Pharaoh’s Dynamic Real-Time Action Proves I’m Not Fit To Lead A Kingdom

I’ve played enough Sid Meier’s Civilization to feel prepared enough to try the Total War: Pharaoh demo at the Sega Summer Showcase last month, or so I thought. But oh man, was I wrong.


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Like other war games, the premise of Total War: Pharaoh is to seize an empire and ride the highs and lows of monarchic rule. Here, you’re vying to become the last great ruler of an already-collapsing Ancient Egypt. The game features three major cultures from the time, each with a few good picks of who they feel should lead Egypt.

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You need to handle monarchy management tasks like sourcing food and defending the homeland, but each of the eight rulers has their own primary focus. Though choosing different leaders for different playthroughs will make for interesting gameplay and highlight different aspects of what the game has to offer, I played as Ramesses – he was labeled as “ideal for new players.”

egyptian city in total war pharaoh over a desert oasis-1

The demo immediately thrust me into battle with Seti, who was definitely not willing to solve our dynastic dispute with words. While I’m a massive softie, Seti is a brutal warlord and had come across the desert to show Ramesses, “the last great monarch of Egypt’s New Kingdom,” why he did not deserve the title.

There was no tutorial on the battle to ease me into the demo., I quickly realized – we were fighting. Seti’s units spread out around mine steadily, and to try to stop them, I sent my archers to trek to a nearby ridge. Get the higher ground, a classic combat strategy.

I smirked as I sent Ramesses’ powerful chariots directly toward Seti himself, who had come surrounded by a tight circle of his own men. With infantry in battle as well, I tried to move my legion of foot soldiers in conjunction with Ramesses himself across the scorching desert sand.

Except, it really was scorching out there, and I’d overlooked the warnings that the weather would make a difference in my gameplay. Total War: Pharaoh boasts a truly impressive dynamic weather system, with all manner of helps or hinderances from Mother Nature as you battle for the throne, and blustering sand had suddenly and massively decreased visibility.

Not only was visibility low, but trudging through the sand consumed much more stamina for my troops, and in my confusion, I’d accidentally sent my units downhill. With Seti so far out, I asked them to expend even more of their precious energy returning to the high ground to defend Ramesses, forming a cluster around him like Seti’s men had for him.

ramesses chariot archers in total war pharaoh-1

But as they climbed back up the hill a second time, their statuses began to switch – they were already getting tired. I hadn’t realized before my misclick that I wasn’t just up against the extremities of dynamic weather in terms of the desert battle – everything around my units, terrain and gravity included, impacts how they perform in battle.

Already registering as slightly exhausted when they rejoined the rest of the group, I realized that they’d already lost a bit of HP, too, a tiny red sliver missing from the end of the bar above their heads.

Not only had they gotten tired walking back up the hill to rejoin Ramesses, but the sharp, pelting sand into which they’d descended had begun chipping away at their health in that little time. Combined with the intensity of the hot sun and the slight but critical damage being done by the sand itself, this desert was kicking my ass long before Seti could.

Figuring I’d better rest for a beat and let my opponent get closer before charging back down to greet him (on purpose this time), I clicked away to see how far my chariots had gotten.

Pretty far, it turns out. I can only assume they ran like ships in the night past Seti’s armies during the sandstorm, because my chariots were now behind the opposing army and continuing in the wrong direction. As Seti and his army advanced on mine, I course-corrected the chariots and hoped I could now sneak up on them from behind.

egyptian soldier before battle in the desert in total war pharaoh-1

With this sudden plan B in motion and Seti advancing quickly, I checked back with my archers. They weren’t shooting Seti’s rapidly approaching wall of men – I’d sent them into position but forgot to give them any actual orders to attack once they arrived.

And so, the sandstorm outside Ramesses’ kingdom dissipated slowly. Bored archers stood atop the tallest peaks, watching their comrades sprint needlessly up and down the kingdom’s desert dunes while the chariot cavalry led a gallant charge directly past the enemy as they came knocking on our door.

The screen was already displaying my “Valiant Defeat” status as the PR guy came to see how I was handling my fight, and though he urged optimistically that the most valiant victories always come on the heels of the most valiant defeats, I certainly did not feel valiant myself. But, after the chaos that was simultaneous action, I sure did feel defeated.

Sorry I cost you control of Egypt, Ramesses. Hopefully, someone who doesn’t panic during wartime can help you when Total War: Pharaoh launches in October 2023.

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