Best Total War Games 2021

Are you a fan of the Total War games like we are? Here's the ultimate list of the best Total War games of all time. Find your next Total War game here.

Whether you’re a lifelong grand strategy fan or a new player looking for the best Total War games to start with, we’ve got you covered.

Aside from being one of the most long-running video game franchises still around, Total War continues to evolve with every new installment, expansion, and community-made mod.

In this list, we’ll highlight the best Total War games of all time, including the best Total War games for beginners ranked from the absolute greatest to still pretty good.

We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any of your favorite Total War games!

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Although Shogun: Total War has aged considerably since its release, at the time there wasn’t quite anything like it on the market.

The game’s unique approach to RTS gameplay that put unit formations at the center of the action combined with turn-based elements meshed perfectly with the overarching goal of uniting Japan.

A year later, Shogun was fleshed out with new content with the release of the Mongol Invasion expansion, which introduced a new culture that let players pit waves of horsemen against the Samurai.

Even if new players are more likely to pick up the updated sequel these days, Shogun is worth checking out to gain a better understanding of the series’ roots and how much has changed throughout the years.

Total War: Shogun 2 is often cited as the best game in the series and features a significant number of quality of life improvements and game refinements compared to its predecessor.

Of course, like any Total War game, it’s not without its flaws, specifically somewhat wonky AI, unpredictable diplomacy system, and less map and faction diversity compared to other entries.

However, when it comes to combat and progressing through the game’s economics and construction systems, Shogun 2 hits some of the highest notes in the franchise.

It’s a great starting point for any new players looking to dip their toes into the water and experience some of the best campaign battles in Total War’s history.

Another high point in the series’ timeline, Rome: Total War is often credited with setting the standard and tone for the franchise going forward still to this day.

The most notable changes were fully 3D graphics, an expanded strategic campaign, and robust modding tools for players to mess around with.

It also brought one of the most popular historical settings to players’ monitors, allowing them to carve their own path to glory throughout Antiquity.

Even if it has its downsides regarding AI, unit pathfinding, and faction mechanics for non-Romans, the game was a huge success that would go on to spawn two expansions and a remaster.

Right up until the release of Three Kingdoms, Total War: Rome II was the most popular entry in the series, maintaining consistently high player counts more than five years after its release.

This can be attributed to Creative Assembly’s ability to get things back on track after a rocky launch rendered the game practically unplayable for many players.

Combine this with extensive post-launch content support and a healthy modding scene surrounding Rome II and you have the makings of a title built for longevity.

Even if many players take issue with the fact certain features were stripped out (a common grievance with every game since), Rome 2 is still worth checking out in 2021.

Following in the footsteps of the original Shogun, Medieval: Total War transports players back to Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean.

It features an updated engine alongside gameplay refinements and new features such as siege battles, more cultural diversity, and an overall better attempt at conveying historical progression throughout its campaign.

However, a big part of Medieval’s success can be attributed to the sheer number of mods created by the Total War community.

Though the game’s graphics haven’t aged so well by today’s standards, if you can look past that, you’ll be treated to a host of engaging content driven by challenging gameplay that revels in its old-school design philosophy.

One could argue that Medieval II: Total War is essentially the same as Rome only with updated graphics, gameplay mechanics, and tacked-on features.

Additionally, some of Rome’s same issues persist, such as questionable AI and unreliable pathfinding that can make for frustrating gameplay.

Much like its predecessor, Medieval 2 benefits from a huge number of ambitious user-created mods totaling somewhere in the thousands.

While it may not be the best entry point for newcomers, if you have some familiarity with the franchise and grand strategy in general, you’ll likely enjoy what the game has to offer.

Compared to previous installments, Empire: Total War’s campaign has a significantly larger scope that tasks players with fighting to control three regions and the oceans that bridge them. 

To this point, it’s the first game in the series to introduce naval warfare and as a result, places a big emphasis on battles fought at sea.

The addition of massive ships and Industrial Revolution-era technology gave players a completely new set of challenges to overcome and strategies to master.

At the time of its release, the game was seen as a huge departure for the series and is still one of the best grand strategy games for maritime combat.

Total War Saga: Troy’s biggest offense is playing it too safe in regards to its campaign difficulty, variety, and desire (or lack thereof) to innovate on the series formula.

While this makes it a great starting point for new players who will appreciate Troy’s vibrant graphics and sleek UI, longtime fans are more likely to scoff at its appearance on this list.

Of course, it does incorporate some unique ideas that may prove beneficial to the series going forward; for example, the multiple resource economy, weapon mode switching, and resource caps are all great in theory, just not execution.

Even with these seemingly small gripes considered, the game manages to keep things fun by relying on the ever-satisfying core gameplay that Total War fans have come to love. 

The predecessor to Troy and the first official game to don the “Saga” moniker, Thrones of Britannia serves as a sort of experimental title with a significantly lower budget compared to the mainline games.

Although it manages to hit the mark in several key areas, such as retooling provinces, the mustering system, and new governors and estates, these concepts wouldn’t be fully realized until later games.

From a performance perspective, Thrones of Britannia is among the best the franchise has to offer, though there are some questionable balancing decisions throughout its campaign.

Additionally, the limited faction and unit selection coupled with the dumbing down of Total War’s economics system makes for a bittersweet experience.

Considered by many fans to be the best of the Saga games, Fall of the Samurai was initially released as a standalone expansion for Shogun 2 and retroactively assigned the Saga branding.

In it, players are transported to the Japanese Meiji Restoration period, where Imperial and Shogunate forces battled for control of the nation going forward.

This resulted in an interesting setup that pit traditional tactics against modern warfare that, in hindsight, was relatively well executed.

Similar to Shogun 2, the game marks an important benchmark in Total War’s history and evolution as a grand strategy franchise.

Considering everything else discussed in this list, it’s very strange that Napoleon: Total War wasn’t released under the Saga label or even as a standalone expansion to Empire.

After all, it was made with noticeably fewer resources than games like Rome or Medieval while also suffering from the same technical limitations of other Saga titles.

With that said, the game manages to hold its own by relying on its captivating setting and multiplayer campaign.

In addition, the decision to have the narrative center on Napoleon’s legendary military career made for a unique concept that would later be perfected with Total War: Attila.

Following a similar format to that of Napoleon, Total War: Attila was an attempt by Creative Assembly to restore some good faith with fans by bringing back requested features.

 Ultimately, the game went above and beyond this feat by iterating on the formula and introducing new mechanics as hordes and the ability to raze and modify settlements.

Taking cues from the original Rome’s Barbarian Invasion expansion, Attila put a clever survival spin on Total War’s strategic gameplay that was well-received by fans.

Despite some issues regarding optimization and balancing, the game is a notable entry that offers a darker, atmospheric, and overall tenser take on the franchise.

No doubt influenced by Total War: Warhammer, Three Kingdoms features more extensive character mechanics as well as a larger variety of viable strategies during battle.

The game also overhauls the diplomacy and espionage systems from previous games in service to the game’s overarching narrative.

In it, players take on the role of one of eleven rivaling factions on a quest to become China’s new ruler after the collapse of the Han Dynasty.

For this, Three Kingdoms is regarded as one of the best, most innovative entries in the Total War series to date, both from a gameplay and campaign structuring perspective.

Last but not least, Total War: Warhammer II builds upon the new direction established by the original and all its fantasy-driven glory with even more unconventional races and colorful environments.

This includes a more focused narrative, expanded faction mechanics that allow for more strategic possibilities, and some of the most aggressive units to appear throughout the series’ history.

Since its release, Warhammer 2 has also benefited from an abundance of DLC expansions such as the Mortal Empires campaign which lets players connect their copy of the game to the first Warhammer.

While some fans still prefer the franchise’s more historically-based offerings, Warhammer II is an excellent introduction to the series and an indicator of what Creative Assembly has planned for the future.

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Justin Fernandez
Justin Fernandez

As a fan of both indie and triple-A games, Justin finds joy in discovering and sharing hidden gems with other passionate gamers. In addition to reporting on the latest and greatest titles, he manages GamingScan’s social media channels.

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