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Review

Total War: Rome 2 Review

Veni, vidi, vici. Iterum.

Total War: Rome 2 is vast, stretching from the Western-most tips of Europe deep into the Middle East. Even at launch it features over a hundred factions, split into a variety of common cultures, from the ever-present Celtic nations stretching throughout much of Europe to the Indo-Scythian in the Middle East. Each culture has its own particular take on military, technology and battle tactics, and as such, both Adam and I have poured a suitably vast number of hours into the game.

The first thing you will notice is just how good the game looks. The campaign map is full of life and motion, even to the clouded and fogged areas which you have not got vision over yet, in contrast to Shogun 2. Even here it will allow you to see the peaks of mountains, the outlines of roads and other geographical hints behind the fog.

“The dry, arid nature of North Africa stands in stark contrast to the heavily forested and maze-like Northern Europe.”

The animation stands out, with cities growing visually on the map when buildings are added, as smoke plumes and cranes move within the city on the map. Zooming in on the map provides more ambient audio as well as you hear the hustle and bustle of the cities or the crickets in the forests, with animals grazing on the plains and eagles flying overhead. The size of the campaign map also brings a nice change from Shogun 2; the dry, arid nature of North Africa stands in stark contrast to the heavily forested and maze-like Northern Europe.

However, what makes Total War stand apart from other games are its huge scaled battles, and Rome II is no different in that regard. The battle maps are huge and there is a lot of variety on offer; even if a city feels similar in style to another you’ve besieged or defended, the layout is different or the objectives have changed. Troops will realistically raise shields to incoming missiles, sound horns and cry out when charging, and should you decide to zoom right in or take advantage of the new action camera, they are very nicely detailed alongside the terrain, despite the engine having to be able to cater for multiple armies in a battle, and thousands of troops.

Beach Assault

The battle mechanics have shifted slightly, allowing for an overarching tactical map with unit icons. You can’t run a battle from this perspective, but it gives you a good oversight of how a battle is unfolding, better allowing you to keep track of reinforcement armies and the newly integrated naval battles. These now see your fleets able to join in with certain land battles, either fighting in the sea and lending artillery support, or landing troops on shores. They add an extra spice to some of they coastal city assaults, in particular.

“Controlling the battle yourself will be essential when you are outnumbered or victory hangs in the balance.”

Being able to auto-resolve battles is always there for the smaller battles, or those which hold no interest through overwhelming odds in your favour, but controlling the battle yourself will be essential when you are outnumbered or victory hangs in the balance. The automated battles are far from perfect, and don’t feel like they take into account unit depletion or experience to quite the degree they should, but it can put you into some awesome situations.

Armies can now gain experience, increasing in rank and gaining new traditions for you to choose. Things like an increase in ammunition or more damage with spears will make your armies ever-more precious, as your generals also gain new battlefield and campaign traits. Unlike your generals, who will age and perish naturally or in battle, the army traditions will stick forever, and can even be resurrected should the whole corps fall. So, when you take to the field of battle with the auto-resolve predicting a catastrophic loss, with your 600 man army of elite units outnumbered two to one by enemy hordes, you know you have experience on your side, even if the auto-resolve says you will lose.

I was often helped by dimwitted AI, too easily suckered into a compromising military position, or with a poorly balanced and ill trained army, lacking our more elite units. Playing on Normal difficulty, only the most unbalanced odds would see either of us lose, but even the occasional dalliance with harder difficulties the AI is readily beatable. The AI might not pose too big a challenge, but by playing on the new Legendary difficulty you give yourself a handicap by removing the mini-map, preventing you from issuing orders whilst paused, and restricting your camera movements.

Camel Archers

The Greek States Culture Pack comes as DLC to the main game which adds distinct Greek factions for you to play as; Athens, Epirus and Sparta each have unique units and objectives.

Additionally, in order for you to encounter all that the game has to offer, you need to put tens if not hundreds of hours into a campaign. Each culture has its own unique sets of units – with around 700 distinct units in the entire game – and each faction a variation upon what is available to them, but pushing past your immediate neighbours and coming across the more exotic foes, such as elephants and camel-back archers, will take a huge amount of time.

Even exploring the true depths of your own faction’s roster requires you to sink hundreds of turns into a simple looking, but surprisingly deep technology tree, and then building the corresponding city buildings in your provinces. It is a serious investment of time to get there, but it’s ultimately quite rewarding to finally gain access to the most elite of units, make use of towering ballistae to smash down city walls, and break from the deep Germanic forests into the arid Mediterranean.

It’s quite obvious to us that The Creative Assembly have spent a lot of time working out how to streamline and simplify many areas of the campaign, which may have been a chore in previous Total War games.  For example, unit replenishment happens automatically within your regions and provinces – though it can be managed to a degree via an army’s stance – whilst recruiting armies no longer needs the micro-management of many individual units across your entire empire. This now takes place exclusively through your limited number of generals, and then on a provincial basis.

Cities are no longer isolated as they were before, but grouped into provinces of two to four settlements with one of these a designated provincial capital. They share almost everything internally, so that if one city is attacked by a foe, the entire province takes a psychological hit to the stability and public order rating. On the flip side, they also share their buildings, so that a general can have troops trained from specific buildings in what equates to modern day London as he prepares to cross the border into Caledonia.

Food now also plays a much greater role in the world, when it goes wrong; a resource shared throughout your empire and needed to maintain growth in your cities, unit replenishment and feeding your troops. Keeping your food supplies positive is quite an easy thing to manage, but that rare moment when you do run out, it really hits home. Suddenly your armies don’t replenish troops, your men start deserting, your people are angry and start to riot as your cities stop growing, resulting in the player being very cautious from then on about how much surplus food is available.

All of these changes from the previous games’ status quo can be confusing for both new comers and Total War veterans, and the best way to handle the new province system took a while for us to discover. Maintaining one set of public order across multiple cities is difficult, with many of the most desirable buildings giving quite excessive penalties, which have to be managed. We both found ourselves preferring not to upgrade certain buildings to avoid the knock on effect that the squalor would have on the populace.

As your empire expands, so too will the lengths to which you must go in order to assimilate the world and avoid uprisings. You will start off surrounded by tribes and factions of a similar culture, and these can under the right circumstances join you in a confederation. However, as soon as my Germanic warriors tramped into Celtic towns and cities, the culture clash hampered and slowed my expansion, and my military presence had to be maintained for a much longer time before they had adopted my culture, and I could move on.

You can, however, recruit agents to help pave the way for your troops. Spies, dignitaries and champions forms a nice rock-paper-scissors triangle which forms another layer of depth to the campaign map, aiding your own endeavours and cultural expansion, whilst also being able to combat one another directly.

Campaigning and Battling Online

With multiplayer you can engage in pitched head-to-head battles, fighting up to 4v4 against other humans or AI in any locations – you literally click on a world map and it will generate something appropriate – and fighting everything from ambushes in a forrest to city sieges.

However, there is also the option of a multiplayer campaign for two players, dropping you both into a full campaign mode.

You can play this against each other, with the AI taking control of all the other factions as it would in single player, or you can do so in co-op. Naturally, this will increase the amount of time you wait between turns exponentially, and sadly lacks the ability for the humans to take turns simultaneously, as you can in Civilization 5.

However, a nice touch comes in the real time battles, where one player can share their forces with the other, even if they’re spectating and wouldn’t otherwise be fighting. It will still be an acquired taste, and needs you to be good friends to endure.

Families – “With over 70 hours of combined campaign time, neither of us understands how this works.”

However, whilst we gradually learnt the tricks and nuances to these systems, others continue to elude our understanding. Possibly the most confusing part we found was the new family system. In your faction there will be a number of families vying for control, with some differences depending on whether you’re a republic like Rome or a kingdom such as Sparta.

On the faction panel you are given an indication of your generals gravitas and which family he belongs to. However, regardless of what we tried, the “other families” would often have a greater gravitas, in spite of our attempts to adopt generals, marry them to our lovely daughters or spread rumours. These often seemed to have the opposite effect and by bringing more generals and more power into his family Adam’s Spartans ended up in a civil war, seemingly out of nowhere, whilst I have largely ignored the competing elders, and suffered no ill effects. With over 70 hours of combined campaign time, neither of us understands how this works.

A few of the changes feel borrowed or inspired from other games, like Civilization 5, but at the same time also work as a natural evolution of the Total War formula. Diplomacy, as an example, now features detailed information about which of your actions have what quantifiable affect on your relations with other factions, though it can still feel somewhat arbitrary.

 

Siege

What Rome II does well is draw you into conflicts and styles of play befitting of your faction. Whilst my personal inclination with the Germanic Suebi was to occupy and pacify the Celts, the game hands out nice monetary rewards for sacking or razing cities, engaging in a certain number of wars or against particular factions. As you complete these chapter objectives, it gently pushes you on your way towards total domination, and going up against the factions which will pose you the greatest challenge.

These all lead towards another deviation from the traditional Total War formula, with the new Economic and Cultural winning conditions. These aren’t quite as idyllic as they might sound, and there will still be a heavy dose of warring inevitably in the mix. Instead of needing to dominate practically the entire map, you can cultivate a few more alliances and trading partnerships, as well as coming to control key regions and influence, checking off the ultimate objectives on your way to a victory.

What’s Good

  • A gorgeous world map filled with life, sound and animation.
  • Over a hundred factions, with hundreds of unique units and a huge array of locations.
  • Overhauls and updates much of the campaign gameplay.
  • Easier to grasp the basics of managing an empire, with enough nuance and depth for long term fans.
  • New winning conditions and gameplay should make Rome II more inviting to more players.
  • Extensive post-launch support planned.

What’s Bad:

  • The prologue is a good introduction to the gameplay, but a lot of game mechanics aren’t explained very well.
  • Some things, like families, simply don’t make sense.
  • The size of the campaign map means you won’t see a lot of the variety the game has to offer for a very, very long time.
  • So many factions, that waiting between turns can be quite protracted.
  • Battle AI still feels somewhat lacking.

Rome II is a particularly ambitious overhaul of the Total War franchise. It streamlines and touches upon almost every aspect of the turn-based campaign, whilst broadening the scope to include distinct biomes and many contrasting cultures for you to clash with. It is without a doubt the most comprehensive Total War game, and one which has modernised the game’s mechanics. However, with such a big shift, it has brought with it a few elements which don’t feel fully developed or polished, and these do detract and confuse the otherwise excellent experience.

Score: VIII de X

8/10

This review is an amalgam of the thoughts, opinions and even words of both myself and Adam (AG2297), but we’re far from done with the game, and will be revisiting it over the course of the next few weeks to share more of our experiences with it.

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22 Comments
  1. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    Great stuff guys! I can’t wait for my copy to arrive and get stuck in. Can you just confirm that on normal difficulty, the auto resolve battles still tend to sway in your favour, even if you’re pretty evenly matched?
    I rarely carry out the full battles anymore, although that could be because in the newer games I haven’t liked the units as much. The units in Rome were more to my liking, such as the Praetorian and Urban Cohorts, compared to the Grenadiers and Rangers in Empire.

    Also, what are the new Economic and Cultural winning conditions like? You say you can cultivate alliances and create trading partnerships, so is it like you create colonies similar to the British Empire or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:40.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      Auto-resolve can often get things wrong, estimating a battle to be much closer or against you, when you can personally hop into battle and win. There’s plenty more to see in battles now, so definitely do a night time raid, play with ballistae and elephants etc. when you fancy it.

      It’s not really about having colonies, it’s still dominating the globe with your empire and forces, but at the same time, you can hold X number of trade agreements, hold all the major resources and have huge income to get the economic victory, or you can spread your culture and control cities within a large number of provinces for the cultural victory.

      There’s more to it than that, but it’s a slightly different way of winning a campaign.

      Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:16.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Yeah, I’ll definitely give the new battles a go, but I tend to get bored once I’ve done a few of them and prefer the management site of the game.

        Still not quite sure what you mean about the economic and cultural victories, but I’m sure it will be clearer once I get my hands on the game.

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:26.
      • Adam Garrett
        Community Manager
        Since: Feb 2009

        The economic victories are sort of like “trade with X amount of nations including nation A and nation B while reaching an annual income of 8000 and having access to resource Z” etc. They’re large enough to still take a very long time to achieve.

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 16:08.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Ah, that makes sense to me. Thanks!

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 16:18.
    • RocketSOL
      Member
      Since: Oct 2008

      In the original Rome, playing as the Greeks I always lost to the Romans if I chose the auto-battle option. Doing it myself ended in victory everytime. They just couldn’t get through my Armoured Hoplites! Awesome.

      Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:31.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        I always played as Romans (House of Julii) for the campaign, and always hated going up against the Greeks due to the Hoplites! The best way to get them was with fast cavalry attacking their flanks, but often their numbers would outnumber me so I had to get loads of Hastati and Principes to whittle down their numbers with javelins.

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:42.
      • RocketSOL
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        Yeah, I did the same. Julii to start with, Greeks to go up against the Romans and I occasionally dabbled with the brits/germanic tribes. Started off easy but once the superior Romans appeared I was buggered!

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:59.
      • Adam Garrett
        Community Manager
        Since: Feb 2009

        I’ve been playing as Sparta and feel like my troops easily outclass anything I’ve come across as yet. I’m relying on the Romans and Egypt to provide my troops with a challenge later in the game when I get around to them!

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 17:22.
  2. RocketSOL
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    Completely forgot this was out this week! The tutorials for every Total War game have never really gone into enough detail in my opinion. The battle map is simple enough, it’s the campaign map where more help is required…as you said with the family tree system not making sense.

    How is diplomacy in this one? Is it similar to Shogun 2 where as soon as another faction becomes visible on my map allows me to interact with them or do I have to recruit a diplomat and move them around until I find someone from another faction?

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:41.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      You can engage with them as soon as you have encountered them and their agents/units. So it might pay to send a spy or dignitary off to the furthest reaches of the map, to find other factions and get some trading under your belt.

      Dealing with other factions after that has a clear pros & cons list for you to see why a faction likes or dislikes you. From trespassing to your interactions with their allies or enemies, these stack up for and against you. It still feels a bit off, so this is more an indication of the kinds of treaties you can go for, than absolutes.

      Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:58.
      • RocketSOL
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        Thanks for the response. I’ve always found the diplomacy side of Total War to be a bit odd. If I cross someones borders with my army (just to pass through) they kick off and open up a diplomat window without having one nearby to complain about my actions….yet I can’t do the same if someone steps onto my land?

        I only use diplomacy for trade routes anyway. If i’m feeling polite I may let someone know i’m going to attack!

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:11.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        Yeah, they don’t like it when you walk across their stupid patch of land to get to a battle! ;)

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:18.
      • Adam Garrett
        Community Manager
        Since: Feb 2009

        Worth mentioning that in Rome 2 your trade route has to go from one nation’s capital city to another I believe, and once that happens you gain vision on that nation’s capital on the campaign map. There has been many occasions where I’ve encountered 4-5 new nation’s simply because a new trade route has shown me a new part of the map, saving me from sending my agents all over the place.

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:23.
      • RocketSOL
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        hehe, yeah. They need to chill out, man.

        Oh, interesting. Presuming that wasn’t the case in Shogun 2, I guess if that capital is under siege or a faction blocks the route itself with its army (not necessarily in your own region) then your trade with them stops? That makes the most sense, unless it only affects your trade if they are specifically attacking you.

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:29.
      • Adam Garrett
        Community Manager
        Since: Feb 2009

        Yep, that’s how it works. I once had my capital come under siege which resulted in all of my trade being blockaded, so you really need to watch out for that!

        Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 16:05.
  3. Tomhlord
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Apr 2009

    Great review Stefan!

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:43.
  4. beeje13
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    I’ve been bashing Rome when until Steam lets me play no.2 which has been on my hard drive for a few days now. Thanks for the info and review, it’ll tide me over till tomorrow morning, when I wake up ready for the 8am BST unlock!

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:46.
  5. Jambo
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Nice review :)

    Have always wanted to play one of the Total War games so may have to pick this up at some point, sounds great!

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 14:54.
  6. Adam Garrett
    Community Manager
    Since: Feb 2009

    I cant wait to see what the Mod community do with this. Game of Thrones please, there’s already wolves and lions in the game!

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 15:48.
  7. Peter Chapman
    Team TSA: Editor
    Since: Forever

    Ahhhh, really want this now!

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 17:24.
  8. Nismo400R84
    Member
    Since: Aug 2012

    I am so disappointed with TSA not one single life of Brian reference, Uncultured swines ;-)

    So I will start you off… Bigus dickus will not be pleased with that score.

    Only joking your review was better than Eurogamers review. You actually sounded like you played it and not spent bug hunting.

    Comment posted on 02/09/2013 at 19:47.

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Total War: Rome II
  • Developer:The Creative Assembly
  • Publisher:SEGA
  • Platforms:PC
  • Release Date:03/09/13
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