What’s more, it’s testament to the addictive qualities of the turn-based portion that it’s tempting to ignore the real-time battles altogether. There’s a real desire to see the greyed-out map expand, to get to grips with new kingdoms and cultures and to step outside the European theatre to take part in the action in the Holy Land. However, to click the auto-conclude option would be to do yourself a grand disservice. You’d miss out on the most spectacular and gripping part of the whole Medieval 2 experience: leading your troops to victory (or maybe ignominious defeat).
Rome set new standards for how epic battles looked on-screen, and while other games have achieved prettier results on a smaller scale (Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth 2, Rise of Legends), none have bettered it when it comes to pitching two genuinely vast armies against each other and letting you get right in close to the action. Now Medieval 2 goes one better. From high-above, the scale is amazing, with thousands of troops all marching, charging, fleeing and fighting. Zoom into the fray, however, and it’s difficult not to be dazzled by the detail on offer: the specular highlights on the arms and armour; the intricate heraldry and ornament; the long grass and foliage on the field.
What’s more, Medieval 2 delivers a far greater sense of regiments as groups of individual fighting men. While you still control the whole as a unit, there’s far more variety in the animations being used at any one time, and it’s possible to pick out smaller scraps within the larger clash. Compare it to epic strategy pretenders like Alexander or Civilizations: Rise and Fall, and it’s not so much that Medieval 2 is in a different league as that it seems to be playing a different sport. While the others play Headers and Volleys in the playground, it’s taking part in Serie A.