resource management elements; however, Creative Assembly went just a tad too far with this title regarding mythical heroes having supernatural abilities on the battlefield. Nonetheless, Total War: Troy is an intriguing title to pick up, primarily if you are interested in the stories of the Trojan War and the eventual fall of Troy.
8) Total War: Rome (2004)
Total War: Rome was the franchise’s historical title as it revolutionized how massive real-time battles were played with much improved 3D graphics and detail, unlike its predecessors.
Total War: Rome has an expansive, historically accurate map stressing the coast of Ireland in the West to Central Asia and Siberia in the East, and from Norway in the North to Persia in the East.
The combat animations are much improved from the previous two titles of the Total War series, and the game truly manages to give an immersive experience of ancient warfare. The campaign map of Total War: Rome threw players into the classical era, where the turn-based grand campaign took place between 270 BCE and 14 CE.
Total War: Rome was the watershed title of the series. Gameplay mechanics still hold out to this date, and it’s a pleasure to revisit some of the historically accurate battles of the classical era.
7) Total War: Medieval 2 (2006)
Medieval two became the spiritual successor to not one but two Total War games. For Total War: Medieval in terms of the historical era represented, and Rome: Total War when it comes to refined gameplay mechanics, especially the real-time battles.
This one is one of the most liked Total War games. It takes players away from the classical age and puts them into the medieval age, where crusades were a big thing, right after the dark ages between 1080 and 1580.
Historically, it was an era of ideas, inventions, writing, art, and literature for the lands untouched by the devastating Mongol invasions. The game takes place in an age when gunpowder was beginning to be used in warfare. To a great extent, the developers did a fantastic job recreating the accurate battle mechanics of the age.
Overall, the grand campaign of Medieval 2 has 17 playable factions, which include the Holy Roman Empire, The Eastern Roman Empire, and The Seljuk Turks, among many other powerful historical entities of that era.
6) Total War: Rome 2 (2013)
Many would put Medieval 2 a cut above Total War: Rome 2 because the game is bugged with minor glitches, which include particular difficulty to keep the Pikemen under control when out of Phalanx formation, dumb AI, especially when onboarding and de-boarding ships, and half a dozen more such glitches.
However, these bugs and glitches are not too annoying, and the loyal fan base of the Total War series has largely ignored them over the years. Moreover, developers can quickly rectify most of them with subsequent mods and updates.
Total War: Rome 2 is about to be a decade-old game soon, but it is still among the top three most played and competitive Total War games. As the successor to Total War: Rome, the developers have done a fabulous job recreating the grand campaign map with even more new towns, cities, and provinces. It also includes obscure kingdoms with just a few lines of rulers in the dynasty into the mix.
AI is smarter in diplomacy, and the game offers even more intricate tech, civil, cultural, and military research trees than previous Total War editions. Real-time battles in Rome 2 feel like the users are part of the action with much improved 3D graphics, emotions on the battlefield, and well-orchestrated movements when the units are engaged in a fight.
5) Total War: Atilla (2015)
From here on in the list, no Total War game has any significant flaws or glitches. They are perfect Total War titles, and users tend to put them in different orders of preference dictated by memories or simply personal choices. All titles mentioned henceforth can easily slot in at the number one spot.
Released just a few years after Rome 2, Total War: Attila is a much superior and refined version of the aforementioned title. Total War: Atilla takes place in the dark ages, a historical era that supersedes the classical age, marked by the rapid spread of diseases and mass exodus of several barbarian tribes from Central Asia, fleeing from an even fiercer tribe called the Huns. The developers did a perfect job of re-creating the tension and chaos that prevailed in this era.
Players can either play as one of the settled Empires of the time, such as the Sassanid Empire of Persia or the Eastern Roman Empire, or the players may even choose to play as one of the invasive barbarian tribes looking for a new homeland to call their own.
Developers made Total War: Atilla specifically for regular and pro Total War players. The title features one of the hardest-to-play campaigns, where suitable diplomatic negotiations are hard to come by. The frontier regions are constantly threatened by hordes of barbarians riding out from the steppes.
4) Total War: Warhammer (2016)
Creative Assembly dropped the mic in 2016 by integrating a fantasy-themed campaign world into a Total War game. They incorporated the two flawlessly, resulting in a delightful real-time strategy experience full of monsters, heroes, lore, and colossal battles.
Real-time battles in Total War: Warhammer is a sight to behold, and the gaming community critically acclaimed the title. This motivated Creative Assembly to carve out an entire Warhammer trilogy, the latest of which was released recently at the beginning of 2022.
Although the second installment, Warhammer 2, offers a far-superior and richer Warhammer experience, with most of the subsequent DLC packs and mods combined, Total War: Warhammer also manages to stand out as one of the best Total War titles.
3) Total War: Shogun 2 (2010)
Shogun 2 is the watershed title of the Total War franchise, where the gameplay mechanics of the older titles intermingle with some of the updated gameplay mechanics that sprang up in contemporary Total War games.
Tasked with the unification of Japan, the title certainly doesn’t have a massive campaign map, nor does it have a huge faction diversity, but Shogun 2 does offer one of the most balanced gameplay experiences. Combat, economy, and construction are all perfectly harmoniously in Shogun 2.
This particular Total War title delivers a visually vibrant campaign map whose template was copied across all future Total War games. Shogun 2 also has a cool collection of some of the most well-designed and memorable historical battles and a robust multiplayer system. Total War: Shogun 2 is one of Creative Assembly’s best-ever creations and deserves to be one of the top three.
2) Total War: Three Kingdoms (2019)
The latest mainline entry in the Total War series takes players into a cinematic version of ancient China known as the ’Three Kingdoms period' that followed immediately after the disintegration of the Han Empire around 200 CE. Total War: Three Kingdoms is a character-focused game that brings alive the lives of some of the less talked about charismatic ancient Chinese generals.
The players’ generals take center stage as they vie for power in a loosely maintained and crumbling Han China. This particular Total War game has a massively expanded and intricate diplomatic system that was reworked from scratch.
Due to Three Kingdoms’ high-quality 3D visuals, real-time battles come alive, giving the game a unique personality. Overall, Total War: Three Kingdoms perfectly manages to provide a flavorful taste of the bloody period of ancient China.
1) Total War: Warhammer II (2017)
Warhammer 2 is arguably the best-ever Total War game. Part of the Total War: Warhammer trilogy, Warhammer 2 is a highly ambitious title that expands upon the Warhammer universe filled with 15 different unique fantasy races that range from Woodland Elves, Dwarfs, various species of Orcs, and more.
The sheer variety and richness of content, magic, and lore presented in the campaign maps of Warhammer 2 are jaw-dropping. Overall, Total War: Warhammer 2 has a whooping 70 playable factions on offer. Every faction has a unique set of abilities, army units, heroes, and magic tricks up its sleeve. It is also one of the most played Total War games online at casual and competitive levels.
While Warhammer 2 completely blows its predecessor out of the park in terms of its sheer volume and refined gameplay, the recently launched Warhammer 3 still needs a couple of years of further fine-tuning. Therefore, Total War: Warhammer 2 has to go down as the greatest turn-based real-time strategy Total War game ever made by Creative Assembly.