Conquer medieval Japan with Total War Battles

Total War Battles is a new iOS title developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sega. It’s a spinoff of the popular Total War franchise for the PC platform, a series of strategy games based in a diverse array of historical periods. The iOS release, available now as a Universal paid app, is a companion to the latest entry in the series: the medieval Japan-themed Total War: Shogun 2.

Total War Battles is a real-time strategy game, but rather than allowing players free rein to place buildings and move units around, there are strict limitations in place, making the game more akin to a puzzle game than a traditional strategy title at times.

The battlefield for each stage is a horizontally-scrolling hexagon-based grid. Players are introduced to the initial game concepts through a series of tutorial battles — these include stages themed around producing units, placing buildings and attacking the enemy.

When placing buildings, which are required to produce resources and train new units, players must consider placement carefully. Each building has a specific footprint of varying shape and number of hexes, and also a prerequisite structure that it must be connected to. The footprint is not able to overlap existing structures, terrain features or the roads which connect other buildings. Squeezing the maximum possible number of buildings in to the minimum amount of space is a skill the player must quickly learn and indeed some puzzle-like levels require nothing more than the placement of a particular number of specific, awkwardly-shaped buildings.

Once units have been constructed, they can be ordered to advance or halt. They are unable to move backwards. They are also able to change “lanes” in order to line up with enemy units, but there is a brief “cooldown” period before the same unit is able to do this again. Melee units will attack enemies in adjacent hexes, while those capable of ranged combat will attack enemies in the same row as them as soon as they come into range. A unit’s health is represented by the number of people standing in the unit’s space — this starts at four and whittles down as it takes damage.

Each level has a specific objective which must be accomplished as quickly and with as few casualties as possible in order to earn a maximum three-star rating. Levels may be replayed at any time from the overall campaign map, and a series of optional, difficult levels provide bonuses to the player’s experience points pool. These experience points are used as virtual currency to purchase various upgrades to the player’s abilities. These vary from improving the effectiveness of specific units to unlocking special abilities. Experience points may be earned through normal play but may also be acquired via in-app purchase for those unable to complete the bonus missions or wishing to save time.

There is also a local multiplayer mode which allows two players to battle against each other by sitting on opposite sides of the same device, but no online play via Game Center or other services. The game does, however, feature Game Center achievements and a leaderboard which ranks players by “points” but makes no clear indication of how these points have been calculated.

This is a bit of a pattern for Total War Battles — it features a beautifully-presented icon-driven interface but often very little indication of what each icon does. Some icons can be long-pressed to pop up an information window, but this does not work in all cases. This is a particular issue for the multiplayer mode, which makes no effort whatsoever to explain what difference the pre-game options make. The Total War series has always had something of a “hardcore” reputation among gamers, but this is just plain inaccessible at times. It’s also somewhat at odds with the game’s mobile-friendly structure — short, repeatable levels designed to offer a gradual, newcomer-friendly difficulty curve.

Total War Battles is a well-produced game but it’s difficult to know exactly who it’s aimed at. Total War veterans will likely find it too simplistic and the “puzzle-like” mechanics frustrating, while those new to strategy games may find themselves put off by the obtuse interface. With no Lite version and a $6.99 price tag, too, it’s a risky chance for the unsure to take — a factor which may limit the game’s long-term success.

Total War Battles is currently No. 125 in Top Paid Apps, No. 22 in Top Paid iPad Apps, No. 64 in Top Paid Games and No. 11 in Top Paid iPad Games. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.