The guys over at Creative Assembly decided to upgrade everyone’s copy of Total War: Rome II (which you can read my review of here!) to the newly released Emperor edition (no doubt as an apology for the horrible state the game devolved into after it was released, with so many bugs that for many day one purchasers it was unplayable, as much as because they seem to care about their community) and in this upgrade came the brand new campaign Imperator Augustus.
As the name suggests, this campaign starts after the death of Julius Caesar at the hands of Brutus, Suetonius and other m embers of the Senate and during the time of the Second Triumvirate breaking apart, when the Roman Empire was all but split between Octavian (Caesar’s heir until his son Ptolemy Caesarion reached adulthood, which he never did, incidentally) who would later take the title of Augustus, Mark Antony (a General of Caesar’s who took the second post as consul when he crossed the Rubicon) and Lepidus (another of Caesar’s supporters who takes something of a backseat to both Antony and Augustus in the history books).
Obviously, these are the three main factions, but they aren’t the only ones and, in fact, they are the ones which I believe hold the least amount of pleasure in playing as. For all that they are portrayed as the main players on the world stage (and for all that they are, according to history) there is little enjoyment to be found in subjugating weaker enemies and facing those who match your faction’s strength.
There are barbarian tribes, such as the Gallic, now firmly under Roman authority after the failed rebellion of Vercingetorix years before (a man I happen to believe was a great deal more interesting than Caesar but that’s another argument), the Iceni (the British) who are not owned by the Romans but, unless the island can be united they will not have the strength to repel a Roman invasion if, and when, it comes, amongst others.
I, however, decided not to play as the British for a change and, instead, chose the fourth Roman option. On the island of Sicily, Sextus Pompey, son of Caesar’s old enemy (and head in a jar) Gnaeus Pompey, holds the last hope for a Republican Rome over the Empire any of the other three would desire to create (Augustus in particular).
Once again, the writers of the game have positioned us on the side of Rome, but it is clear they EXPECT Augustus’ faction to be the one everybody clamours to play as, simply because it is the one which eventually took Rome and the semi-civilised world under its control. The cinematic focuses heavily on Augustus and Antony, not even mentioning either Lepidus or Pompey, and it is clearly attempting to paint Augustus as some kind of hero when, in fact, he was a power-hungry disciple of Caesar’s and little else. Antony, in comparison, is shown as some dark warlord illuminated by the fires of a burning city or lounging in an Egyptian palace with no interest in the good of Rome, so caught up is he in his affair with Cleopatra
.There is the usual bias towards Rome, with both the history books and the title of the game making it obvious why, but it is refreshing to see that the bias matters less when there are other Roman factions checking any one’s glorious conquest across the world. It will not be as easy for the player to take over the world now, but it is still a great deal simpler than if one was playing as the Gallic or the Parthians.
In the opening cinematic an advisor tells Octavian (Augustus) that ‘We don’t need more politicians, we need soldiers’ and this is odd in that politics seem to have become a great deal more important than they were in the Grand Campaign. Now it is important to keep other factions on your good side because, when you’re waging war with one of the greater Roman factions, even a small army in the rear can conquer cities whilst you’re forces are busy elsewhere. The added degree of difficulty has added a whole new challenge to a game which I had begun to find a little stale, when I could know that this faction would betray our non-aggression pact when I did this or that.
The politics don’t just end there either, the internal politics of your faction seem to take on a more pronounced threat, with situation arriving with greater expedience than otherwise; every other turn unveils some new political crises the player needs to deal with in order to maintain their political faction’s authority over their own faction. Now general can pick up traits simply from waiting around, laziness and abstinence, swearing and over-drinking all making them less popular the longer they remain in a city and less effective in battle; leaving an army to rot in defence of a city can no mean, not only a wasted force, but eventually a useless general.
The starting technologies, and buildings in the cities you own, offer a much quicker start than the Grand Campaign. Whereas the player would have to wait several turns before being able to recruit any units which allow legitimate strategy, they can now be recruited almost from the get-go, cavalry, siege weapons and animals all appearing quicker than they did in the Grand Campaign.
In a way, the Free-LC feels like an answer to Rome Total War’s Barbarian Invasion expansion pack, which dealt with the end of the Roman Empire as this does with the end of a Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire.
The gameplay hasn’t changed from the Grand Campaign, but the whole thing feels a little tighter, a little more exciting; like the player has to think on their feet a little more than the slow build up the Grand Campaign offered. Whilst the idiom ‘breathing life into an old game’ could apply here, it isn’t like the game is particularly old, but I certainly felt it required ‘breathing life into’. The other DLC campaigns inspired me not at all, but for some reason Imperator Augustus has me playing again.
I’d definitely recommend revisiting the game, and if you haven’t bought it yet, you should! I still love the game, and Imperator is just another, more exciting, way of experiencing Total War. Fighting off a legion of Romans with a much smaller force is amazing, but managing to win when playing as a barbarian army genuinely feels like an achievement, and I am close to making that little ‘bleep-bloop’ noise every time I repulse those Latin b*stards from my otherwise peaceful little shores.