Interview: Creative Assembly On Personal Stories & Survival In Total War: Attila

Over the course of several hundred years, the Roman Empire spread rapidly across Europe, North Africa and into the Middle East before fraying around the edges and eventually crumbling to dust. Their fall marked the start of the Dark Ages, and it was centuries before their achievements were surpassed.

Where Total War: Rome II charted the Roman Empire’s rise to power, Total War: Attila is named after one of the key historical figures which really marked its demise. We sat down with Pawel Wojs, Lead Artist, and Simon Mann, Senior Battle Designer, to chat about the game.

TSA: It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been around 18 months since the release of Rome II and that was a game which had quite a mixed reaction because of the sweeping changes made to the game. How did you react to that internally when looking towards making Attila?


Pawel Wojs: Obviously we did react to a lot of the feedback, which we always do, and it helps us build new features and new content around that, but we also carried on doing what we wanted to do. Attila’s built on Rome II, but it is quite a different animal as well. It’s a much different time frame and we introduce a lot of new things as well, so it’s quite different.

Simon Mann: Yeah. I think there’s always an experimentation phase with any game. With Rome II especially, we’ve released a lot of patches now and we’ve tweaked a lot of the features that we put in. I think you’ll find that a lot of the features that were in Rome II at launch are still present in Attila, we’ve just continued to focus them and improve those as well as introduce new stuff.

Pawel: Rome II, like Empire, was a big leap in the tech and gameplay, and with Attila we’re building on that.

TSA: Along those line, one of the big advancements that you’ve talked about is with the families in the factions, and that was one of those points in Rome II which I felt hadn’t really been fleshed out. It feels like that’s the kind of thing which you’ve focussed on.

Pawel: It’s quite a different time frame, and Attila takes place almost within a single lifetime of around 70 years, as opposed to Rome II which was over 200 years. It was very fitting for us to bring that kind of tree back and build it into that world.

Simon: I think with Attila as well, it’s a much more personal game. I think that with your play through, we’re really pushing this idea that it’s your story, as it were. When you’re playing as a faction, this is your story of your dynasty.

We’re trying to make it really close and really intimate, so we’ve got your family tree, with all the family and non-family stuff being told through that. We’ve got your narrative being told through your event feed, so as you play through the game we track everything you do.

TSA: It’s just writing a little novel of what you get up to?

Simon: It’s essentially that, yeah. You can filter it, so if you don’t want to see battles, you can hide battles and just see characters assassinating one another!

It also ties into the diplomacy. We’ve brought more character into the diplomacy, so you’re dealing with faction leaders now and they’ve all got personality quirks which will affect the way they deal with you.

We’re really trying to bring it all into this one big narrative, which then framed by Attila the Hun and his presence in the game.


TSA: Speaking of Attila, it seems like he’s going to be this whirlwind of destruction which just wanders across the map…

Simon: [laughs] We’ve got so many words of it… plague…

Pawel: Scourge of doom!

TSA: It was quite interesting to sit down with the build for a few minutes here and see that the first objective was simply to survive for six years.

Pawel: Yeah, I mean, it’s very much a survival strategy game and that’s what we’re calling it. That’s the main difference between Attila and previous titles.

Yes it’s a sandbox, but it’s very much about your survival. No matter which faction you play as you will have survive either the climate change as you migrate to other lands, or you’ll have to survive the fall of massive empire as it crumbles at the edges, or survive the onslaught of the Huns.

So that’s very much the theme.

TSA: The climate change and the migratory factions that we see off the back of that are both quite fascinating new aspects, but how do they actually work within the game?

Pawel: Well, in simple terms you have, over the course of the period in the game, the climate changing and various factions are displaced to begin with. So they’re in horde mode, moving around and looking either for a new place to settle or just causing some havoc.

The northern factions, and the Barbarians in particular, begin the game settled, but you can choose at any point to begin a migration, abandon your settlements and move to more fertile lands. Again, the catalysts for this are the climate change and the Huns.

Simon: [The factions] all kind of have high level objectives for where they want to be in the world. For example, I’ve noticed that when you start a game and don’t play as the Western Roman Empire, they start to move all of their troops out of Britain.

The objectives for horde armies are that they need regions with high fertility, because high fertility equals more food, less attrition and it’s generally a better place to be around the Mediterranean basin. So they will start naturally pushing their way inwards, and that’s where you get that kind of collision of all the different cultures on the Roman’s lands.


TSA: Obviously, this game’s named after Attila, and you’ve finally confirmed that the Huns will be a playable faction. Is it a case where the empires are trying to hold off invaders and survive, while migratory factions are moving in order to survive, but that Attila and the Huns play in a very different way?

Simon: When you’re playing as any faction, you’re to have Attila and experience his Hunnic armies at some point. You’re probably going to meet some Barbarians first, but once you’ve dealt with them there’s this Hun army right behind.

But when you play as the Huns, you are that force; we put you in the role of the destructor. You’re playing as the big bad guy to the world and your victory conditions involve razing settlements – with most factions you’ve got to capture 45 settlements, for example, whereas with Attila the Hun, you’ve got to raze or subjugate 45 provinces in order to win. You can actually just raze 45 provinces and that can be your victory as the Huns.

Pawel: It’s very much a different play style, because unlike the migratory factions, the Huns cannot settle; they are fully nomadic. You can subjugate factions and make them your tributaries, so they’ll pay you tribute and you can recruit units from those factions, but you are always nomadic.

TSA: That has to be quite interesting because you wouldn’t have a kind of home territory, would you?

Pawel: You can go into your encamped stance and still recruit from there.

Simon: So your tent city, as it were, follows you around. It’s still there, but it’s not providing you with bonuses. When you then go into your encamped stance, all your buildings starting giving you bonuses like food, money, unit recruitment, agent recruitment.

All of these things then activate and you can do it, refresh your forces and then pack it up and you’re mobile again. You’ve got a kind of mobile HQ.

Pawel: It’s very much like in a settlement. You build your cultural tents, your religious tents, your recruitment tents…

TSA: The guys making all these tents must be making a killing! [laughs]

Simon: [laughs] Selling of bear hides!

But this isn’t a free thing. It’s not like, “Oh, I can just encamp,” they’re actually drawing fertility out of a region where they’re encamped, so if a horde army comes into your region, they might not be your enemies yet, but you don’t really want them there. Certain factions also stop you being able to replenish your troops!

Pawel: Especially the Huns. The faction traits for the Huns are the four horsemen: conquest, war, famine and death.

So if the Huns are in your region, you can’t replenish your troops, you’re losing 25% of your food production… they’ve got these really, really terrible effects.

Simon: It’s almost parasitic, in some respects, the way they affect these other factions. That’s how they make their living, because they’re up against it as well, right? All this climate change and cold, it’s not just the Romans feeling the pinch, they just happen to be the biggest thing in the way. All factions are feeling this effect of climate change, so you’ve got to be able to deal with it.


TSA: Are you able to actually completely defeat the Huns if you’re tactically astute enough?

Simon: Yeah, they work like any other faction. You can defeat them in war, if they declare war on you, or you can also do diplomacy with them. If you want, you can just give them tribute and say, “Please don’t attack me. We’ll just throw money at you!”

TSA: That would be a very interesting tactic as, say, the Roman Empire.

Pawel: Well it’s what the East Romans did.

Simon: The West Romans couldn’t, though. No money!

TSA: [laughs] The last thing I want to ask about is with regard to the co-op play. In Rome II it didn’t feel as nuanced as it could have been, where you had to sit and wait for the other play to finish all of their moves. Is this something you’ve been able to look at?

Simon: So, we’re presenting co-op as it was in Rome II. We’re still supporting it and think it’s a really great part of the game.

I think with all the horde mechanics it’s going to be really interesting, though. We’ve had some people playing it where they’re a settled faction and their friend is a horde, and you get a really interesting dynamic of the different gameplay fitting together, but at present we’re supporting it as it was in Rome II.

TSA: Yeah, for me it really was the need to wait and not be able to do stuff at the same time.

Pawel: I guess the trick is to set a time limit for the players to take their turns.

We did try to add functionality to when you wait, so you can still view things and it’s not as restrictive as previous games where you just can’t actually look at things.

Simon: I guess it’s your strategising time.

Pawel: Yeah. That’s the challenge for a turn based strategy game, I guess.

Thanks to Simon and Pawel for taking the time to sit and chat with us about Total War: Attila. The game’s out on February 17th, but in the mean time you can read our preview which went live yesterday.