The Roman empire was a colossal civilization surrounding Europe, Africa, Asia and Mediterranean territories. It’s lasting impression will always house a place in the history of the world. Films and books have made honorable representations of that era through various forms of expressions; though Creative Assembly’s, Total War: Rome II, offers a special and extensive interactive experience of the Imperium Romanum (latin translation) period no movie or historical novel could ever duplicate. The results are astronomically splendid.
Creative Assembly’s sequel, to understate, is massive. The campaign features 9 playable factions with dozens more - all pining for world domination. Players are thrust in 272 BC. The scale and participation within the game world is the most ambitious Total War effort to date. Battles can highlight thousands of forces on the field, while facilitating diplomacy between skirmishes brings an equal amount of reward.
The main game is slow - to be blunt - each faction can exhibit the same options you have at your disposal - and considering the bevy of coalitions on the field - the wait time will test some players. Patience is your friend in this strategy title. TW will require more forbearance from you as your empire grows - and more so of your opposition’s growth; as history presses on, neighboring empires will command more spies, larger territories and mightier armies, causing some noticeable drag between turns.
Europe, West Asia, and North Africa cover the available real estate on the campaign map. This turn based segment of the game will illustrate land expansion, army movement, spy activity and of course, war. Should an outlying faction seek to claim your country, you can defend to the last sword in real-time-strategy combat - the signature element in the TW series.
The battle for territory is where quick, sharper, thinking is necessary for victory. Prior to the skirmish itself, you are allowed time to position each set of units anywhere (within a given border) across the battlefield, that includes high ground, behind brush or, if you so choose, forming one massive wall out in the open.
Managing units is as easy as clicking and pointing. Whether you’re a veteran player or newcomer, directing armies is self explanatory. The real challenge lies within position, flanks and utilization. Knowing when to pull back or support other units is an important tactic. For example, tag teaming missile groups with cavalry platoons is far more effective than sending a single cavalry platoon through several levy slinging brigades.
Off land, you’ll find naval engagements, which are quite different from land battles, naturally. Ramming enemy ships, boarding them or using range attacks are the only options you have to sink opposing vessels. Alternatively, ships can be beached to reinforce comrades on land or siege a city. Ships move slower than infantry, molasses slow, so movement is best served with anticipation to ensure proper momentum and alignment for attacks and docking.
Aside from you basic infantry, levy slingers, and cavalry, there are literally hundreds of war units in the game. Over 700 hundred to be more specific. Hannibal’s elephants, camel archers, spear-men, and even rebel townspeople, to name a few, are depicted on the battlefield. The variety is incredible.
And while diversity and scale remain a common theme in TWRII’s war mode, not all battles will feature thousands of warriors at once. Smaller scale carnage will also knock on your doorstep and these battles, like any other for that matter, have the option to be fast forwarded by the AI. Within this option, you’re allowed minor control such as choosing 1 of 3 army stances: Aggressive, balanced or defensive. Once chosen the battle is skipped and back to territory management you go. Despite the success war victories may bear, equally and often more important are the management of territories you overtake.
Every aspect of territorial facilitation affects the efficiency of your progression. Money is required to recruit army units or raise an army, period. This requires a tax for funding. Tax too much and you’ll create civil turmoil, which can result in a revolt or worse, civil war.
Enslaved captives from war provide more helping hands in town, but will soak up more resources. Investing in religion, and philosophy will blossom town populations. Establishing trade routes with neighboring territories will yield resource exchange and war allies.
Your leadership and dictation is also on the radar of enemies and potential allies; in other words, your actions will affect their perception of you, which in turn, will affect how you interact. It’s all simplistic in presentation, but complicated in management.
Too much or too little of anything will cause a domino effect for better or worse. Finding the right equilibrium is not as easy as opting for the middle ground; especially when your empire expands.
Waging war on land or sea, hiring mercenaries and spies and acquiring new ground, sits on a scale never before seen in the Total War series. This lofty goal, while impressive for the most part, also works against itself. Bugs, unfortunately, present themselves periodically on the battlefield and main map. Same goes for imbalances, such as the spy’s sabotage success rate that was upgraded well beyond the 70% range, yet failed repeatedly.
Zooming away from the RTS action presents a drab and dull colored field of view, questioning the legitimacy of your “ultra” settings. Units have been seen doing nothing or chasing down fleeing enemies across the field while their platoon remains in the thick of battle.
On the same token, when the game is kicking on all cylinders, engagements are powerful in scope and animation. Panning through the action is a monumental experience, leaving no jaw undropped.
Water reflections and movement during naval combat glistens with impressive physics and destruction. Ramming ships to their deep sea doom is not only satisfying to pull off, but a spectacle to watch unfold.
Players familiar with the franchise will be able to jump right in and enjoy the spoils of refinement, while newcomers may be overwhelmed with the level of control and administration the game demands. This is balanced through a hefty prologue, that does an adequate job introducing players to the lay of the land, player progression and conflict.
Total War: Rome II is by far the most accomplished title in the series to date. And while it’s hard not to notice the shortcomings of bugs, regular patches are sure iron out these kinks in the coming months. In truth, it’s unrealistic to expect a game of this scope to come perfectly gift wrapped.
The game itself may not reinvent the series, but that’s not the aim in the first place. The goal here is to expand the compass of available interaction and by that purpose the game succeeds with shining colors. It’s hard to imagine how Creative Assembly plans to outdo itself with its successor, but the present product gives the richest experience of Roman history we've ever seen.
- Impressive scale.
- Strong and fun war segments.
- Political aspect as engaging as RTS combat.
- Game poised to improve over time.
- Periodic bugs.
- Minor unit imbalances require tuning.
- Slow pacing.