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'Total War: Rome II' Exclusive with Al Bickham

Land, naval and campaign map perspectives.
Land, naval and campaign map perspectives.

We have a sit down with Creative Assembly and find out what’s under the hood in their most ambitious Total War title to date.

Concept art, naval invasion.

Total War: Rome II is but a couple weeks away from launch. Our hands-on time with the historical strategy title was nothing short of epic; To cap off our Total War sojourn,

we managed to catch up with Creative Assembly’s Communications Manager, Al Bickham to talk shop on Total War: Rome II.

Raymond Solis: Right off the bat, what’s your goal with this long awaited sequel? Because it’s not like you doubled everything, you very much quadrupled the game, more so in other areas.

Al Bickham: Yea, yea, totally. Like 700 battle units compared to 50 in Shogun II. Well, the whole thing about it is we wanted to do Rome II for a long time. Now is the right time. We’ve got the experience to do it, we’ve got the staff to do it, we’ve got the talent to do it and we’ve got the technology to do it as well. After Shogun II, which was a bit of a zen exercise for the studio; a focus on a single culture. A focus on core game systems, like diplomacy, finance management, city management, all that kind of stuff. We really got to polish up those things nicely.

RS: Which set the stage for Rome II?

AB: Yes, so now is the right time to go and revisit that world that everyone loves. The Roman era is so iconic and rich with detail and it’s so varied. And we wanted to create this world that is rich and varied experience for players that’s steeped in the fascinating drama of that period. You can open a Roman history book and throw a dart and hit some fascinating dramatic thing that happened in that period; and we wanted players to go and have that experience within the context of a Total War game.

RS: Awesome. Now, you’ve showcased the famous General Hannibal, which is exciting if you’re aware of his role in history. How extensive is his role going to be in this game?

AB: Well that trailer is a representation of what the player can achieve. You can play as the Carthaginians, you can play as the Romans, you can play all these different kinds of factions from very different cultures. That trailer is almost a paraphrase for, ‘you can out fox your enemy in Total War, by doing clever stuff.’ You can exploit the campaign map in a way that your enemy is not going to expect. We just use the backdrop and context of history and character to do that. Famous generals will appear. So if you play as Carthage then Hannibal will pop at some point. He can be your general. You can use him, level him up, apply skills and use him in interesting ways.

RS: You say level him up. Is that done in the same way as you’d level up generals in Shogun II?

AB: When generals leveled up in Shogun II, you had points to spend on two trees: A combat tree and a command tree; and you could down those trees and spend points on certain skills. Now the system is changed completely. A general can have up to 10 levels. So, every time you get a level there’s a big pool of skills and you get to mix and match, rather than being forced down a tree. So you can make a general great with elephants, or mounted troops or make him an incredible strategist with super morale buffs. The choice of cultivating and customizing your armies is vastly expanded.

RS: Speaking of armies, ideally, how many armies could you have?

AB: So there’s a cap. And the cap is based on your empire level. As your empire level rises you hit new milestones and you get to build another army. If you have a tiny empire, you can’t have 20 armies running around. Conversely if you have a massive army you’ll be able to fill alot more armies and navys as well because navys use up the same military population cap, if you like. And it’s all based on the scale of your empire. The bigger your empire, the bigger your military cap is.

RS: So is everything catered to the player’s choices or we will again cross paths with significant historical events?

AB: So yea, we have historical events triggering as the game goes on. If you’re playing as a certain faction then there’s a good chance of that dilemma appearing so that kind of thing will pop up. So it might be a natural disaster of some kind, it might be a famous character from history appears and has an affect on your empire, which mirrors what he or she did in history. So how are you gonna deal with that? Like every Total War game we start the player at a historically accurate starting point, in our case, the grand campaign, after the prologue starts in 272 B.C. the time of the Punic Wars.

RS: How did the expansive changes in Rome II affect other modes of play?

AB: The main way it affects it is under the campaign map. We’ve now got, which we didn’t before - we had a tile battlefield generation system, basically is a giant persistent battle map of the world. So if you fight in one place, in the single player game, you’ll get a certain battlefield, which is reflected in the terrain, the hills, the mountains, the rivers; all that terrain having a tangible affect on your battle in some way - like bottle necking your forces or creating pockets of visibility. So if you fight a battle in one area, and there’s a key feature landscape just down the way, you’ll see it because the map is persistent.

RS: Does this include multiplayer?

AB: Yes, we’ve got that in multiplayer. In multiplayer we’ve got the campaign map and you can choose to fight a battle on the campaign map. You click on a point and it generates a battlefield. We’re also going to ship with a set series of battles and battlefields. Because we’ve got more battle types now. Land and naval, we’ve got port siege battles, city sieges where you can storm from the beach. So it’s alot more varied.

RS: With those additions are there any other changes we can expect or will the multiplayer remain the same for the most part? If it ain’t broke why fix it?

AB: Exactly, what we’re doing is focusing on the core battles, which we get through feedback on Steam. We know which kind of popular multiplayer modes. We focus on head to head battles of different configurations; 2v2, up to 4v4 and muliplayer campaign, so two player campaign. So literaly both of you play on the campaign map as different factions and you can choose to play together or go up against one another. And our experimentation is happening in Total War: Arena: Up to 10v10 mobile style almost.

RS: Could you elaborate on your Free-to-Play project a little?

AB: It’s all about 3 units and those units have loads of upgrade options. So you take them from battle to battle, change them and give them new abilities. And with 10v10 it’s arena style. It’s a big experiment for us, but it’s not pay-to-win.

RS: We look forward to seeing it alongside Rome II in a couple of weeks.

Total War: Rome II hits PC on September 3rd. Purchasers of TWRII will automatically receive access to Total War: Arena on the same day.

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