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Video Game / Third Age: Total War

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Third Age: Total War is a full-conversion modification of Medieval II: Total War: Kingdoms. It is designed to be a faithful rendition of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, set around the time of The Lord of the Rings. The main campaign lasts from the year 2980 TA until the end of the Third Age. The game is currently on version 3.2 and is one of the most popular mods of Medieval II. There are over 125 settlements, including more than 25 custom settlements based on Tolkien’s descriptions. So, not only do they look distinct on the campaign map, they offer interesting environments and present unique challenges when engaging in battle in them.

It can currently be found here.

Of course, there are many sub-mods for Third Age, with two of the most notable being the campaign-focused Divide and Conquer and the multiplayer-focused Third Age: Reforged.

Third Age: Total War provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: The manual being the Middle-earth legendarium itself, of course.
  • Badass Army: Most visible with the Dwarves (who are tough Mighty Glaciers), the Noldor and Silvan elves (to the surprise of nobody remotely familiar with this setting) and Arnor (it's like Gondor's unit roster... only better in every regard).
  • Beef Gate:
    • Certain AI settlements will spawn reinforcements when attacked, discouraging opportunistic sieges with small/weak armies.
    • If you manage to seize a faction's capital city before pacifying the rest of their empire, a fairly large army consisting of late-game units with full armor upgrades will spawn in, take back the city, and then go ransack the rest of your empire. This can be bypassed if you manage to kill the factions' leadership before attacking the city, through either open battle or assassination. For example, you can completely avert the Balrog's spawning in Moria if you kill the leader and heir of the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, thus eliminating the entire faction by turning all of their settlements neutral.
  • Big Bad: Sauron can show up towards the end of the game with disastrous or awesome results depending on the faction you’re playing at the time.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The forces of good, of many cultures, but many who are neighbors start the game allied, aligned against the forces of evil, who all have the culture Followers of Melkor.
  • A Commander Is You: In general Elf and Dwarf factions are Elitist, Men are Balanced and Orcs are Spammer.
    • Gondor — Balanced/Generalist: Has a wide variety of heavy infantry, spearmen, cavalry, and archers, with no real roster weaknesses.
    • Rohan — Balanced/Brute: As a human faction, has a similar unit production rate to Gondor, but focuses heavily on cavalry units
    • High Elves - Elitist/Generalist: Has a wide variety of extremely high quality and versatile units which can only be produced in small amounts.
    • Silvan Elves — Elitist/Ranger: Same as High Elves, but with a focus on ranged units to the detriment of cavalry.
    • Dwarves — Elitist/Brute Force/Economist: The Dwarves have the best heavy infantry in the game bar none, with no cavalry and few archers. Elitist due to the effectiveness and costliness of their high-tier units. They also have access to and focus on securing mineral-rich mountain territories.
    • Free Peoples of Eriador — Guerilla/Ranger: Many units are cheap but comparatively weak in straight-up fights, with emphasis on light infantry, militia, and Dunedain Rangers.
    • Arnor — Elitist/Generalist: Has the strongest (non-Elf) units in the game all-round.
    • Dale - -Ranger early on, with no real ability to produce strong melee troops, and a corresponding reliance on archers and skirmishers. Evolves to more of Generalist faction later on, with access to strong swordsmen and spearmen units, as well as fast cavalry.
    • Dominion of Isengard — Balanced/Industrialist: Has access to a wider variety of troops relative to Orc factions and even Mordor. A relatively weak roster early on, but later-game development gives them access to viciously effective Uruk-Hai units, including the specialized pike units that will give them a huge advantage over Rohan.
    • Mordor — Spammer/Brute Force: As you would expect, Mordor can field massive numbers of Orc units. Mordor has no cavalry and mediocre starting units, but makes up for it with the late game access to Olog-Hai, heavily armored troll units that can smash through almost anything in their way, as well as stronger Uruk infantry units. Also traces of Industrialist; their late-game economy can be quite powerful, and their most profitable starting territories are out of the reach of enemy attack, making protecting them while building them up rapidly easy. Mordor can eventually overrun most opponents with a combination of numbers and sheer power.
    • Rhûn — Ranger early on, Generalist/Economist later: The Easterlings begin as a Ranger faction, focusing on skirmishers, archers, and fast missile cavalry, and later gaining access to some of the most effective heavy infantry, spearmen, and heavy cavalry in the entire game with the Loke-Khan units, rounding out their roster. They also have the wealthiest starting territories in the game, and a starting position that pits them against Dale, one of the weaker good factions, and the Dwarves, who are ill-equipped to fight the Easterlings outside of sieges. Easy Game Breaker potential.
    • Harad — Ranger: Harad's roster consists mostly of light infantry and cavalry who are at their strongest in the desert, except for the very powerful but expensive and rare Mûmakil.
    • Orcs of Gundabad — Spammer/Brute Force: Like other Orc factions, they rely on numbers, and compared to the other primary Orc factions, the Orcs of Gundabad focus on heavy infantry and troll units.
    • Orcs of the Misty Mountains — Spammer/Economist: With the wealth of Moria and the Misty Mountains, this Orc faction can pump out vast numbers, but lacks much to distinguish its unit roster aside from a focus on cheap goblin soldiers.
  • Defog of War: The use of the Palantír allows seeing certain small portions of the map around the settlement it's in. There are a total of four in the game. However, using them can be dangerous for the general using them.
  • Early Game Hell: All of the good factions suffer from this to some extent, but Gondor has it worst. You start off at war with Mordor and Harad, two factions that can churn out Cannon Fodder and operate from protected settlements located deep within mountains or deserts, meaning that conquering either is a long slog. Meanwhile, Gondor has great infantry and a huge city, but slow recruit times, a very large and vulnerable coastline, and a lagging economy in its inland settlements. Playing as Gondor requires an active strategy of harrying both enemies until its economy is powerful enough to sustain multiple stacks of troops.
  • Elves Versus Dwarves: Can be played straight. As this is a Total War game, you can have them go to war in the main campaign.
  • Going Native: The Free Peoples of Eriador are the remnants of the lost kingdom of Arnor, but they are culturally a Northmen faction. This changes once Arnor is rebuilt — the faction becomes Dúnedain again, and new cultural buildings have to be built to recruit Arnor troops.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The High Elves start out controlling a bunch of unwalled settlements off the beaten path, including the archetypal one, Imladris.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Moria and Minas Morgul become Khazad-dûm and Minas Ithil if they are recaptured by the Dwarves and Gondor, respectively.
  • Magikarp Power:
    • The Free People of Eriador start out rather weak and uninspiring, but work hard on them and they can form the Kingdom of Arnor, one of the most powerful factions in the game.
    • Isengard starts with a fairly weak roster that mainly relies on Dunlending and Snaga auxiliaries. Stick with them, however, and you'll eventually be able to field several varieties of heavily-armored Uruk-Hai.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The seven Nazgûl who received no name in the book are all named here based upon the tabletop role playing game.
  • Nintendo Hard: The game was developed to give even great players of the vanilla game a real challenge. With a poor economy to contend with, extremely limited settlement growth, vast spaces to traverse that are often hiding places for bandits, significantly lowered replenish rates of troops, not to mention various AI bonuses, it worked.
    • To put a few of these into perspective, in the original game it wasn't uncommon to get population growth up of a settlement to four or five percent, particularly with high chivalry governors. In Third Age, getting it to two percent is hard even if you cut taxes and max out all available population buildings, and most places have very small populations on top of that. For troops, a militia unit in Medieval II would replenish at one per turn, so you could always at least raise one of those if you had the florins. Here, the approximately equivalent units often take five turns to replenish.
    • Even further, the AI will receive multiple stacks of units for free whenever you attack important settlements, as well as an army of elite units if you try to seize a capital city too early. This is intended to help the AI compensate for player mission rewards and to foil Zerg Rush tactics.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: You can lead one in the Fellowship mode of the game. In the Third Age campaign, the Free Peoples of Eriador are about as ragtag as one can be, being composed of Breeland settlers, woodsmen, hobbits, and Dúnedain rangers, and a wizard. Rebuild Arnor, though, and watch this motley crew become a badass kingdom.
  • Rising Empire: Mordor, Harad, Rhun, and, especially Arnor, which goes from being a faction of wandering woodsmen and rangers to being a kingdom equal to Gondor in strength, wealth, and prestige, as it was before the kingdom fell.
  • Shown Their Work: Besides the numerous settlements with Tolkien-accurate layouts, the loading screens hold a wide assortment of quotes from various Tolkien writings, from the books themselves to the Unfinished Tales. Many of the ancillaries are also based on more obscure items such as having one of the Blue Wizards in your general's entourage.
  • Tech Tree: Factions can not recruit their more elite units until the automated Barracks Event script activates.
  • Teleporting Keycard Squad: Done to punish rapid or opportunistic invasions - Certain settlements will have their garrisons be automatically bolstered by extra units when attacked, while capturing a faction's capital city without destroying the rest of the empire will spawn in a Beef Gate army the following turn to counterattack.
  • Timed Mission: Restoring Arnor must be done within Aragorn's lifetime. You could fulfill all the requirements, but unless Aragorn is king, you will not be able to rebuild the kingdom because he is the only character who possesses the Elendilmir. This means that, if you want Arnor, generally speaking, you have to garrison Aragorn in Annuminas and quickly grow that settlement into a large city capable of building the House of Kings.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: By design and explicitly noted in the game itself! If the AI controls certain settlements when the player decides to besiege them, then a script will be activated giving the AI several units to help it withstand your siege or sally out and dislodge you if you didn't bring enough troops. This includes: Mordor AI if it controls Minas Morgul, Gondor AI if it controls Minas Tirith, Rohan AI if it controls the Hornburg, amongst many others. Note, this applies both if the player attacks the AI, and if AI attacks other AI.
    • Certain settlements, when controlled by the AI, have the ability to instantly generate new units the moment it comes under siege, in order to supplement the existing defenders. Assaults on any settlement with this ability (Usually designated in the lore-bearing 'structure' in the settlement's details), no matter how insignificant or under-defended it might seem, will require a fairly large army and lots of preparation beforehand. And no, your own settlements do not have this ability. If you abort the siege or otherwise fail to take the settlement, the generated units don't go away. Too many botched sieges can easily swell an AI empire's military beyond your ability to reliably fight. Finally, this also occurs in AI versus AI sieges, meaning that your well-intentioned allies may end up bolstering your opponent's forces with botched sieges of their own.
    • If you seize an enemy capital while the empire itself still exists: A large army full of late-game units equipped with armor upgrades will spawn in and attempt to take back the capital. Unless you know it's coming and prepared accordingly, this will most likely end with your worn-down occupying force wiped out effortlessly, and your enemy now in possession of a Purposefully Overpowered fighting force.
  • Walk into Mordor: Good factions have the destruction of Mordor as a campaign victory condition. Therefore, when playing a Good faction, the endgame usually consists of the player massing his army/armies in preparation of assaulting Minas Morgul and the Morannon (Black Gates).
  • War Elephants: As you might expect, Harad has access to Mumakil in their late game. Mordor has similar units in the form of thier Great Beasts.
  • Vestigial Empire: Gondor. All of its former land east of Anduin starts off as rebel territory or controlled by Mordor, including East Osgiliath. Eriador is even worse off; that motley patchwork quilt of Breeland settlers, woodsmen, hobbits and wandering rangers is the last remnant of the Dúnedain kingdom of Arnor (you can reverse Arnor's fortunes however, in a big way at that).
  • Zerg Rush:
    • Orc factions' most effective strategy, considering the numbers and quality of their troops.
    • Defied in the campaign map. If you try to rush-attack vulnerable enemy settlements with cheap armies, you'll quickly discover that the game spawns in extra defenders in settlements specifically to counter this. And god help you if you manage to seize a faction's capital while the empire survives - The game will spawn in a huge army of late-game units that will effortlessly crush your depleted occupying force before bulldozing the rest of your empire.