The 10 best Total War games of all time, ranked

Planning world dominance is a tough job, but the Total War series makes it significantly easier. Many of the games in the series offer some of the best empire-building and tactical combat you’ll find in gaming, and the wide range of games in the series means that they cover almost every period and setting imaginable. If you’re looking for the all-time best Total War games, here are our picks for the top ten titles in the series’ long history.

Related: The 10 best strategy games for mobile phones

The best Total War games of all time—our top ten favorites

The Total War series has been going strong for more than two decades, stretching back to Shogun: Total War in 2000. Since then, there have been 15 games in the mainline series. Most of them take place in real-world historical periods, but some, like Total War: Warhammer III, occupy a place in fictional universes.

10) Total War: Rome 2

Image via Creative Assembly

When a sequel to the highly acclaimed Total War: Rome was announced, fans were understandably excited. The original game was influential in the strategy game genre, so expectations were high for fans to revisit this celebrated classic. While Rome 2 wasn’t necessarily a bad game, it shipped with some severe bugs and a lack of polish that fans quickly picked up on. Subsequent patches would fix most issues, but it still makes it a disappointing title in an otherwise stellar series.

9) Total War: Attila

Image via Creative Assembly

Total War: Attila introduces the idea of a narrative into the crushing combat fans had come to expect from the franchise. It doesn’t entirely succeed at this, but the attempt makes this one of the best games in the Total War series despite some missteps. Balancing delicate politics and relationships with your need to prepare for the oncoming armies of Attila frames every decision you make. It does more right than wrong in this regard and remains highly playable more than five years after its release.

8) Total War: Empire

Image via Creative Assembly

Many would argue against Empire being so low on this list, but it is such a departure from the Total War franchise that it barely feels like it belongs in the same series. Empire shifted focus to navel battles and empires, which could have worked better if the game’s AI were better, or the systems were a bit more polished. Still, the ambition alone puts it on this list, and many of its systems would be refined in later games.

7) Total War: Shogun

Image via Creative Assembly

Despite coming out more than two decades ago, the original Total War game holds up surprisingly well. It isn’t as deep an experience as the other games in the series, but you can still see the DNA of what would become the Total War franchise. There are big, dramatic battles and a wide variety of units to choose from. Each game felt so different that it became almost too easy to lose your entire weekend playing it.

6) Total War: Medieval

Image via Creative Assembly

The second game in the Total War series, Medieval, picked up where Shogun would take off and delivered some sharp improvements. There are more diplomatic options for countries and a wider range of nations to choose from. Many of the features that would become mainstays in the series were introduced here, edging it past the original in our ranking.

5) Total War: Medieval 2

Image via Creative Assembly

Everything that the first Total War: Medieval game did right, its sequel delivered even better. It explores the conflict between nations better and offers more diplomatic solutions to problems, even if you are always biding your time before making your move against allies. The combat is more difficult, yet it still feels undeniably fun. In almost every imaginable way, this is simply a better Total War game.

Related: How to play as Daemons of Chaos in Total War: Warhammer 3

4) Total War: Rome

Image via Sega

Despite being released in 2004, Total War: Rome represented a huge step up for the franchise. There were more units to control, additional nations to conquer, and extra politics to wade into. The scale of the conflict within this time period and the difficulty of keeping such a sweeping empire under your control were beyond ambitious for the time. Seeing a stream of elephants approach your border was such an epic moment in strategy game history.

3) Total War: Shogun 2

Image via Sega

Samurai has always been pretty awesome, but when you see the sequel to one of the best strategy games of all time, the samurai within all of us jumps for glee. Although it isn’t as in-depth as the latter Chinese equivalent, Three Kingdoms, the gameplay is just as fun with its ruthless politics and AI. The choices in clans are also pretty good, with plenty of options and playstyles. One could only hope that they would give it one more shot with a Three Kingdoms-like approach.

2) Total War: Three Kingdoms

Image via Sega

We’re not too far removed from the epic introduction of Lu Bu and his giant halberd and red steed in the original Dynasty Warriors sequel. When Total War: Three Kingdoms released in 2019, we got a chance to see the battlefield from another point of view, a bird’s-eye one mostly, and the results were one of the best strategy games released in years. Outside of Warhammer II and III, this entry is the most feature-complete in the series. It even has two different modes for those looking for a historical or “romantic” feel.

1) Total War: Warhammer III

Image via Creative Assembly

Originally, we were going to put Warhammer II in this spot, but the addition of Immortal Empires catapulted the third game above the rest. Total War: Warhammer III improved on everything that the original two had done, including better management, a bigger pool of army styles, and a new siege system. It’s no surprise that the latest game in the series is the most popular; the number of things to do, along with a tighter narrative, is something that many players are happy to see in Total War.

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