I bought the original game last weekend while it was deeply discounted (I think it was 3 bucks and might still be) because it looked similar to a game from my childhood, Lords of Magic. It was kind of like spending 3 bucks on the lottery even though you’re pretty sure you won’t win, because I did not expect to enjoy the game at all based on the description and reviews.
Now, 20 hours into the game, I can say I’m really happy with the decision.
The game title serves as a good description of what to expect. There is a strategic map and a tactical map, exactly like the total war series. There is not as much kingdom building as the total war series, and the battles are not as in depth, but the roleplaying element allows much more customization. I would say the battles are like a mix of warcraft 3 (because of powerful heros) and total war.
Your heroes gain levels in combat, which improve their stats and powers. There are many different types of powers, which can improve their ability to govern provinces, lead armies, cast magic, or beat stuff up. You can send your heroes on quests, which advance the storyline, give you cool stuff, arrange marriages, recruit more heroes, or organize treaties.
Your decisions affect your alignment on an x and y axis, where x ranges from pagan to christian, and y ranges from tyrant to rightful. You get access to new units and powers the further you travel along the axes. Your heros also have their own personal alignment charts which you can not change, and their loyalty to you goes up or down depending on whether they approve of the actions you take.
Finally, the game is remarkably stable. In the 20 hours I have played, I have not encountered any bugs other than a graphic anomly which lasted for a few seconds during a particular battle, similar to the ghostly persistent terrain improvements you sometimes see in civ5.
Anyway, if you have 3 bucks burning a hole in your pocket, and you enjoyed the total war series, you should probably get this game.