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In Honor of the Renaissance Festival: The Greatest Medieval Games of All Time

The "greatest party since Camelot" is set to kick off this weekend at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. However, spending just a day or two in medieval culture is never enough. For those feeling feudal, we've compiled a list of the best medieval video games of all time.

Whether they involve one-on-one sword fighting or commanding entire armies, these games are authentic to the period and don't involve any fantasy elements like wizards or elves. Jump back into the combat and culture of ancient times with these gaming classics.

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5. Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery Released: 2009

The first game on our list deals less with combat and more with city-building. While it does involve battles against other fiefdoms, the main focus is on construction and colonization. The game plays like a medieval version of Sim City, so managing resources and the happiness of citizens is a big part of gameplay. While this might sound dry to some, creating a great city is both challenging and rewarding.

The game does allow ground and naval combat, something that Sim City titles lack. Players can attempt to wipe out competing fiefdoms by use of force, but diplomacy is also an option. Managing the external and internal workings of an entire city is both daunting and addicting. It's all too easy for a player to set out to play for five more minutes and then realize they're up two hours too late. In addition, the graphics hold up pretty well for a slightly older title.

However, the game isn't for everyone. It'd be dishonest to categorize the combat in it as a primary feature, making this a game not designed for players looking to conquer kingdoms through military might. And the bigger a city gets, the harder it becomes to manage every little detail. While controlling the growth of a small town is an intimate process, as it grows the little things start to seem like chores. But for players that enjoy micromanagement and strategic city-building with a medieval spin, Anno 1404: Dawn of Discovery is a great buy.

 

4. Mount and Blade Released: 2008

Mount and Blade makes this list for its non-linear gameplay, skill system and combat mechanics. The most interesting feature of this title is its story--or rather, its lack of one. The storyline in Mount and Blade is entirely up to the player. It's possible to play as a lonesome adventurer or a fearsome general, or anything in-between. Players can join one of the five warring factions, become an outlaw or remain neutral.

Gameplay is handled via a point-and-click system for world travel and from a third person perspective for combat. Players navigate the world, visiting towns and castles while fighting bandits and recruiting soldiers of their own. The mounted combat system is perhaps the most innovative feature, as there aren't many games have incorporated that type of combat in the past.The skill system is also reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, complete with an actual character sheet. And the game plays similar to D&D in a sense because of how open it is to player choice.

Non-linear gameplay does come with its own set of problems, not all of which Mount and Blade avoids. While the world is large, most quests and locations are repetitive. Parts of the game are clunky, and conversations with NPCs also leave a little to be desired. Lastly, the game's graphics are outdated. All of that being said, for players with some imagination and a lot of free time, Mount and Blade is one of the best medieval open-world experiences to date.

 

3. Medieval II: Total War Released: 2006

The fourth game in the series, Medieval II: Total War is a turn-based strategy game that spans Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It's a civilization building game with similar features to Anno 1404 but with a heavier focus on combat. It features historical campaigns following medieval civilizations as well as individual battles. It's possible to play as England, Egypt, the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire and more.

The battle system is epic in size and incorporates entire armies fighting each other, with around 5000 units in a single force. And not only is there a daunting number of units fighting at once, they look good doing it--the game's graphics are polished, and each soldier is equipped with varying heraldry so as to give units some visual uniqueness. In addition, each game plays out differently and there are multiple paths to victory.

Medieval II: Total War wasn't as revolutionary as its predecessor, but it added just enough features to remain fresh. It handles micromanagement better than Anno 1404 and tasks never feel tedious. The AI system is a bit lackluster; computers often attack a castle with just one or two archers, for example, and the game is only challenging at the highest difficulty. However, the game is among the greatest medieval strategy games of all time and still worth a pickup today.

 

2. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare Released: 2012

It's been referred to as Call of Duty with swords, but Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is more than a time-traveled version of current first-person shooters. Players control a medieval soldier engaged in a civil war between two factions, the Agatha Knights and the Mason Order. Game modes include the standard team death match and objective-based matches that involve breaching a castle or burning a village. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is a multiplayer-only title, but the developers have announced plans to add a single-player mode.

At first glance, its violent close-quarters combat might seem brutish and simplistic, but there's actually a high skill curve for the game. The combat, which is mostly melee but includes archery, is more complex than point-and-swing. Less skilled players might be able to button mash their way to a decent score, but experts will run circles around them with finesse blocking and perfectly-timed strikes. Players shouldn't expect to top the scoreboard in a match until they've put many hours into the game, but the game's difficulty is what makes it rewarding.

There are only four available classes, but each class can be customized with an array of weapons. The unlocking process can be a bit frustrating because people who have been playing longer will happily kill you with their more powerful weapons while you try to unlock more. Some classes and weapons are simply overpowered, and balance issues plague certain game modes as well--some maps hugely favor one particular team. However, the game received a massive update recently that solved some of these problems, and more updates are planned. All in all, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is probably the best sword-and-shield combat game ever made.

 

1. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings Released: 1999

The ultimate medieval strategy game, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings offered numerous improvements over its previous title and remains one of the best real-time strategy games of all time. With a plethora of multiplayer game modes and an engrossing campaign, it's hard to lose interest in this title, even after so many years. Multiple campaigns allow players to take control of history's greatest armies and control the fate of whole civilizations, while multiplayer forces gamers to fight over scarce resources and build armies based on their civilization's unique strengths.

There are 13 playable civilizations and each game spans four ages--the Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age and Imperial Age. Researching new technologies means more advanced cultures can blow away their enemies with gunpowder, but only if they survive the onslaught of horsemen and knights. Each civilization has its strengths and weaknesses, with some specializing in walls and castles and others focusing on archery and siege weaponry. With each unit countering another, each game requires strategic army-building in order to defeat opponents, and no two games are alike.

While it's one of the most influential RTS's of all time, some players might find the game outdated when compared to recent titles like Starcraft II. It plays at a slower pace than modern titles and its graphics show their age. Overall, however, the game retains its appeal: an active community of gamers maintains a ranking system for the game and holds tournaments with cash prizes. For gamers looking for a complete medieval experience, it's impossible to go wrong with Age of Empires II.

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