Total War’s Top Trailers

By Sean Martin 10 Mar 2020 0

I love a good Total War trailer. There’s something so great about having a focal point around which to hype up a new strategy release, that you can return to years later and still remember that unique feeling of excitement you felt at the time. Total War’s trailers are also a wonderful craft of exposition, at the best of times, validating your firmly held predictions and theories, but often just surprising you with something entirely different.

Over the past few years in particular, since the release of Total War: Warhammer, Creative Assembly have really stepped up both the variety and content of their trailers, whether in terms of cinematics, or in game engine. So I wanted to celebrate some old and some new, exploring why I think these are Total War’s top trailers.

White Horse Opening Cinematic (Total War: Attila)

Though often disparaged for its difficulty, Total War: Attila really did try to change up the historical formula, creating a strategy game more akin to survival than conquest. Reflecting the start of the Dark Ages and the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Attila borrowed the iconography of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, in line with the disparity of the period, but also to reflect the idea that the Huns were horsemen.

Four trailers were made, but the narration in this version of the White Horse trailer puts it far above the others, both in terms of describing why the Roman Empire fell, but also actually using scripture to great effect. The brief reveal of Attila at the end and those final words: "the air was filled with smoke and blood" perfectly sets the atmosphere.

Blood for the Blood God 2 (Total War: Warhammer 2)

How much do you think you could accomplish in a trailer for a blood pack? Quite a lot, It turns out. Across a modest minute and a half, Blood for Blood God 2 effectively describes what the entire Asur and Druchii conflict boils down to: blood. The entire Elven race was fractured by blood and ambition and has been fighting for centuries because of it - Aenarion’s blood as both a curse and a claim to power. The trailer does a fantastic job of depicting the endless cycle of conflict that the Elven is locked in. It’s also a fantastic performance by Mark Noble, Tyrion’s voice actor, who I also just realized voices Regis in The Witcher 3.

A Hero’s Journey (Total War: Three Kingdoms)

Three Kingdoms has a number of fantastic in-engine trailers, but A Hero’s Journey represents a new direction for Total War. Like Thrones of Britannia’s Land of Hope, it focuses more on the environment that the game is played in: the land, the wildlife, the scenery. But what I think makes this trailer especially unique is its focus on the people of China. The victims of the Three Kingdoms period weren’t the nobles or the warlords, but the people; those who suffered the famines and the negligence of their ruling class, and who fought their endless conflicts. A Hero’s Journey is the only trailer for Three Kingdoms that really highlights that most important plight, using strategist Zhuge Liang’s search for a master as the perfect method of exploring it. Also it has pandas.

The Throwing War (Total War: Rome 2)

If there is a greater joy than watching Brian Blessed cackle as he fires a piece of Roman artillery, I don’t know it yet. It’s easy to forget that Total War teaches people history, but actually it’s been used in a variety of educational contexts, whether simulating famous naval conflicts or in that most glorious of TV shows, Time Commanders (though maybe not that weird reboot that was for some reason presented by Greg Wallace). The Throwing War trailer essentially demonstrates a variety of skirmish weapons from the Roman period, as that wonderful man who would one day be Gotrek, occasionally interjects with some weird and glorious remark.

Skaven Reveal (Total War: Warhammer 2)

I mentioned earlier how Total War’s trailers are a craft of exposition, but sometimes they just plain tease us. For the longest time we all knew the Skaven were coming, and yet they still didn’t appear. But when they finally did, it was in a manner befitting Warhammer fantasy’s most cult faction, with rat ogres superman punching saurus, doomwheel wheelies, Skrolk blasting dinos, and Headtaker backstabbing and cackling like the deranged vermin he is. Also, you wonder why every new Warhammer race trailer has to have a big monster reveal now? That hell-pit abomination punching out the black dragon is why: because no hierotitan, no gallows giant, no dread saurian (try as they might) will ever beat that moment.

It was also a brilliant idea to have a bell toll in the background exactly 13 times. It’s all in the details!

Fall of the Samurai (Total War: Shogun 2 - Fall of the Samurai)

Shogun 2 and its' expansion, Fall of the Samurai, remain fan favourites and I still consider the latter to be my favourite historical Total War game. But Fall of Samurai’s trailer is great, partly because it’s so unexpected: we see the Samurai, practicing their ancient disciplines, then suddenly, a Gatling gun starts mowing them down. The sudden juxtaposition is the perfect representation of both the modern and traditional influences that were at conflict during the Boshin War, playing a central role in the game's campaign. It also depicts the part that colonizers like Britain, America and France, played in arming the conflict. Though romanticizing the Samurai from both a historical and cultural perspective can sometimes be distasteful, I think this trailer does a good job simply representing the two distinctive influences that were battling during the period.

Dong Zhuo Reveal (Total War: Three Kingdoms)

Big Daddy Dong, the Tyrant. He just exudes power, and everything about this trailer works to depict that insatiable hunger which is central to his character. Even the fantastic trailer music translates to a curse on Dong Zhuo:

“Traitor Dong’s plot to change a sovereign,
would consign to dust the ancestral shrine of the Han,
a courtful of courtiers, helpless in Dong Zhuo's hands.”

I would wager he is probably the only Total War character whose own trailer music literally calls him a traitor. If that’s not infamy, I don’t know what is. I also think Lü Bu’s rampant murdering is the perfect visual representation of Dong Zhuo’s rise to power through violence, and fits so well with his voice actor’s narration. Everything about it works to compliment that central idea of power, making it one of the best character trailers Total War has ever released. It’s also kind of hilarious when you consider that he’ll pretty much always be dead by turn 15.

Total War: Warhammer Announcement (Total War: Warhammer)

"Our rules have changed" Karl Franz’s is quoted saying at the end of this trailer, and nothing could be truer. Warhammer has changed things for Total War, and its influence can be recognized to some extent in every piece of content they’ve released since then. I also think for a lot of people, including me, this was the first we saw of Warhammer Fantasy and even as just a Total War fan I could immediately tell the combination was going to be special. On top of that, the trailer looks cool as hell, has great CGI, and also it frames itself wonderfully around Egrimm van Horstmann, the corrupted light wizard, who we might very well see in Total War: Warhammer 3 as a legendary lord for Tzeentch.

What have been your favourite Total War trailers? Let us know in the comments!

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