Last month, Creative Assembly unveiled the latest entry in the Total War franchise, Total War: Pharaoh. The game will be bringing the series back through history after its brief stint in fantasy with Total War: Warhammer 3 and will explore an entirely new time period. Players will be able to experience the Bronze Age of Egypt in all its glory and will have to do everything they can to keep the country together. However, it will not be easy as Total War: Pharaoh will be introducing a slew of new features including dynamic weather, slower combat, and unit weight which should keep even the most veteran players on their toes.

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After playing through three Total War: Pharaoh battle scenarios, Game Rant was able to sit down with creative director Todor Nikolov and battle designer Hristo Enev to discuss this latest Total War experience. We discussed the newest additions to the Total War formula, the reasoning behind this setting, and some of their favorite parts about this new title. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Q: For our readers, could you provide just like a base explanation of what this game is, and something maybe you haven’t been able to tell anybody yet?

Nikolov: Yeah, I’ll give something, I’m not really sure if I mentioned it during the presentation, but maybe I have. The main and most important thing about the game is that it’s the first Total War title that’s focused on Ancient Egypt. And because this is a very particular period in the history of Ancient Egypt, it’s the late Bronze Age with its collapse, we’re also showing civilizations and cultures that the Egyptians interacted with. You can play not only as an Egyptian, but also as a faction belonging to another culture. There are the Canaanites, to the north of Egypt on the eastern Mediterranean coast, and Hittite Empire to the north.

Total War Pharaoh Battle

What we want to do is immerse the players in this stable world, because in the late Bronze Age, the international situation had reached a level of stability, quite unprecedented, from what I know. They even had various empires back then that had sort of a club of the great powers, that you had to be a significant country to get into. They would trade with each other and exchange gifts and diplomatic messages, and they would wage proxy wars using smaller client states. But, all of this got unraveled in a process known as the Bronze Age collapse. We don’t know a whole lot about the process, about the Bronze Age collapse, apart from the fact that there were a multitude of factors that contributed to the collapse, like the dissipation of trading networks or internal strife.

Again, in this period, Egypt had a number of civil wars that happened in a very short period of time. So yeah, it was a fascinating thing to create, to try and see what might have actually happened back then, because as I said, we know relatively little details, such as the chain of events or what exactly happened to each character. But what we do know is that after the civilizations dissipated, there was a dark age period for about two centuries, after which the classical civilizations emerged, like the ancient Greeks are from that later period. The Bronze Age itself is a fascinating period with a lot of sophisticated cultures that I’m pretty happy to be able to give more representation in a video game.

Q: So along with that, you briefly discussed why you guys wanted to explore Egypt, but could you go into any more detail about why you chose this theme now?

Nikolov: Well, we wanted to be focused on a portion of the history of Egypt that represents the Egyptians that are not Greek, like from a later period. We opted to go for the New Kingdom, because at that time Egypt was maybe kind of different from what most people imagined. Like, those people living around the Nile and waiting for the flood to come so that they can harvest some plants and build some pyramids, etc. And that’s it.

At the time of the New Kingdom period, Egypt was an Empire. It grew into an empire that expanded quite aggressively, as they had a disciplined and well-ordered military that they sent on expeditions in Asia and South in the lands of Nubian Kush. We really wanted to represent this, this vast and majestic civilization at the pinnacle of its power, which it acquired during the long rule of Rameses the Second, who ruled for about 67 or perhaps maybe even 70 years. A very, very long period of time.

Total War Pharaoh Battle

And after his rule, Egypt started rolling downhill, and the collapse really sped this up. And Egyptians might have not survived actually, if it was not for Rameses the third, our main character, who is also the last warrior Pharaoh. Because he managed to keep Egypt together, like he repelled the invading sea peoples that were threatening his kingdom. But afterward, although Egypt survived, it never really fully recovered. It never reached again this height of power and influence that it enjoyed during the previous years. So this is why the New Kingdom, it was the greatest moment in Egyptian history, like the greatest period, they were the most influential back then. But it was also one of the most dangerous because they could have been wiped out.

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Q: Speaking of the era, is there something in this period you really, really wanted to include, but you couldn’t for some reason?

Nikolov: A personal peeve of mine, and it’s actually related more to the campaign part of things is that we couldn’t include absolutely every Egyptian god. We have some of them in the game as a representation of the Ancient Bronze Age of Egypt. To be honest, making a game in the Bronze Age does impose certain restrictions on us because we want to represent authentically the time period and the era. This means that we don’t have any cavalry, no artillery, which meant that we had to use chariots to give the player their mobile units that they can use to chase down enemies and charge enemies really, really excitedly. To overcome the restrictions, we have to step up on some other features that you have seen in the battles, like for example the dynamic weather.

Enev: The dynamic weather, the unit stances, as Todor mentioned, we do have chariots. They have mostly the role of skirmish units or fast flanking units. We did diversify them because most of the time period wars were fought with infantry units, and the addition was the chariots. We have a few different types of infantry units dependent on their weapon. We have the most, let’s say basic one, the spear and shoot, which is the defensive infantry unit. The opposite is a two-handed axe unit, which is the more fast and offensive unit. And then there’s a middle ground, which is, let’s say a sword, which is jack of all trades.

We have some diversity in range weapons as well. We have javelins, which are short-range, but really powerful. The opposite is a long bow, which is a Nubian longbow, which is a really long-range unit, but not as powerful as a javelin. And then there’s a middle ground, which is a bow that is average damage.

About other features, we needed to use unit stances, they do add a bit of depth to the battles, a bit more play style with infantry units. You have three base unit stances, and each of them has a number of upgrades that you can acquire during a campaign or some units have them as base. The base ones are advance, which tells your units to advance in a certain direction. And when they engage an enemy, they will try and push them back. This is mostly dependent on unit weights. So heavier units, mostly the Hittite units, they will have an easy time pushing lighter units back while light units try and push, but they mostly won’t succeed. Then another unit stance is the give ground one. This will make your unit move backwards while facing forward and fighting at the same time. So if they have a shield, they will be protected from range fire. Or you can use that for a bit of tactical play where you lure an enemy unit into a trap you devised beforehand

Total War Pharaoh Sandstorm

Q: You mentioned the dynamic weather system, and I think it’s a really interesting addition. The build kind of showed off thunderstorms and sandstorms, and I was wondering just how frequently it occurs and how much of an impact the weather actually has on the gameplay. Because some features like this can be pretty exciting, but sometimes these features come at the expense of gameplay and get kind of annoying. Like, you have a vision in your head you know what you want to do, and then the storm comes in. It’s like everything’s just ruined, and I just want to know how often that happens.

Enev: So I can’t say a certain percentage of battles or how often it happens. Like in previous Total War campaigns, if you’re the attacking force, you can wait for a more favorable weather if you want to. You said that a sandstorm or the dynamic weather can ruin your strategy, but it can also create a strategy for you. For example, there are certain units that are good at fighting in a sandstorm and good at fighting in sand. So, if you are fielding a lot of those units, you might want to wait for a sandstorm to hit or might want to start the battle in a sandstorm.

With dynamic weather, we wanted to make the player adapt to new situations. What else the dynamic weather does is create opportunities as I said, but another example is maybe you have a lot of archers and a sandstorm or rain or storm, it does kind of not work with archers so well. Yu might have the strategy “Okay I’ll just wait for the enemy to come to me, and I’ll shoot him with arrows,” but the weather change is something you know beforehand. So, you might want to advance before the enemy does and use your firepower to your advantage before the weather changes. At the same time, maybe the enemy has a lot of archers. You might want to wait for the enemy to come to you, or to wait for the more favorable weather because it will penalize his archers. Then, you have better odds of winning the battle.

Total War Pharaoh Night

Q: So jumping off of that, you’re changing up the strategical aspect a little bit with this one, too, like slowing it down, making exhaustion matter, things like that. I was just wondering, was there some big driving force behind slowing down the combat? And is it something that you think other Total War games will try to replicate in the future?

Nikolov: Well, regarding the replication, that remains to be seen. I hope that the players will enjoy it. The main goal that we tried to achieve was to recreate this classic Total War feeling where when you are waging a battle, there is no level of micromanagement. You don’t have to time a precise ability that you need to then cast somewhere or just affect your units in this precise moment that the timing is important. In older titles, you could have fewer decisions that carried greater weight, and this is one of the things that we wanted to replicate.

Like for example, right now in Pharaoh, you would have to take a look around the battlefield, appraise your surroundings, see the kind of terrain, check the weather, is the weather changing? Is it currently a sandstorm? Because it does not change in every battle, you could fight in a sandstorm throughout the battle. So, take into account the weather, the army composition, of course, the classic terrain elevation, and then try to use all of these to devise a tactic of your own that will work in this particular battle. When I’m playing Total War battles, and I’m also a longtime Total War player, I’m pretty happy with the current state. Because oftentimes a battle can be decided with a single decisive maneuver like a chariot, a chariot charge in the specific non-protected flank can rip an enemy unit apart and this will often cause a domino effect throughout the other units.

Total War Pharaoh Day

In addition to that, we also introduced mass combat animations for all the units in a battle. This, in turn, contributed to the balance becoming slower because having mass combat animations meant that the battle would be slower.

Q: So, my personal favorite part of Total War is the large scale battles. And you kind of talked a little bit about the campaign, but didn’t really focus as much on that as more the actual battles and the changes you are doing to them. And I was just wondering if you can share any more specifics past “you’re just holding Egypt together” and the customizability.

Nikolov: Yes, so one of the one of the things that the player can do with our campaign is to become Pharaoh of Egypt, because the game is called Pharaoh.

Q: Makes sense

Nikolov: Of course, you have to gain a sufficient amount of legitimacy to be recognized as a claimant, and then you will have to overcome other claimants to gain the crown of the Pharaoh. This gives you certain additional gameplay options that we’ll be discussing in detail later during the campaign portion of the marketing campaign. But you will become more powerful in this way, you will have to use this power in order to survive the whole Bronze Age collapse as it slowly unfolds around you. We’re also representing the Hittite Empire, and they have an equivalent of the Pharaoh called the Great King. So a faction might opt to become the ruler of these two great empires.

total-war-pharaoh

Q: For my final question, you probably get asked a lot of the same questions constantly by people. I mean, today alone, you’ve probably heard a lot of repeats. So I’m just wondering, is there something that no one has asked you about that you’ve just been dying to share?

Nikolov: That’s a good one. I want to say this exact question I wanted to be asked. Let me see, there are some repeats, to be honest. There are some unique ones like nobody has ever asked us this. Let’s see. Let’s see, let’s see, what else is there that we haven’t ever mentioned?

I really don’t feel that enough people asked me about the campaign customization options that allow you to tweak your gameplay. It’s something related to the campaign, but people could have asked me that I suppose, and I’m really eager to share. So, we want to have a game as sandbox as possible, this is both in the campaign and outside, and this is why we’re giving the player a number of options that they can use to tweak their experience the way they see fit. Like the amount of income or the behavior of the AI or the balance, and you know there are quite a bit of bits and bobs that you can tweak to further customize your experience. Of course, we will be going into more details a bit later on those but yeah, I’m pretty excited about those.

What do you think Hristo?

Enev: I’m not sure. This is my third interview, I’m not sure what people have asked. One of my favorite features, it’s both campaign and battles feature because it’s done in campaign, but it affects mainly battles is the bodyguard customization. Yeah, as in previous Total Wars, we have accessories, and you can equip them to your character, your bodyguard, or the general you just recruited. The thing we are doing is that this actually changes your unit.

You can equip your bodyguard with a spear, and he’ll be with the spear. Both his model on the campaign map and in battle he will fight with the spear, and that’s for both the character and his bodyguard. So, we have a few different weapons. Everyone can equip a spear, a sword, a khopesh. They can equip a shield, one type of shield, we have three types of shields, they can equip one of them. Or they can equip a bowl or chariot, this all changes. And this creates a combination that results in different units.

Nikolov: There’s a lot of flexibility in that.

[END]

Total War: Pharaoh will be available for PC in October 2023.

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