I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Total War series features some of the best strategy games ever made. And yet, not all Total War games were created equally. None of these games are necessarily bad but some are definitely better than others. Much better. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at all the Total War games released so far and attempt to rank them all from worst to best. It wasn’t easy but I was eventually able to come up with a definitive list.
Before we get started, I just want to point out that I won’t be including any of the spin-offs on this list. So things like Total War: Arena and Total War: Elysium are off the table. Also, and this is very important, I’m ranking these games based on how enjoyable they are to play in 2022.
In the case of some of these games, there are huge differences between how good they were at launch and how good they are now. Similar to my XCOM games ranked list, I want to focus more on the now. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at all the main Total War games ranked from worst to best.
16. Shogun: Total War (2000)
We’re starting right off the bat with an entry that may seem controversial to some. Released way back in 2000, Shogun is the game that started it all. The first entry in the Total War series was an important milestone for strategy games and paved the way for better things to come. But, much like most titles from that era, Shogun: Total War didn’t age well.
Trying to get Shogun to run on modern systems can be a bit of a nightmare and not really worth the hassle in my opinion. If you do manage to get the game to work, you probably won’t have a ton of fun with it on account of its outdated graphics and controls. Unsurprisingly, Shogun is also way more simplistic than most other Total War games and doesn’t offer much of a challenge.
At the end of the day, this is still a good game that occupies a special place in a lot of people’s hearts. However, I’m not taking into account nostalgia when ranking these games. Shogun is no longer fun in 2022 and there’s basically no reason to play it.
15. Medieval: Total War (2002)
Pretty much everything I just said about Shogun can also be applied to Medieval. The second entry in the series came out just a couple of years after the first one and was almost identical in terms of gameplay. Medieval did bring some improvements to the table and got a little bit better in terms of graphics. But overall, the game feels extremely dated in 2022.
The main reason why I’m putting Medieval above Shogun is because I’m a big fan of medieval games in general. Playing historical campaigns revolving around major events like the Hundred Years War or the Crusades is always a treat. Meanwhile, the game also covers the early Middle Ages with the Viking Invasion expansion pack.
Unfortunately, just like Shogun, Medieval isn’t optimized for modern systems. Expect a lot of crashes and other problems if you do decide to try it out. Honestly, though, you’re much better off sticking with its sequel instead.
14. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia (2018)
Thrones of Britannia is easily one of the worst Total War games we’ve got over the past few years. Which is a real shame because this is a very interesting setting that doesn’t get used in video games nearly as much as it should. Ironically, Creative Assembly is a British studio so it’s particularly strange to see the developers put so little effort into this one.
Having said all that, Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia isn’t necessarily a terrible game; just a disappointing one. The battles are actually not half-bad and there’s more focus on the narrative than in other Total War games, which some players may find refreshing.
However, the campaign portion of Thrones of Britannia is definitely one of the weakest ones out there. And you won’t have a ton of factions to choose from either.
It’s unfortunate that CA decided to abandon Thrones of Britannia because they could have turned it into a good game with some more updates and maybe an expansion or two. As it stands, it’s just kind of mediocre. You should definitely still check it out if you can get it for cheap. But it’s not something you’d want to be paying full price for.
13. Total War: Empire (2009)
Empire was one of the first truly divisive games in the series and to this day you’ll still find loads of people who either absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. With this one, Creative Assembly decided to tackle the 18th century, a period known for the prevalence of gunpowder weaponry, massive navies, and rampant imperialism.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this period but that’s not the reason why I’m ranking Empire this low. The game has interesting campaigns and some of the best naval battles in the series. However, the field battles are less engaging compared to what you can expect to find in other Total War games.
Everything revolves around gunpowder in this era so don’t expect field battles to feel particularly dynamic. There’s also not a ton of unit variety for that very same reason.
Total War: Empire was a buggy mess at launch and continues to have plenty of problems all these years later. The game definitely plays much better than it used to but it’s far from a smooth experience. The game doesn’t benefit from Steam Workshop support either, so you won’t be able to improve the performance or anything else with mods.
12. Total War Saga: Troy (2020)
Next up we have another Total War Saga entry. I think Troy is better than Thrones of Britannia but not by much. Ancient Greece is one of my favorite time periods but it often doesn’t make for a great video game setting. Especially when it comes to games like Total War.
I distinctly remember CA saying they wanted to offer a realistic look at the Trojan War with this one, but that’s not really possible seeing as how we’re talking about an event that was mostly or entirely fictional. So CA did what every game developer does – they started by trying to make things realistic before eventually turning Troy into a fantasy game. Which would have been fine, except now it’s a strange mix that doesn’t appeal to anybody.
If you’re into historical Total War games there are way better options out there. Meanwhile, if you’re into fantasy Total War, you’ll want to skip this and jump straight into Warhammer.
Troy does have some redeeming qualities, especially when it comes to diplomacy and resource management. But at the end of the day, the game has more cons than pros. The setting is reason enough to try it out if you can find it on sale, but it probably won’t keep you hooked for more than a few days.
11. Total War: Warhammer 3 (2022)
Boy, what a trainwreck. Warhammer 3 was supposed to be CA’s magnum opus, the final chapter of a trilogy that did way better than I think anyone would have expected. But instead, what we got is an unfinished and disappointing game that’s barely worth playing at this stage even with tons of mods.
The worst part is that it will take the developers many more months to bring the game to an acceptable level. If they don’t abandon it in the meantime. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Warhammer 3 sounds great on paper and I imagine all the people who gave it glowing reviews are either delusional or purposely trying to mislead people. Or they barely played it. But as someone who put around 150 hours into this game, I can tell you that this game is a complete letdown as of right now.
Warhammer 3 is poorly balanced, poorly optimized, missing key features, still riddled with a number of bugs, and the list of problems goes on.
Now, I will say that some of the new factions in Warhammer 3 are indeed pretty cool. Also, there are a few quality-of-life improvements that I really enjoy. Which is why I’m not putting the game lower on this list. But I can’t recommend playing this over Warhammer 2 or even the original Warhammer in its current state.
Once Immortal Empires comes out I will revisit it because it definitely has the potential to become one of the best Total War games out there. But it will take A LOT of work to get it to that point. And, honestly, at this stage I’m no longer confident that CA can pull it off.
10. Rome: Total War (2004)
If I was to rank these based on nostalgia, the original Rome would probably end up being the best Total War game of all time. Or at least somewhere in the top three. But since that’s not the purpose of this list, I don’t think I can realistically place this nearly two-decade-old game any higher. It’s still a pretty good game but can’t hold a candle to a lot of the more recent entries.
Rome was an absolutely revolutionary game at launch, easily surpassing its predecessors. The game looked better, had more complexity, a better narrative, more interesting factions, and was overall just more fun to play. The fact that there weren’t many games set in ancient Rome at the time helped it stand out even more. I wasn’t into Total War when Rome first came out, but this was the game that introduced me to the series years later.
In 2021 Creative Assembly released a remastered version of Rome that looks crisp and runs great on modern systems. Well, for the most part. They also improved some of the mechanics without trying to change the core gameplay too much. The result is a game that feels new in some ways but still very much old in others.
At this point, I recommend sticking with Rome II or one of the other newer Total War games further down on this list. Unfortunately, not even the remastered version can make the original Rome feel like a modern strategy game.
9. Total War: Attila (2015)
Total War: Attila is one of the more historically accurate games in the series in terms of how it portrays the period it is set in. The main campaign covers the events leading up to and immediately following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Which was caused by, among many other things, the titular Attila the Hun and his vast armies.
Total War: Attila was made with veteran players in mind and it shows. The game is overall more difficult than other entries in the series and not just because of the fact that the AI is broken and cheats a lot. Which, let’s be honest, is a problem in most Total War games.
To be good at Attila you really need to pay attention to what’s going on and you’ll likely struggle a lot during battles if you don’t have any previous experience with the series. In other words, the game can be either very frustrating or very rewarding depending on what type of player you are.
Attila holds up pretty well in 2022 but does suffer from a bunch of balancing issues that should have been addressed years ago. Especially since the game received numerous updates and no less than eight pieces of paid DLC since launch.
Unfortunately, you do need to buy a lot of those DLC packs if you want to turn Attila from an average game to a good one. Without any DLCs, there’s an extreme shortage of factions to choose from and very little unit variety among many of those factions.
8. Total War: Rome Ii (2013)
Rome II has one of the most impressive redemption arcs in the history of the series. The game was released back in 2013 in what can only be described as an abysmal state. You can still see the aftermath of that disastrous launch on Metacritic. Total War fans were really upset at the time, and with good reason, but a lot has changed since then.
Creative Assembly kept working on Rome II for the next five years and managed to significantly improve the game during that time. It’s still not as good as it could be but it’s definitely a solid strategy game in 2022. The game also benefits from a very dedicated modding community that continues to be active to this day. Rome II eventually managed to live up to the hype even if it took it several years to get there.
Although these days Rome II is slightly better than Attila, it does suffer from the same monetization practices we all know and loathe. CA ended up milking this one more than any other game in the series so far. Rome II received no less than 14 DLC packs, only one of which is free.
You’ll still need to fork out quite a bit of money if you want the definitive Rome II experience. Similar to Atilla, the game is just okay without the DLC. Sadly, this is a trend you’ll see with most Total War games released over the past decade or so.
7. Total War: Warhammer (2016)
Warhammer was a game-changer for the Total War series. Creative Assembly took a big risk when they decided to make a fantasy-themed Total War game. As it turns out, though, Total War and Warhammer Fantasy go together like peanut butter and jelly. The marriage of the two resulted in a flawed but ultimately very enjoyable game with more variety than any other Total War game up to that point.
The original Warhammer isn’t nearly as impressive in 2022 as it was back in 2016 and 2017. The game still holds up very well as far as the battles are concerned (minus the sieges), but some of the campaign mechanics have aged poorly. The base game, in particular, is hard to recommend on its own since it only features a handful of factions, albeit they are all very different from one another.
Warhammer’s main problem is that its successor completely blows it out of the water. At the same time, though, you need the original to get the most out of Warhammer 2’s Mortal Empires map. The Total War: Warhammer trilogy benefits from an interesting synergy that, as mentioned earlier, won’t be fully realized until Warhammer 3 gets its act together.
This synergy makes these games difficult to rank on their own. However, I still think that the original Warhammer is good enough by itself provided you own most of the DLC packs, some of which are free. At this stage, it’s certainly better than Warhammer 3 in many ways but not quite as good as the following games on the list.
6. Napoleon: Total War (2010)
Napoleon is quite similar to Empire in terms of gameplay but suffers from far fewer problems than its predecessor. As you might expect based on its name, the game mostly takes place in the early 19th century and revolves around the titular French general. There’s still a heavy focus on naval battles and gunpowder weapons but the field battles are less of a nuisance here. The campaigns are much better this time around as well.
Napoleon is one of the best Total War games in terms of narrative. You’ve got two small campaigns that follow Napoleon Bonaparte’s early military career and rise to power along with a grand strategy campaign centered around the Napoleonic Wars. Meanwhile, you can also play as nations that were part of the coalition created to stop Napoleon’s fast expansion, such as Great Britain, Russia and Austria.
There aren’t too many factions to choose from but you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything despite that. You can play as any of the nations involved in the conflict and that’s all you really need in a game like this.
In 2022 Napoleon: Total War still holds up pretty well but the game is starting to show its age just a little bit. Not just in terms of visuals and gameplay mechanics but also in terms of performance. The game struggles or outright refuses to run on systems using 12th gen CPUs and a fix for that is unlikely at this point since CA stopped supporting the game a while ago.
5. Total War: Shogun 2 (2011)
While the original Shogun is far from the best Total War game in 2022, its sequel more than deserves a high place on this list. Shogun 2 returned the series to feudal Japan but made everything bigger and better than before. You have plenty of naval battles just like in Empire and Napoleon, but the field battles here are far superior. In fact, they are some of the best in the series.
Shogun 2 still gets a lot of love to this day thanks to its ability to balance most of the main components the series is known for. In order to properly develop your empire, you’ll have to plan ahead and pay close attention to things like diplomacy, economy, religion, agents, skill trees, and more. And yet, none of those systems feel overly complicated or overwhelming. Shogun 2 is the quintessential easy to learn, difficult to master Total War game.
Having said that, your enjoyment of Shogun 2 will heavily depend on how much you like Samurai games. Shogun 2 takes place in Japan during a time when the country was highly isolationist and the game very much reflects that. While CA did their best to give every clan a unique playstyle, the game still suffers from a lack of variety. It’s mostly going to be just Samurai fighting other Samurai.
It’s no surprise that the developers released quite a few DLC packs that add new clans and units. I highly recommend getting some of those because the base game unit rosters can feel a bit lackluster. The field battles are still amazing even without them, though. Unlike other Total War games, I would say the DLCs are nice to have but not mandatory in this case.
4. Total War: Medieval Ii (2006)
I feel like Medieval II is as good as Shogun 2 but I’m placing it a bit higher just because of the time period. I’m a fan of medieval games and this one ticks pretty much all the boxes for me. It has massive field battles, epic castle sieges, Crusades, and everything else you would expect from a game set in the Middle Ages. Sure, it’s pretty old by this point, quite janky in some areas, and the controls take some getting used to. But it’s still one of the best Total War games around in spite of its problems.
Total War: Medieval II remains to this day one of the few universally beloved games in the series. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who has something bad to say about it because there’s genuinely not much to complain about. Of course, you can expect certain limitations from a game as old as this. But they’re easy to overlook when everything else still holds up so well.
Medieval II is a highly ambitious title that spans several centuries and technological eras. Over the course of a campaign, you’ll get to engage in countless bloody battles, witness the great Mongol invasion and the invention of gunpowder weapons, go on Crusades, possibly get excommunicated by the Pope, try to survive the black plague, and eventually sail to the New World. And those are just some of the adventures offered by Medieval II.
Medieval II also has a plethora of great mods, including a very famous one based on Lord of the Rings. Butt even without any mods, this is still a solid Total War game. Its only major issue is its age but if you can overlook that you’ll be in for a great time.
3. Total War Saga: Fall of the Samurai (2012)
Fall of the Samurai is a pretty controversial game, to say the least. Primarily because this didn’t used to be a standalone game. Fall of the Samurai used to be an expansion for Shogun 2 until Creative Assembly decided to repackage it and sell it as a separate game. For triple the price.
I couldn’t disagree more with that decision but since this is technically a standalone game, I’m going to treat it as such. And, as it happens, Fall of the Samurai is one of the best Total War games out there.
Fall of the Samurai takes place in the 19th century so we’re getting pretty close to recent history here. This was a time of transition for Japan as it was forced to leave behind its isolationist past after coming into contact with more and more western powers. Among other things, this meant abolishing the shogunate and Samurai culture, hence the name of the game.
While I prefer swords and spears over rifles and gatling guns, I do find this particular setting interesting because it focuses not just on the conflict between Shogunists and Imperialists, but also on the conflict between tradition and progress.
As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, it’s basically just Shogun 2 but better and more polished. Fall of the Samurai takes place about 300 years after Shogun 2 so it’s not really a direct sequel. I do recommend playing Shogun 2 before Fall of the Samurai, but you won’t be missing out on a lot by jumping straight into this one.
2. Total War: Three Kingdoms (2019)
Total War games are no strangers to controversy. Fall of the Samurai being made into a standalone game, the disastrous launch of Rome 2, Warhammer 3 just in general, and the list goes on. But I don’t think any other game raised quite as many eyebrows as Three Kingdoms.
In this case, it wasn’t because there was something wrong with it. Quite the contrary. The game was doing great (and still is) and was beloved by many. And yet, CA decided to unexpectedly cut support before Three Kingdoms managed to reach its full potential. Sure, it has some problems like any other Total War game but it is overall an excellent entry in the series.
The setting alone is a big selling point since there are very few western games that take place during the Three Kingdoms period. Because this is a highly romanticized period, the game borders a bit on fantasy but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game was intentionally designed to feel like an epic historical fiction novel or movie, complete with over-the-top combat, larger-than-life characters, and a beautiful art style appropriate to the time period.
Three Kingdoms is clearly a love letter to long-time fans of the series. This is one of the more complex Total War games we’ve seen so far and there’s little to no hand-holding. The game trusts that the player can figure most things out on their own, which is quite refreshing in this day and age. However, all of that makes the fact that CA abandoned the game early even stranger.
In spite of that, Three Kingdoms is in my opinion still the best historical Total War game as of right now. However, there is another title that’s overall even better.
1. Total War: Warhammer 2 (2017)
Warhammer 2 is CA’s best game so far. And not by a small margin either. The developers took full advantage of a universe that has been expanded over the course of several decades and used it to create a game that’s unlike anything else out there.
Yes, there are two other Total War: Warhammer games out there. But the first is nowhere nearly as ambitious while the third needs a few more years of development to get to this level.
The amount of content and variety here is frankly ludicrous. All in all, you have close to 70 factions to choose from split between 15 different races. Every race in this game feels completely unique and nearly every faction has something special that sets it apart from all the others.
And don’t even get me started on the dozens upon dozens of unique units, monsters, lores of magic, lords, heroes, artifacts, and everything else that makes Warhammer 2 not just the best Total War game, but one of the best strategy games of all time. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the Warhammer universe, you still need to give it up to Creative Assembly for creating a game like this.
The caveat to this cornucopia of content? You’ll need to fork out a lot of dough to enjoy the full experience. For starters. Mortal Empires is a must and that means you’ll need to own both Warhammer and Warhammer 2.
Next, you’ll need at least a few DLCs, of which there are many. Ideally, you’ll want most of them but you can skip a few without missing out on much. Check out my Warhammer 2 DLC buying guide to learn more about that. Warhammer 2 is definitely expensive but the price is well worth it.
If you enjoyed this ranked list make sure to check out some of our other ones down below.
6 CommentsLeave a Reply
Kudos for putting Shogun 2 FOTS in front of Shogun 2 vanilla. This is something that not a lot of people do despite FOTS being a way more unique and engaging game than the base one imo. Not sure ranking TWW3 at this point in time makes sense though, it’s a bit unfair to compare it to 1 and 2 who have had years worth of patches and DLCs.
Also Medieval 2 still deserves the number 1 spot imo.
Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. I can see how ranking TWW3 right now might seem a bit unfair but it would have been strange not to add it at all. I really tried but at this stage, I really don’t like the game that much. I’ll definitely revisit this list once the game is in a better state. I’m hoping it can become the best of the bunch in the future but yeah, it’s going to take years.
WOW, this list is awful. It’s almost like an experiment that was written by someone that never actually played any of the games. Napoleon isn’t only the worst Total War, it’s one of the worst strategy games I’ve ever played in almost four decades. All you have to do is build one killer stack and go from capital to capital until you win. Just leave reinforcements behind and build units in the cities you capture as you go. The AI is non-existent and you have that above 10 other entires. You’re free to express your opinions and thankfully I’m free to tell you they’re absolute garbage.
Absolutely! At the end of the day, all we can do is express personal opinions. I could have ranked them based on Metacritic score or whatever but where’s the fun in that? Besides, I wouldn’t have agreed with that ranking anyway. These are all time-consuming games so as you might imagine I have played some more than others. I won’t deny that. It could be that Napoleon is the worst but I personally thought it was pretty good all things considered. But I get where you’re coming from. I don’t agree with any of the similar lists I’ve seen on other websites, especially those praising Warhammer 3 (which are most of them), so I decided to make my own.
Let’s agree to disagree. Also I don’t think it’s fair to rate these games based on how they perform on modern engines.
I’m a big fan of the Total War series, so I was really excited when I heard that they were making a new game in the series. I was really disappointed, however, when I played the game. It was really buggy