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Medieval 2: Total War hands-on

We were let loose on a playable version of Medieval 2: Total War, Sega's forthcoming real-time strategy battleground, and found that war ain't what it used to be. But that's a good thing.

First, the campaign map has received a total facelift. The flat map-style look is gone, replaced by a textured 3D world. Secondly, there's a deeper level of interaction with your opposition. Tap a nearby enemy/ally unit and a small piece of dialogue will play, indicating your relationship with that faction, for example, "You have nothing to fear from us."

The whole diplomacy process has been enhanced with interaction in mind and now your princesses are far more than mere trophy wives to be married off and forgotten about. Princesses are the driving force behind many diplomatic agreements and their personal charm rating will affect any alliance, trade negotiation or other agreement you offer another ruler.

Successes improve your dainty lady's charms and, if you can tempt away an enemy's prized general with your maiden's fair hand, you'll actually gain control of that leader along with his personal retinue.

Then there are the improved real-time strategy battles. Rome: Total War was visually stunning, but Medieval 2 goes a huge step further. You no longer field armies of clones, instead each soldier is an individual with his own combination of armor, insignia and uniform based on your army's colors. If you zoom right down to a unit, you can see and hear them clinking, shuffling and jostling individually as they stand in formation.

In addition, every unit has its own unique ability. In the version we've seen, a group of English longbowmen had set up a protective line of wooden spikes to shield them from charging cavalry. This forces the AI to use its newly upgraded tactical smarts to out-think you on the battlefield, and we watched as the opposing French horsemen used the cover of a forest to out-flank the line of longbowmen while avoiding the wooden stakes.

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