Today in this Total War games ranked article, we’re ranking the flagship titles in the Total War series. What this means is that older games like Shogun and Medieval, although important for establishing the foundations of the series, will not be discussed (we’ve got to keep the length manageable, after all). The titles which focus on particular historical figures will not be discussed, nor will Thrones of Brittania, except in passing. A Total War Saga: Troy will help form the article’s conclusion as we look forward to the future of the franchise.

It’s also worth noting that this Total War games ranked list is an evaluation of each game as the series currently stands. While the importance of individual titles to the series on release bear mentioning, it will have little impact on the actual ranking. Gameplay is king here.

Top Total War Games Ranked From Worst to Best

Ready to check out the best Total War games ranked? Let’s dive in with a look at #8.

8. Rome: Total War

Rome Total War Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: September 22, 2004

Total War’s first visit to Rome would prove fateful. Although its predecessors, Shogun and Medieval, were generally met with favorable criticism at the time of release, Rome managed to outstrip its forebears both in commercial success and lasting impact. So why does it come in last in my Total War games ranked list?

In many ways, Rome: Total War is a victim of the success it helped create. The odd misstep here or there notwithstanding (Thrones of Britannia was met upon release with a collective shrug by players, for example), Total War has gradually improved as a series. Quality of life features have soared since the days of Rome, and going back to the headaches of movement and positioning orders found in the earlier titles makes less and less sense with each passing day. 

Rome Total War

And this is not to say there is no merit to revisiting Rome. One interesting concept that’s essentially vanished from the series is the ability to delegate the management of certain settlements. This mechanic would be quite helpful in the late game of the beefier Total War titles. Additionally, having less direct control over your generals’ development, while limiting some of the specialization found in later titles, also leads to a more flavorful, historically accurate role to play for the gamer. 

After all, in real life, you would have to deal with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of an existing military structure, assigning officers to tasks to which they are well suited, rather than closely monitoring and shaping the skills and careers of each general in your faction. 

7. Empire: Total War

Empire Total War Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly & Feral Interactive
  • Release Date: March 3, 2009

Putting Empire at #7 is a matter of taste. Like Rome, it serves as a milestone for the series, introducing naval combat for the first time. This is a necessity given the setting, one of colonial expansion and increasingly industrialized imperial ambitions. It also adds some welcome variety to the series, both with its inclusion of ships and making gunpowder weapons the mainstay of battles at both land and sea. It also improves quality of life features compared to its predecessor, Medieval II, but not quite as much as one might desire. 

Empire Total War

Additionally, while specific ideas are interesting (like scattering important buildings across a region instead of concentrating them all in the central settlement), they feel a little ill-considered. For example, would decisions surrounding them not be sorted out in the region’s administrative center, regardless of their actual location? This quibble is addressed in Shogun 2, which spreads out buildings but keeps their management to the central town. The result is that Empire has something of a transitional feel to it — introducing major developments to the series while not quite stepping free of the headaches of Rome and Medieval II.

6. Medieval II: Total War

Medieval II Total War Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly & Feral Interactive
  • Release Date: November 10, 2006

Medieval II occupies an interesting position in Total War canon. In many ways, it’s simply a reskin of Rome with some added unit types and a distinctly unique flavor. It plays very similarly to its predecessor, and consequently, it suffers from many of the same shortcomings (particularly where pathfinding and AI programming are concerned). 

Medieval II Total War

Still, no Total War game since has presented such a compelling picture of the High Middle Ages. It’s a wonderful moment for drama and roleplaying when you send the Holy Roman emperor on a crusade at the behest of the pope, only to watch him fall in battle just as his knights take hold of Cairo. Then, bitterness deepens as you see the papacy ignore this noble sacrifice, favoring other Christian states in disputes, even excommunicating the new emperor for a conflict that he had no part in starting. When you’re cheering not for a rousing victory in battle, but news that this ungrateful, churlish pope has finally died, you get something of an emotional understanding of the nuanced, often contradictory societal mechanisms at play in this period of history. 

5. Total War: Warhammer

Total War Warhammer Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: May 24, 2016

While its position on this list belies its importance, Total War: Warhammer is among the most pivotal titles in the series. A bold move for a series of games known for its historical settings, Warhammer proved that the Total War formula could be applied to a fantasy setting just as successfully. Introducing magic, heroes, and monstrous and flying units to proceedings imbued battles added more variety and spectacle than naval battles (or even Rome II’s amphibious battles) could hope to achieve. 

Total War Warhammer

That said, this list is meant to evaluate the series as it currently exists, not as each game contributed to its development upon release. Warhammer suffers from the same blessing-curse combo as Rome, in that its successor essentially improved on it in every way (even prompting Creative Assembly to go back and rework the original game’s factions to have more robust mechanics as found in the sequel). While not as dramatic a shift as that between the two Romes, the shift between the two Warhammers nevertheless prompted the same question, “why go back?” 

4. Total War: Shogun 2

Total War Shogun 2 Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: March 15, 2011

For what it’s going for, Shogun 2 is virtually perfect. While its failure to address its forebears’ AI and pathfinding issues is frustrating, everything from the game’s style and aesthetics to the elegance of the battle system impresses. It’s also the game I would recommend any person starts with if they’re planning on getting into the series. It features the perfect distillation of the sword-beats-spear-beats-horse-beats-sword dynamic. Anyone who wants to get a solid, perfectly-conveyed grasp on combat principles within the series can’t go wrong with Shogun 2

Total War Shogun 2

Furthermore, and similarly to Medieval II, this is a pitch-perfect depiction of the Sengoku Jidai. In my case, this is the game that made me interested in the period, prompting me to learn more about the real-life exploits of figures like Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Any historical game that prompts actual research and learning about a previously unfamiliar historical period is doing something right. 

Shogun 2 also features some of the best historical battles in the series, with the battles of Okehazama and Sekigahara forming two incredible setpieces. Additionally, the Fall of the Samurai expansion totally transforms the game into a Boshin War-era campaign (the conflict started less than three years after the American Civil War). This means cannons, line infantry, and naval bombardments feature on the same battlefields where katana kachi charge boldly forward wearing armor that wouldn’t have looked out of place centuries beforehand.

3. Total War: Three Kingdoms

Total War Three Kingdoms Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: May 23, 2019

Speaking of games that spark an interest in a previously unknown historical period, Total War: Three Kingdoms is all that and so much more. In fact, its campaign is one of the most impressive in the entire series. If you’re looking for an introduction to the legendary figures of Liu Bei and Guan Yu, Cao Cao, and Sima Yi (and you certainly should be), Three Kingdoms is a great jumping-off point. Using the richness of the period described in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, this game successfully captures the drama, mood, and epic scope of this turbulent time in Chinese history. 

Total War Three Kingdoms

Add to that the addition of duels and relationships between your generals, and some truly magnificent moments can unfold on the battlefield. I still remember the battle where my entire army had routed from a positively brutal assault on an enemy city, forcing me to fall back and regroup before charging again. Two brothers of the Cao clan were fighting side-by-side until, for a dreadful moment, all was lost. One brother fell (believed dead, but the aftermath revealed his survival), and the army crumbled. The other brother, however, was seized by such grief and fury that he single-handedly mauled the enemy garrison and put them to flight, winning the battle. Moments of drama like this are what make Three Kingdoms genuinely great.

Holding it back from the top two, however, is a problem it shares with Shogun 2. While accurate to the setting, the fact that each faction’s armies are drawn from the same mold serves as a detriment, particularly to the endgame. Yes, things are consistently engaging with the game’s superb campaign, diplomacy, and duels to distract you. However, once the game’s systems are intimately familiar to you, battles tend to devolve into a routine. The conclusion of campaigns rarely manages to meet the level of drama and intensity found around the midpoint. 

2. Total War: Rome II

Total War Rome II Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: September 3, 2013

This is probably the most titanic game in the series. And that’s just not referring to the map size or incredible amphibious battles. Total War: Rome II also features tons of different factions, units, political mechanics, and more.

This is a blessing for the most part, with just a hint of curse. For those wanting the setting of Rome done justice with the sort of scale that the previous game could not deliver, this is probably the best Total War game there is. No historical title in the series achieves the same scale and diversity. But it also makes for a very protracted campaign, and the problems with endgames in Total War are very prevalent in Rome II.

Total War Rome II

Still, it’s hard to overstate what a dream it is to play Rome II after whetting one’s appetite on Rome. While the sequel had something of a troubled release, post-launch updates have helped stabilize and refine Rome II to become the chief god of the historical pantheon. Amphibious battles alone add a considerable degree of dynamism to proceedings. It’s deeply satisfying when something as foundational as having warships (as opposed to troop transports) can turn the tide of battle. If an enemy invasion force has you outnumbered and outclassed — but they’ve failed to bring in naval support — the tide can turn. Suddenly even a pair of ships full of light missile troops can become unit-killers, ramming and sinking entire ships full of elite infantry. 

On top of that, a robust political system helps capture the precarious balancing act carried out by rulers of the time. Take Julius Caesar, for example: this is the man who subjugated Gaul, invaded Britain, and defeated a superior army under the command of none other than Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. But he had only to overstep his political bounds to find himself stabbed to death on the Senate floor.

Conversely, in my own stint running the House of Julia, I established a cabal of matriarchs who dominated the political stage at home while the boys went off to conquer. The House of Julia matriarchs were so effective that when we had the power to overthrow the republic in favor of a new Roman Empire. And, it was done without shedding a drop of blood. So often, historical strategy games beg the line of inquiry, “what would I do in this great person’s position? Could I do it better?” And Rome II is one of the greats in terms of providing compelling answers to those questions.

1. Total War: Warhammer II

Total War Warhammer II Box
  • Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Release Date: September 28, 2017

Coming in at number one in our Total War games ranked is Warhammer II. It pains me to think of this as choosing the fantasy side of Total War over the historical side. Both angles provide such a unique flavor, and claiming that one is better than the other seems to miss the point that they cater to different needs and tastes. However, taking Warhammer II and Rome II side by side, there were some scores to settle. Which has the better battles? Do naval and amphibious battles provide as much variety as they seem to? Or do magic and monsters offer more variety for your average battle? Which has the better campaign?

While Rome II certainly has excellent political mechanics at play, they can start to feel a bit samey over time, with relatively mild differences between factions. Warhammer II, meanwhile, has not only the best faction diversity in the series, but the most robust and exciting faction mechanics as well. 

Total War Warhammer II

An example? As Lord Skrolk of Clan Pestilens, I was locked in a vicious war with the Southern Sentinels. I managed to defend my frontier settlement long enough to build up a strong garrison so that I could let Skrolk range on a campaign again. With regular factions, the thing to do would be to capitalize on the enemy’s weakness and immediately conquer their settlement, but that’s not what I did. Instead, I invoked a ritual and built an Undercity, slowly preparing to launch an army from the inside that would allow Skrolk and the Undercity Skaven to overwhelm both the defenders and a potential army. 

Meanwhile, the neutral Red Horn Tribe had arrived nearby, and I decided to attack them preemptively. Fortunately, my building choices and classic Skaven scheming allowed me to address two potential threats simultaneously. I first defeated and then outmaneuvered, intercepted, and destroyed the Red Horn Tribe. All the while, my Undercity was building. The Southern Sentinels continually attacked my frontier garrison, and they were continually beaten back. Finally, my Undercity died birthing a horde of Skaven, and Skrolk arrived to deal a mortal blow to the Southern Sentinels. We assailed their walls and overran the defenders and plundered their booty and razed their city to the ground.

These faction-specific mechanics lead to wonderfully flavorful narrative progression. This is a game that routinely leaves me grinning like an idiot, and that’s more than enough to earn it the top spot. 

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Marching Toward the Horizon

A Total War Saga: Troy is the latest release in the series, bringing to the table a great deal of style and personality in its depiction of epic Homeric violence. Reading the Samuel Butler translation of The Iliad in tandem with playing, Creative Assembly nailed the feel of ancient Greece, representing the outcomes of battles with dramatic duels between the generals and giving you the option to offer hecatombs to the gods to curry their favor.

While the dreamer in me would love to see a Total War: Medieval III, more stylized takes with the Saga subseries on specific, heavily romanticized periods like this are likely to continue. As for fantasy lovers? We’ll certainly have plenty of over-the-top fantastical battles with the release of Warhammer III.

Grounded historical titles are likely to return, but they’ll have to let the romantic and fantastical have their time in the sun first. 

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