Streamlining needn’t always mean compromising, yet the task of bringing a complex and diverse PC strategy to touch devices without a certain amount of dumbing down is an unenviable one. In retooling Total War for iOS, The Creative Assembly initially seems to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. But after a period of acclimatisation to what at times feels as much a puzzle game as an RTS, it soon dawns that this is every bit as tactically engaging as its PC counterpart.
The substantial campaign takes you through a series of maps on hexagonal grids, usually only asking that you rout the enemy. Maps have limited space in which to place buildings and move troops, and early battlefields can feel a little cramped, but there’s a welcome side effect in that shuttling between frontline and base is kept to a minimum. It’s not the only restriction, however: units can only advance or move sideways, so there’s no such thing as a tactical retreat.
In practice this takes some getting used to, forcing you to carefully manoeuvre your units into position to maximise their offensive efficiency. This is where the puzzle element comes into play, as you arrange and re-arrange your front line according to the position of your enemy’s key units and emplacements. Fortunately, such adjustments are straightforward thanks to a clear and intuitive interface, and battlefields are easy to read, with some wonderful animation breathing life into the rudimentary unit designs.
Bolstered by solid voice work and elegantly stylised art, this has an uncommon level of polish for a iOS title, while its ten-hour runtime justifies the premium price tag. This isn’t quite Total War as you may know it, but it’s rare to find a strategy game that so expertly balances accessibility with depth. Whether it can find a similarly devoted audience on iOS remains to be seen, but regardless of commercial concerns this is a game that, appropriately enough, benefits most from creative assembly.