So, you want to know about the best Total War games? Shogun: Total War released in June 2000, which means the venerable strategy series has been going for over 20 years now. That’s longer than iPhones, broadband, and most memes. There have been 14 games in that time – not counting mobile spin-offs or the cancelled and underrated Total War: Arena. It’s a lot to keep track of.
Enter: us. If you’ve ever been curious about this strategy games stalwart, look no further. We’ve put together a list of the best and most essential Total War games, from Shogun to Three Kingdoms via the fantastical foray that is Warhammer.
Best Total War games
These are the best Total War games:
- Total War: Warhammer III
- Total War: Three Kingdoms
- Total War: Shogun 2
- Total War: Rome II
- Total War: Medieval 2
- Total War: Empire
- Total War Saga: Troy
Total War: Warhammer III
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Total War: Warhammer III has risen to the occasion and proven itself not only the best Total Warhammer game, but possibly the best Total War game of all time. Drawing on six years of fantasy and historical Total War design, Warhammer III pulls out all the stops in terms of offering the ultimate fantasy strategy game.
Our Total War: Warhammer III review describes it as “a triumphant step forward for Total War on almost every front, boasting not just the best and most diverse single-player campaigns ever, but a revolution in multiplayer too.”
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms is, some would claim, the greatest of Total War’s core historical series. Warhammer’s influence is clear in its expanded character mechanics, strategic variety, and an achingly beautiful upgrade to the Warhammer engine, but Three Kingdoms brings plenty of innovation of its own, with overhauls to diplomacy and espionage.
It all serves a purpose: to inject a national war with the human drama of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms – one of China’s most important national stories – as dozens of scheming warlords vie for power after the collapse of the Han Dynasty. Sadly, Three Kingdoms’ story is coming to close now that Creative Assembly has announced it won’t be releasing any more Three Kingdoms DLC.
Total War: Shogun 2
Widely regarded as the series’ best game at the time – a status that was further burnished by Rome 2’s rocky launch – Shogun 2 returns to the 16th-century Japan setting of the very first Total War.
After the intercontinental sprawl of Empire, it arguably played safe with this tighter focus, but built on all its predecessors to create the series’ richest core systems while adding a new level of aesthetic polish. It even lets you customise your own clan, which is neat.
Total War: Rome 2
Despite a rocky launch, Rome 2 has proven to be the most resilient of all the Total War games to date. It was the best selling game at the time of launch, but even 5+ years on from release, it can command a player count just shy of 10,000.
With buckets of Rome 2 DLC and bright graphics that still hold up – both Attila and Thrones of Britannia use close versions of its engine – Rome 2 is one of the most impressive turnarounds in strategy games.
Total War: Medieval 2
Released in 2006, this is the oldest Total War game on the list, but one that many veterans of the series insist has yet to be surpassed. Perhaps it’s the turbulence and romance of the setting – still one of the most beloved that Total War has ever tackled – or its more challenging, old-school sensibilities. Perhaps its simply because it followed the incredibly popular Rome: Total War, and was based on the same engine.
Whatever the reason, the enduring loyalty of Medieval 2’s community is reflected in its thousands of mods, which are among the best and most ambitious for any Total War game, and the fact that CA gave it a definitive edition which bundles in the huge Kingdoms expansion. So if you can look past the ageing graphics – and, let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger – Medieval 2 is bursting with worthwhile content.
Total War: Empire
Empire’s campaign is vast in scope, taking place across three theatres, with control of the seas between them an essential factor in your success. That means maritime warfare, and indeed Empire was the first game in the series to feature naval battles. Spectacular to behold, these see hulking ships of the line trade thunderous broadsides which, alongside the military technology of the Industrial Revolution, offers Total War players a completely new set of tactics to master. With musketmen and artillery dominating the battlefield, Empire was a big departure for the series.
Empire got a more focused mini-sequel, Napoleon: Total War, which moved forward in time to tell the story of the titular Emperor’s campaigns in Europe. It lacks Empire’s scope and variety, but is more polished and story-rich, so you can take your pick.
Total War Saga: Troy
The ‘Total War Saga’ experiment is still trying to find its place in the world. These smaller games focus on decisive flashpoints in history – conflicts spanning a generation or less rather than a lifetime or more – and were initially pitched as more experimental spin-offs from the core historical series.
They’ve arguably been getting better with each iteration – Thrones of Britannia had a great setting, but it used old tech and was just a bit clunky as a game. Fall of the Samurai, while fantastic, was originally released over a decade ago as an expansion for Shogun 2, and so doesn’t really count. Total War Saga: Troy – created by Creative Assembly’s new Sofia studio – is the best the format has ever been, though it can’t decide what it wants.
It’s hard to deny how vibrant Troy’s strategic layer is, and how creative the Sofia team have been with blending in lessons learned from the Total Warhammer games with the flourishes of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Its multiple-resource economy is no more revolutionary a change than any we’d see in a new historical release, but that’s fine, as it’s a brilliant idea that makes for one of the richest campaigns in the series.
This concludes our list – if you stick to the above, there’s not much you’ll have missed from Total War’s storied history, and not many itches left to scratch in the realm of epic strategy battles. For more recommendations of games you might like, have a look at our guide on the best war games, which covers more modern types of warfare.