A Guide To Total War

I consider myself something of a Total War veteran. I’ve played these games since the very first one, Shogun Total War, put hundreds if not thousands of hours into them and I’m still not bored.

The grand strategy and diplomatic options on offer in Total War games allow you to shape the real world, or in the case of Warhammer, a fantasy world, to your own liking. Epic battles fought with literally thousands of units are never better than they are in a Total War game. It’s this high epic contest or strategy and the endless replayability that has kept me coming back over the years.

Total War games are ones that seem to get better and better, with every new release comes new features and better quality graphics. Over the years I have developed some techniques that are sure to help turn the tide of any battle you face. So if you find yourself outnumbered to a venomous horde of Skaven, look to this guide and perhaps you’ll make it out alive.


A huge part of Total War games, and probably the main reason most people play them are the real-time battles. These epic duels between player and player or player and AI are the centerpiece of all Total War games. With these epic battles comes a degree of realism and that’s no better represented than in the formation you lay your troops out in.

This is my first piece of advice and probably the most important ill give you in this article. Setting your troops up in the correct way can be the difference between winning and losing a battle.

If you happen to be the defender in one of the battles the first thing you want to do is to take a look at your surroundings. What is the terrain like? Are there any hills you can camp your troops up for the height advantage? Are there any trees in which you can hide some cavalry in for some surprise attacks? The battle maps terrain can be your biggest ally, but it can also be your worst enemy, so make sure you don’t fall into the enemy’s trap either.

When setting up your troops into ranks and formations, there are few good ways to do this, but I’m going to give you my personal preference. What I like to do is have a solid line of around 4-5 units of anti-infantry sword units. These can either be units with shields or without; the key thing is to make sure they have a good amount of melee defense, as these will be your front line and soak up most of your enemies charges.

To cover your flanks you want 1-2 units of spear either side. These prevent any side charges from enemy cavalry and will also cover any units you have behind your front line, like archers or catapults.

This is the overall spine I have for every army on every Total War game and I have had some major success with it. The rest of your army can be to your liking, but I personally have around 4 units of archers, 2 catapults and then fill the rest of the slots with cavalry and specialist units.

Veteran Units

Keeping your troops alive seems like the obvious way to win battles, but what I mean by veteran units is keeping your units alive for many battles. The more kills a unit gets, the more experience it gets and therefore the higher rank. Keeping units around till they reach the max level (9) is a sure way to see if any force of similar build and quality.

Units increase their stats with every level gained and you will not only find some attachment to that single unit of cavalry you’ve had since the start of the game, but you’ll realize how valuable they have become.

On The Defence

If an enemy force dares to attack your mighty army then you’ll be the defenders in the battle. This means the enemy will most likely charge their entire force towards you.

There are two ways you can approach this fight. Either by charging like a hero of old, possibly losing more troops and units that you would otherwise want to, or, by biding your time and defending as a wall of swords and death. I know which one I prefer.

Defending is key to Total War and there a few things you can do to ensure victory. We already spoke about height advantage, so I won’t go over old ground, but there are also settlements and rocky areas you can use to cover your flanks and funnel the enemy into your highly trained ranks.

This might seem like a boring way to play Total War, but believe me, it’s not at all. Having a solid formation and waiting for a tired enemy to throw themselves at your whilst you pelt them with archers and catapults is tons of fun. By the time or if they reach your front line, they will already have the taste of their own blood in their mouth.

Keeping Your General Alive

It’s often said that moral is the true health points in a Total War game and that is somewhat true. The moral is never better than when you’re general or lord is alive, fighting the enemy amongst his ranks. Keeping this general or lord alive is therefore so important to ensuring victory is on your side.

When it comes to keeping your lord/general alive, there are a few ways to do this and this varies depending on which Total War game you’re playing. Any game prior to Total War: Warhammer and your best bet are to keep your general out of direct fighting. Keep him behind your lines, but in sight of your troops, occasionally using him for a surprise charge on enemy archer units.

When it comes to Total War: Warhammer, Lords are a lot tougher and can deal with being in combat and this is how you want to play them. A high-level lord can mean victory is assured as these guys and gals really do pack a punch. Keep them in combat against lower tiered units, to begin with, until they level up, adding points skill points to increase their overall health can also be a good idea.

So here you have it, my top tips for Total War games. Why not try some of these out and see if they help in your next campaign.

Constantly threatening to write a book, but always with a story to tell. Tom has a typical northern English soul. He may sound as mundane as Jon Snow, but at least he tries to articulate. Lover of video games, comics, geek pop culture and wishing he could play Dungeons & Dragons.