My latest problem, I think (beside my desire simply not to review the game, when I could actually be playing it) is that Total War: Rome II is simply too big. It’s even bigger than Medieval II, the game by which I came to measure acceptable standards of hugeness. I think, that is the reason why Empire: Total War never really appealed to me after the initial ‘Holy God, another Total War!’ had faded from my consciousness. Of course that may have had something to do with the dullness of watching two lines of men, armed with crap muskets, firing at each other until one broke. It was much less amazing to see a perfectly executed ambush occur, when both lines are obscured by smoke and harsh discipline.
Thankfully, Shogun II came along and reaffirmed my love for the series. I don’t know if it was simple geographical racism, but I still feel as though Rome and Medieval were the best examples of the series. I’ve lost count of the days I would literally race home from school and dive on the PC, having a Total War game on one screen and CoD 4 on the other.
That is something that Rome has had me redoing, I’ll admit that. The stupidly long time between your turns, when every other faction in the game makes their move, has lasted up to three minutes on occasion, making a quick game of Payday between turns a good little breaker. Ideally, I should have been writing this but, you know, YOLO, right?
Anyway, Total War is a Turn-Based/Real-Time strategy series, combining element of both to create one of the greatest strategy titles and, along with Empire Earth (remember when that was awesome?), Civilisation, Disciples and Age of Wonders, formed the core of my early PC gaming.And Rome II is a strange example of the series. The Battles remain basically the same, (why fix what ain’t broke, right?) albeit with an incredibly gorgeous appearance, which makes Shogun II look like, well, like crap in comparison. Each texture looks amazing and, even when the unit it in the shadows beneath a city’s gatehouse, the light glinting of spear-blades and horned helmets is amazing to behold. The responses to your commands are a little slow, often times I’ve had to issue the same movement order three or four times before the lads get the picture, but when they do move then, holy hell, do they move!
The battles certainly seem to be a much faster pace than Shogun was, and much, much faster than Empire. Whereas once it would take half my battle time simply lining up my men for attack, or an equally long time for the AI to summon the guts to attack me, now the battle lines are drawn and, often, the first skirmishing causalities hit the ground before the first two minutes have passed. In a normal game, I imagine a two minute wait simply to get to the enemy would be agony, but in Total War, it gives you time to plan, to strategise (damn, that is actually a word! I was certain I made that up), and to regret the positioning you decided upon.
The Campaign map, however, is where most of the changes become apparent. Generals, though always important in the series, are now your most crucial asset. Without them, you cannot field armies or navies, with the exceptions of garrisons, hell, you probably couldn’t organise a piss-up in a goddamn brewery! They have also taken on a more personal aspect, with each General or Admiral becoming more like a character, instead of just another token to move around the world-map. In Shogun II you could assign your commanders traits, household items/characters, and this system sees a return in Rome II, though it has been given a much greater variety. The three main aspects to a commander’s skills are cunning, authority and zeal, with each upgrade in these areas offering further upgrades which, though still offering advancement in the same three areas, also offer other, more specialised bonuses, whether it they for the units you desire him to command, his movement across the campaign map or even faction wide assets, such as additional income from trade, a happier populace in his region, becomes entirely up to you.
A new mechanic in the series is the formation of armies. What, I hear you cry, armies have always been in Total War! Whilst that is true, Armies never have been. You see, you create a General, right? Your General creates an army which can then be levelled up whether it keeps the same General or not. My main army, for example, the Northmen, (originally called the Wigan Warriors after the rugby team of my home town, which I in no way support), have a bonus to their defence, meaning they get stakes, fire balls, barricades and sharpened stones whenever they defend, which have already saved this army from total defeat more times than I can count. This additional personalisation is almost a double-edged sword. Though it makes them harder to defeat, I am wary of throwing them into any situation where there is a bigger chance they will lose than win. Early on, I had them spend ten years in Ireland, slowly whittling away at the faction there, because they didn’t have the strength to take on the city they needed to control. Obviously, building a fort in the centre of Ireland and having the natives attack them must have levelled them up three times alone, (and there is a small circle of the crossed axes, which signify a won battle, in the middle of the province to testify to that). These Armies are particularly important because the only way to recruit soldiers is within the army or navy itself, making the old method of transporting reinforcements around via captains, is obsolete.
Armies also have the ability to take on stances, depending on what you desire them to do. As I’ve said, they can fortify, which builds them a small fort with a few added defences to hold off the enemy. This stance is also good for blocking off chokepoints in the campaign map, which has obviously been designed with that kind of warfare in mind, with impassable forest and mountains that would make even Hannibal Barca wince. On the downside, your army cannot move at all, meaning you should only use the stance in the right circumstances.
In enemy territory you can raid, which lowers the enemy faction’s population happiness and also makes your army cheaper to support, but it takes half your army’s movements range, making your progress much slower across enemy territory. The forced march doubles your movement speed, making it possible to travel from the south of Britain, to the border of Scotland in one turn. Unfortunately, you cannot initiate attacks whilst in this stance, and you lose a portion of that army’s morale, making them especially vulnerable to ambushes from enemy forces. Ambushes are the final stance and allow you to attack the enemy without giving them a chance to deploy, and decrease their morale whilst increasing your own.
Cities develop in much the same way they always did, but now you can watch your city grow in real-time, seeing it spread across the landscape until any province’s main city can reach the size of ancient Roma herself. Changes have been made to these as well though, now you can issue edicts to your provinces, which can add bonuses to food production, population happiness, speed of building completion and wealth gained from trading or certain buildings. Edicts can only be issued when you control every territory that comes under that province. For example, the four territories of England and Wales (or the lands that become England and Wales anyway) form one province, as do Ireland and Scotland.
Diplomacy is harder than it was in any previous Total War title, with many factions refusing to even trade with you unless you make a good impression on them, via fighting their enemies, sharing their culture or signing other agreements with them. Though new agreements have been placed in the game, few are worth the paper they are written on. I’ve already lost count of the times that I’ve had a Defensive Alliance or a Non-Aggression Pact signed, with the other faction only to abandon it the second it looks like the war might be a little hairy.
Internal politics is no easier, with a percentage system showing your control over your own council. I thought I had my tribe, the Iceni, completely loyal to me, until it turned out my most powerful Generals actually belonged to the other faction, within my faction, and were conspiring against my loyal Generals, few of whom had much military experience. I imagine it would be a much bigger problem if I were to play as Rome, that faction having a record of much more impressive faction struggles than an assassin’s dagger in the dark.
To seasoned players of the Total War series, the changes are quite jarring at first, but I quickly came to embrace as just another challenge in a series that has forced me to think about the way I play since I received my first PC. Maybe I am a little biased towards the series, but if the title had of fallen short of my expectation, be assured I would have mentioned it.
With that in mind, I have no doubt you are wondering why this review took so long? Well, after the first day (in which the game worked perfectly, in fact, it worked much, much better than I imagined possible on my relatively low-spec computer), the game simply wouldn’t launch. I understand that there are always launch problems, I get that, but the amount of people who can barely play the game due to graphical/audio errors or, like mine, simply refusing to launch, is quite staggering.
Though I hold them in the highest esteem, Creative Assembly have been little-to-no help regarding these problems, the patch they released doing little to make the game run better. Luckily, I was able to find out what I needed to do from a member of the community on the CA Support Forums, and now it runs as smooth as a Dictator’s toga.
In conclusion then, I cannot suggest that you invest in this title enough, especially if you love strategy games. It may be a little difficult to get to grips with at first, after the changes that have been made to the Campaign Mode, but it is certainly worth it. However, it may well be best to wait until all these launch problems have been repaired before buying the game, unless you are lucky enough to find someone who knows what they’re talking about on the internet. God knows, that’s rare enough!