There exists a few more interesting historical settings other than the Middle Ages. This was a period that lasted for over a thousand years- the Western Roman Empire has come to its inevitable end during the 5th century Anno Domini (AD), and Europe plunged into a cultural, economic, and military decline. At least, that’s what 19th-century historiography and historians wrote as a sort of historical myth that still lives in popular culture in the world of today. That people living during the Middle Ages lived a life of ignorance, despair, servitude, never-ending war, and a cultural blackout. This perception comes despite the fact that most of western Europe quickly regained its footing as early as the 8th and even 9th centuries, the franks, led by the famous Charles Martel stopped the Omayahd invaders at the battle of Poitiers, putting an end to the Arab threat from beyond the Pyrenees. Charlemagne expanded the Frankish influence way beyond its initial borders and was recognized by Pope Leo as Emperor, effectively bridging the political institutions of the Frankish kingdom to those of Rome, effectively legitimizing it as the Holy Roman Empire.
On the cultural side of things, the Carolingian Renaissance exists as a testament to the will of those pushing forwards the carts of literature, arts, and architecture. Later, during the first years of the first millennium, another wave of technological discoveries led to the creation of a continent-wide network of universities that sought to understand nature as a manifestation of God’s creation. These first forays into the studies of natural sciences by men of faith would act as a precursor to what would become known as the Renassaince.
Militarily, all the continent was engulfed in both large wars and petty conflicts and it would be Europe to helm the greatest technological advances in the macabre field of warfare, even going as far as to birth the first manuals focusing exclusively on the employment of more militarized concepts such as mobility vs armor vs firepower (anachronistic term, but it fits), notions all militaries still use to this day and age. Military thinkers would go on to theorize how warfare is a repeating cycle of those concepts, meaning that one is going to outclass the others due to a number of competing factors, mainly technological and economical, a sort of rock-paper-scissors system that keeps changing and evolving, but instead of rocks, papers and scissors its using longbows, helmets, swords, bayonets, machineguns, long-range intercontinental missile, and new-generation aircraft. Videogames have implemented this system to great effect. War is ever-changing, it is just during some periods it changes faster.
Setting: This is the setting we found ourselves in when booting up the latest expansion of Field of Glory II: Medieval – Storm of Arrows. Storm of Arrows brings FoG to the Late Middle Ages, a period comprised between the early 14th century to the late 15th/early 16th century. For the last 500 years, the continuous development of armour and the successful employment of cavalry “hammer and anvil” tactics cemented the Knight as the ultimate weapon. Heavily armoured to a near non-impregnable degree, able to don the spear, sword, battle hammer and an interminable array of weapons, being limited only to personal preference, the knight was extremely well trained and could fight both mounted on his horse and dismounted, adapting to the necessary circumstances. It’s no wonder this unit dominated the field of battle for centuries. However, necessity is the mother of all great inventions, and even the mighty will fall when faced with great technological advancements and tactical ingenuity. You see, the first moments of the Hundred-Year-War mark the beginning of the end for the heavy knight but its downfall can be traced as early as the battle of Aljubarrota. Because when your hubris supplants your tactical capabilities, and blindly charging the enemy lines with no consideration for anything else but the search for glory and riches, you’ll soon find yourself in trouble. It was said and so it was done.
No longer was the knight the trump card to win in all situations. the English longbow and the first weapons of fire rendered the heavy armor obsolete. There are still some contentious discussions on whether the longbow was effective or not in piercing heavy armor, and the answer is mostly yes. You might have seen some videos on youtube or Reddit threads discussing this topic but there seems to be one key feature that’s always missing. Amongst all the penetration tests at several distances, the calculations made and the seemingly accurate historical recreation of settings, nobody ever seems to discuss the origin of the armor in use and how quality varied wildly across different times and places. If you believe most of the French men at arms at Crecy and Agincourt were wearing the armor of the same caliber, then my darling, you’re either delusional or have absolutely no idea how armor was procured during this time. The idea that armor was so expensive only the rich mobility could afford is wrong but stems from the fact that most of the surviving units in display today were really high quality and durable to the point they survived to this day and age. The armor of lower nobility got lost in pantries and storage rooms all over Europe, some were too damaged to the point it was cheaper to buy another set rather than repair it. Some lived as family heirlooms until they inevitably got lost. Armour was bought and sold like any other commodity at the local market, fairs, and even urban shops in large cities. The custom-made, high-end armor was exquisitely crafted by master artisans, who received hefty sums to purposely move their operations near the court. Also, don’t forget that family heirlooms long past their prime have also seen battle quite often, why buy a new bascinet when your grandfather already had one? Nevermind the fact that armour left unattended for half a century was severely mistreated and structurally frail. So let us not engage in this stupid discussion on whether an English longbow could, or could not, penetrate the armor of a knight. Yes, yes it could.
The Game: Sorry! Talk me medieval and I won’t stop rambling. Where are we? Ah yes! The game: Field of Glory II: Medieval- Storm of Arrows is the most recent DLC for the fantastical Field of Glory II, a tactical, turn-based ancient to late medieval based on the tabletop game.
This latest DLC raises the chronological barrier a couple of centuries and depicts both the last high moments and the subsequent downfall of the dominance of heavy cavalry. This, Storm of Arrows does it quite exquisitely by expanding the base games Epic Battles to feature high profile battles like Aljubarrota, Crécy, and Agincourt, the last of which, marked the definitive end of high born cavalry and the age of chivalry. I’ve played these three battles nearly 10 times each, to get a proper feeling of how well they represent the real thing. I’m glad to say that Storm of Arrows mostly nails it. Even when they don’t (like the position of the town of Aljubarrota), the battles were are still representative to the highest degree of verisimilitude. Not that *a lot* of games do this, but even then, I have this nagging feeling it will be a long time before we see these battles so well recreated. Historians and historical-savvy individuals will drool over this.
The outcome of the battles can be rather interesting, though. At Crécy, I’ve had success using several different tactics, mostly trying out different defensive positions, reinforcing the town of Crécy with heavy archer presence was the most successful one, smashing the French left-wing and rolling into the right. At Aljubarrota, the battle will swing to one side or the other often, but the defensive position the Portuguese choose to fight doesn’t allow for a lot of repositioning so things will eventually come down to who kills the enemy commanders first. Curiously enough, the Spanish and French troops lost their will to fight after thinking the Castilian king was dead, when in fact he wasn’t, so they routed. At Agincourt, the overwhelming presence of longbowmen archers makes short work of the French men at arms. The longbowmen and the abundance of ranged units in the field are a new way to make battle and the new additions give a new unf to the ranges gameplay. Instead of just marching forward and pinning forces in place while trying to outflank the opposing forces, there’s a lot more emphasis on prolonged ranged engagements. So if you’re one to enjoy this kind of extremely aggressive foreplay prior to some spear waggling and sword crossing action there’s a lot to enjoy here. Even small cannonades and hand-gunners make for interesting additions.
Features: I haven’t touched the campaigns of this DLC because to me the game’s strongest points lie in its sandbox nature, so most of my time I’m either replaying epic Battles to see how history can be changed by moving smaller cogs in history’s long-running machine, or I’m playing random battles with. Other than the newer content Storm of Arrows pumped into FoG, nothing of substance was changed, so here’s a list of the most exciting news additions to the game (the rest you can read on the Steam Page Store):
- Nations and factions from 1270 AD until just prior to the introduction of Swiss-style pike tactics and Hussite war wagons: Anglo-Irish, Aragonese, Austrian, Berber (Hafsid), Berber (Marinid), Bohemian, Breton, Burgundian, Castilian, Danish, English, Florentine, Free Canton, Free Company, French, German (Imperial, Feudal and City armies), Granadine, Hungarian, Irish, Italian (Guelf), Italian (Ghibelline), Lithuanian, Low Countries, Milanese, Navarrese, Neapolitan, Papal, Polish, Portuguese, Rus, Scots, Swedish, Swiss, Tatar, Teutonic Order, Venetian, Welsh. Each of these has their own historically-based banner.
- 45 new 14th and 15th century units.
- 96 more army lists allowing historically realistic armies for each of the above factions and their allies at different dates during the period, and bringing the total number of Medieval army lists to 242. In addition armies can include contingents from historical allies. This gives around three hundred thousand permutations. You will never run out of new matchups to try.
- 8 more historical scenarios covering key engagements of the period on an epic scale: Courtrai 1302, Laupen 1339, Crécy 1346, Kulikovo 1380, Aljubarrota 1385, Castagnaro 1387, Grunwald 1410, Agincourt 1415.
- 5 more historically-based campaigns covering major leaders and conflicts of the era: Hundred Years War (English), Hundred Years War (French), Sir John Hawkwood, Henry of Trastámara, Władysław II Jagiełło.
Overall these are welcome additions that add a lot of value to an already chocked full game. The sandbox nature of the title is further elevated by these new inclusions, allowing for more imaginative players to recreate the battles they only read within the pages of a book.
I would be sorely disappointed if Field of Glory doesn’t keep going up the chronological ladder all the way until the Napoleonic wars. I would gladly pay for more epic battle packs and campaigns. In all honesty, that’s all FOG is missing at the moment.
Verdict: Field of Glory II: is now the best medieval videogame of all time, all things considered. An absolute masterpiece of interconnected battles systems that work perfectly to bring to life the most realistic outcomes of medieval encounters. As a former historian and someone who still keeps some ties to the academic world, I would wholeheartedly recommend this game as a teaching tool for any University professor wild enough. If you are a medieval warfare enthusiast, look no further. No Total War game, no matter how spectacular it is, can even come close to match FoG in its craft. Storm of Arrows only elevates these qualities further- making FoG II: Medieval the best and most complete game of all time in this time period, earning a Strategy and Wargaming Golden Seal of Approval, not only for its DLC but the whole series.