Iâ€™ve always been a fan of the Total War series, thereâ€™s something unique about walking in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon Bonaparte. Developers Creative Assembly have always paid careful attention to the worlds they have created, and give each gamer the chance to immerse themselves in a re-imagined historical world of their making.
Total War: Rome II is the series' second foray into the brutal world of Romans, Gauls, Celts, and Greeks. Set in classical antiquity, it gives each gamer the chance to build and destroy the empires of old.
Itâ€™s an ambitious project, but Creative Assembly is known for its reach. The title mixes two staples of the strategic genre: turn based strategic gameplay, and real time tactical strategy. And like its parent titles before it, Rome 2 tries its best to pull out all the stops and provide strategy gamers with an experience they will really enjoy.
Whether it actually achieves that is a hard call to make. One the one hand, the game gives players unprecedented access to the world of classical warfare. Using the new warscape engine, and the graphical tricks and tips from Shogun 2, the studio has managed to develop a game that provides fans with an immersive and rewarding experience. But on the other hand, Rome 2 is lacking a sense of momentum. Of all the Total War games (and Iâ€™ve played all of them) Rome 2 is the one that has felt the most like a simulator; the most like a stark, clinical simulacra of the world it is claiming to represent.
At its core, Rome II does little to deviate from the tried and true path the franchise has already tread. The game puts you in command of a Roman faction in 272 BC. You, under orders from the Roman Senate, are instructed to expand the borders of empire, crushing Romeâ€™s enemies in your path. Borrowing from the major decision making elements of Shogun 2, Rome 2 also has a late game option that lets you break out from the control of the Senate and start your own dictatorship, Ceasar style.
But thatâ€™s really it as far as the story goes. Unlike Medieval with its crusader theme, Shogun with its warring clans, or Napoleon with its campaigning focus, there does not appear to be a consistent story woven through the Rome 2 experience. Instead, the player is supposed to make it up for themselves. On one level this is appropriate. The Total War series has always been a sandpit. But the majesty and gravitas of the rise of the Roman Empire needs a bit of hyping up. Rome 2 doesnâ€™t do that.
One cause of this lack of momentum is found in the changes the developers have made to the user interface. Paring things back from Shogun 2, they have introduced a more streamlined UI that declutters your options on the campaign map. While Creative Assembly probably had the best of intentions at heart, this has the unfortunate consequence of making the game harder to play.
Rome 2 has a steep learning curve, and for a title that is essentially two games in one, the complexity and depth of the turn based gameplay needs to be gently introduced to the player. It's not, and even with the very British sounding Roman advisors, the gameâ€™s many options are hard to keep track of. It's also sometimes quite hard to keep track of your armies themselves. Creative Assembly have been a victim of their own emphasis on size and scale. The world they have presented in Rome 2 is massive, and just finding and locating your best troops throughout your empire can be a challenge.
This strange mix of a simplified interface, but more complicated empire management, results in too many balls in the air at one time. Sooner or later youâ€™ll drop one; like the time my empire ran out of food, starving all of my armies to death while they were garrisoned in friendly cities. Thatâ€™s never happened before in a Total War game. Itâ€™d have been nice to know it happens in this one. Other additions also feel slightly out of place, like the requirement to only be able to field a certain amount of armies at one particular time, and the inability to move an army while it's training new units. These all add up to a campaign experience that is a little jarring.
The second frustration that has always plagued the Total War series is the diplomatic AI. There's clearly still work to do in order to make the diplomatic experience feel genuine and valuable. Rival factions still do not seem to engage with you in a realistic way, and when they decide to lock swords with you itâ€™s either with a massive overwhelming force against your lone scout, or with their lone scout against your massive overwhelming force. That lack of proper matchmaking makes the experience feel hollow. Add to this a vast amount of rival factions whose turns are all displayed (which can thankfully be turned off in the game options) and you have a slightly frustrating experience.
However, Rome 2 makes up for some of these failings in its real time gameplay. Gamers who are used to the modern experience of cannons and shot from the franchiseâ€™s latest installments are in for a rude awakening. Rome 2â€™s action is much more visceral, violent and intimate. The developers have done a great job with the real time battles, and have created some fantastic cinematic set pieces for gamers to play through. Thankfully, the loading times between the high level campaign and the nitty gritty action are far shorter than what weâ€™ve seen in past.
Once you're inside the battle simulator, you can really see the effort that's been put in. The game boasts a range of unique units, all with historically accurate tactics and special abilities, giving gamers a brilliant opportunity to experience the harsh reality of hack and slash combat in antiquity. There's more facial animations and camera angles to ramp up the battleâ€™s realism, and some real effort's been put into making sure that combat feels authentic. No longer can you win battles by simply ramming calvary right into swordsmen. Although, they might want to rethink some of the in-battle audio. Not every Roman General needs to sound like a BBC news reporter.
Total War: Rome 2 is a complex game with massive amounts of strategic depth. At over 20 hours into my Campaign, only half of Europe was conquered. For gamers taking their time, this title has days - if not weeks - of good solid strategy on offer. It is an addictive experience too, as turn based games often are. And Creative Assembly are constantly perfecting the balance between real time tactical battles and the overarching campaign strategy.
With every instalment of the series there are new tweaks to the military mechanic and new historical worlds to explore. And with each iteration, new gameplay ideas are tried and improvements made. Rome 2 is part of that evolution, but not the ultimate product of it. Creative Assembly have taken a few risks, some of which have not paid off. But at its core, theyâ€™ve still produced a solid title that fans of the series will enjoy. Like the Romans themselves, history will look kindly on the team. Theyâ€™ve given gamers the chance to play out their own imperial fantasies. Sure, it's not perfect, and at times it borders on confusing, but given enough time and patience fans are sure to be rewarded.