The Top 7… historically inaccurate historical games

5. Rome: Total War

It’s one thing to create a historically inaccurate game. It’s quite another to create a game that’s considered accurate enough to be used as a visual aid by the History Channel (with some modifications), and which then draws so many complaints from history enthusiasts that a group of them get together to correct your “mistakes.”

Above: When you think about it, team sports have really diminished our ability to follow ancient battles

From a historical perspective, Rome: Total War was an interesting beast, sometimes lavishing exacting accuracy on minor details while completely re-inventing major ones in the name of fun gameplay. Its version of Rome was divided into three separate factions, its depiction of Egypt’s armies was about a thousand years out of date, boundaries of empires were redrawn to be inconsistent with the time period, and anachronistic units and armaments were present all around. And that’s to say nothing of its units, which apparently performed much more quickly and efficiently than their real-world counterparts ever did.

Above: Yep, probably no bright-green Legions back in the days of Caesar

Was it more fun that way? Probably. Did the bulk of the game’s audience really care? Probably not. However, it infuriated the hell out of history buffs, some of whom banded together to create the Rome: Total Realism mods, which brought everything from unit capabilities to faction colors in line with reality, making for a more historically sound experience at the expense of things like brisk pacing.

Above: It's kind of hard to tell who everyone is in RTR, but hey - realism!

4. The Saboteur

Never mind the ridiculous accents, the sexy Nazi women in low-cut uniforms or the Wehrmacht soldiers who throw down against an enemy agent using just their fists. Never mind the strippers, the cartoonish French Resistance fighters, or the way that breaking Nazi control over sections of Paris restores color to them. We can accept all that in the name of this being a silly romp that’s more about making things go boom than it is about re-creating a point in history. However, there’s one thing we can’t accept, and that’s rewriting the beginning of World War II for no clear reason.

Above: On the other hand, it let us do things like this, so maybe we shouldn't complain

In real life, World War II began (in Europe, at least) in September 1939, when Germany, led by Hitler, annexed and invaded Poland, forcing Polish allies Britain and France to declare war shortly afterward. France was invaded eight months later, after Germany conquered Belgium and cut through the Ardennes Forest to skirt around France’s fearsome Maginot Line – a series of machine-gun nests, bunkers and anti-air emplacements that spread across the Franco-German border. By this time, of course, the war was already in full swing, and the invasion was hardly unexpected.

Above: When the German side of the border is more heavily fortified than the French one in 1940, something's not quite right

The Saboteur’s version of the war, meanwhile, begins in 1940, when relations between France and Germany are apparently friendly enough that it’s possible to simply drive over the border to participate in an auto race. Then, fictitious Nazi commanders order the invasion of a completely unprepared and apparently defenseless France. There’s no Poland, no Belgium and certainly no Maginot Line, just the unchallenged Nazis rolling tanks (and zeppelins, which were no longer in service at the time) right over the border, taking out one of WWII’s most significant early combatants before the war really even begins.

Above: "Faith 'n' Begorrah, if only we could've seen it comin' somehow!

Yeah, we get that this is hardly a straight-faced version of history, and that it’s more about two-fisted Nazi-fightin’ than it is about World War II. But taking artistic license doesn’t mean you get to just invent your own version of WWII in which the French are even more pathetic.

3. Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown

OK, yeah, we know: complaining about historical accuracy in a game that stars Robin Hood is asking for trouble. But this game plays such weird havoc with both history and Robin Hood’s (admittedly haphazard) mythology that we just had to include it.

In the game, Robin Hood, while starting out as the familiar bandit of Sherwood, is suddenly thrust onto the national stage when Maid Marian and Wilfred of Ivanhoe convince him to lead a military campaign against Prince John. King Richard the Lionhearted has been captured and held for ransom, and in his absence the paranoid John has seen fit to seize the throne and declare Richard’s supporters traitors. This prompts Robin to conquer England, county by county, in order to wrest it from John and several rival lords to make it safe for Richard’s return. Oh, and while he’s doing that, he’ll need to raise money – through taxation – to pay off Richard’s ransom.

Above: See, even Robin knows something's amiss

In real life, Richard – by many accounts a terrible king who had no interest in governing, spoke only French and treated England as his personal war chest – was indeed captured and held for ransom by Leopold V of Austria, while Richard was returning from the Third Crusade (although this actually happened in late 1192, while the game begins in early 1191). And his ransom was raised through taxation – but they were taxes levied by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his brother, Prince John (who also tried to seize the throne, to be fair, but was eventually forgiven by Richard). 

Above: Not that it did much for his disposition or poofy sleeves

Interestingly, those taxes took a harsh-enough toll on the country that they are, in fact, sometimes depicted as what Robin Hood was rebelling against in the first place. That sort of implies that the game makes Robin complicit in the oppression of the lower classes. Shoving that tidbit aside, there wasn’t actually a war for succession while Richard was captive – although some years after Richard’s death, King John’s reign annoyed his vassals enough that it eventually sparked a short-lived rebellion, the First Barons’ War, in 1215.

Above: "So yeah, better start taxing the shit outta those peasants, bro"

Robin Hood, for his part, never actually raised an army or made any move to conquer or liberate England, assuming he ever even existed at all. But that’s beside the point.


  • screwball08247 - September 17, 2011 12:42 p.m.

    I love when Mikel does historical articles, they're always a great read.
  • therawski - September 16, 2011 3:13 p.m.

    Current Affair Sound FXs!!! Great article wikiparez, but what about the guerrilla factions fighting for freedom on mars!?
  • evillibrarian - September 15, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    I don't think The Saboteur belongs on this list. It's clearly a pulp piece and, unlike Assassin's Creed, doesn't attempt to present any part of itself as fact. It'd be like putting "Inglorious Basterds" on a "Least Historically Accurate WWII Movie" list...if that makes sense, at all. My two cents!
  • CitizenWolfie - September 15, 2011 2:09 a.m.

    It's not the historical inaccuracies in Assassin's Creed that I find hard to believe - it's the fact that you can kill major religious leaders in view of 100 guards. And they can then forget what you - visibly armed to the teeth, conspicuously running around on rooftops, mysterious hooded figure in suspiciously bloody but otherwise more extravagant garments than the entire population - look like after "blending" into a crowd. Man I love Assassin's Creed.
  • CitizenWolfie - September 15, 2011 2:12 a.m.

    Oh wait, that's pretty much exactly what the article says. Facepalm at myself.
  • Kovitlac - September 14, 2011 5:58 a.m.

    I have to chuckle at the inclusion of Assassin's Creed. Even reading the article, the first thing I thought was, "damn, the assassins in-game certainly sound a LOT like the real-life Hashashins!" Who cares if they didn't escape in the same exact manner? That's seriously the biggest historical blunder in the game? As far as games as a whole are concerned, AC is 'extremely' aware of it's historical accuracy. I know this is meant to be a 'fun' article - I'm certainly not enraged or anything. But I am surprised that AC was mentioned at all. Hell, even the article stated that 'Nothing is True - Everything is Permitted' WAS EVEN USED IN REAL LIFE O.o If anything, I'd expect that to be the biggest embellishment.
  • SolidEye - September 14, 2011 2:29 a.m.

    You forgot pretty much every game with ninjas in it. (With Tenchu maybe being the exception). They weren't just assassins, they actually DID ninjutsu. Not the karate/somersaulting crap we see in most portrayal of them in most media.
  • quincytheodore - September 13, 2011 8:25 p.m.

    Ah Shadow of Rome, where the mighty Roman soldiers fell for banana peel, many of them... I like the game though, its Salvo mechanism was like mini-achievement, rewarding players for creative murders with in-game applause. Slash off an enemy's arm, broke the other one, stalked him until he peed, finish him off with horizontal slash a from massive weapon, literally cutting him in half, geyser of blood ensued while his top half flew, then picked up his limb and yelled to the crow. YYaaayy~~!! How many games let you do that?
  • D0CCON - September 13, 2011 5:31 p.m.

    Great history lesson, bro.
  • Money - September 13, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    I totally remember hearing about the chimera attacking us in 1950
  • ObliqueZombie - September 13, 2011 4:57 p.m.

    Mikel, you're too smart. Get off here, so I feel less dumb. Also: FanTASTIC article. I learned a lot, and enjoyed it. This is, arguably, the most "intelligent" article on this site. Plus, you used Wikipedia. You're my hero. Keep up the good work!
  • Guinnessmonkey - September 13, 2011 4:18 p.m.

    Guess the Templars got to GR....
  • EBAX1 - September 13, 2011 4 p.m.

    I remember Bladestorm, I didnt think anyone else had ever played it. That game is awesome, Controlling a pack of elephants to mow down thousands of enemy soldiers may not have been realistic, but it was fun as hell
  • DaveGoose - September 13, 2011 3:13 p.m.

    Great Top 7 Mr. Raparaz!
  • UsernameLoser - September 13, 2011 2:50 p.m.

  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - September 13, 2011 2:43 p.m.

    This is really interesting, I had no idea that the Assassin's were like that.
  • IChooseUAntistaMON - September 13, 2011 1:36 p.m.

    Didn't you already do this?

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