I’ve always been a fan of the Total War series, so it came as no surprise to me when I pre-ordered the creative assembly’s remake of a classic title – Rome Total War. Released on the 3rd of September, this latest instalment from the franchise made some big promises, chiefly that it would have more content that any previous Total War game. Well truth be told, I was extremely sceptical of this latest release. The last Total War game I bought was Shogun 2, many months after it’s release when it comes up in the steam sale. Shogun left me feeling that the Creative Assembly were taking things in the wrong direction. Shogun, despite its gorgeous graphics and improved performance left me feeling that the future of Total War was short, simple arcade battles where X unit counters Y unit every single time and that the days of Campaigns that took whole days to finish were gone. Instead of building your empire from the ground up, it felt that you were meant to rush into every conflict without any pause for strategy because your amount of turns would soon be over.
When it came to announcing Rome II, I didn’t hold out much hope. The main games of the Total War series I play are actually Medieval II and its expansion, Kingdoms. Those weren’t the vanilla versions either, but community mods like Stainless Steel and Third Age Total War. All very deep, very well made community mods. I stuck with the title for the reason that the community stepped in to fill the gaps in both difficulty and historical accuracy, stretching the game’s interface further from its simple design. The promotional question, “Who far will you go for Rome?” ran sarcastically in my mind, the answer being getting it on the cheap in the steam summer sale a year later.
However, I’m pleased to say some of the worrying trends have been reversed. In terms of immersion, having historical accuracy is crucial to keeping it feeling like you’re forging an empire. Rome II does an admirable job of doing this, with their mantra of authenticity instead of accuracy. All this means is that it creates a balanced vanilla game that refers to history though not slavishly, nor does it get lost in arcade style battles. I will say, the one, tedious, slightly annoying thing I’ll say is this. Victory Points. Why? In siege battles, this just takes the same duty as the central plaza did in all other Total War games. However, as the defending side in battles on the field, you can be forced to stay next to a victory point that is conveniently the worst place for you to defend from. It effectively kills the advantage of the defender choosing the terrain. However, this did appear only in a battle where the enemy was attacking me in the field while laying siege.
I’ll boil the main good points down. Very detailed units, beautiful campaign map, good AI – I had a siege battle on normal difficulty where the attacking computer constantly tried to find a way around my defences, hanging back from committing all it’s forces into one slog-fest that used to always happen in previous titles. I know some reviewers have had problems with the AI, but I haven’t encountered any in my gameplay so I can’t comment. Back to the list of the good. The campaign map is huge. The way cities are built and provinces are managed is a great step up from previous titles. Armies and recruitment are a lot more streamlined, and the days of the Rebels faction are gone. Every province belongs to a faction, even if it is one of minor importance. This really helps with immersion, as it feels like time has been spent researching the period at large, not just the main, well-known factions.
Downsides? I think there is a horrible spectre lurking in performance. I’m running Rome II on extreme graphics, on a new desktop computer I got only about a month ago. Quick run-down of specs: 4th Gen Intel i7 (over-clocked to 4.3Ghz) , 16GB RAM, Nvidia Geforce GTX 770. However, I think like Shogun 2, they will release patches that improve performance, however I don’t think this is a game that you can throw at a computer that is already struggling. The main bulk of user problems will be down to hardware, so I’d advise against buying it and being disappointed if your rig can’t cope with it. There are plenty of reviews online slating the game for user performance issues – one of which blamed the game even though it was being run on an anaemic laptop where the user had upgraded RAM instead of finding the bottleneck. On balance, performance demands have never been a new thing to Total War.
However, I’m not quite done. After playing for hours, and once the initial excitement had worn off, I found myself asking what will keep me playing this game? It all works very well, it’s all very pretty, but what will make me keep coming back to it? It seems the more you play Total War, the more weary you become of vanilla modes. I’m already starting to get bored with the Spear Levies, the Hoplites and light cavalry. Where are the special, faction specific units? The ones that make you feel like you’re not playing a clone or some mysterious alter ego? I’m hoping from the small unit lists for some factions, more units will be added later. Otherwise, I fear we’ll have the same situation as in Shogun 2 – Katana Samurai beats infantry, Yari beat cavalry…
The verdict? A good, solid game, however Total War fans shouldn’t rush into playing it without asking questions.