Review of Total War: Rome II from Sega
It’s difficult to imagine how any self respecting strategy gamer can’t be just a little bit excited by Rome II. Rome II has promised the biggest changes to the Total War franchise for a long time. But is it for better or for worse?
Rome II’s prologue serves as a great tutorial for new players but I felt a little frustrated by the pace. It takes you through all the basics of controlling an army and using the campaign map. Total War can be an intimidating and confusing experience for new players and the prologue does its job admirably. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers first being in control of a Total War camera. That said, if you feel comfortable with Total War titles you should probably jump straight into a campaign.
On the campaign map groups of either 3 or 4 regions are now grouped into provinces. Elements like food and public order are now province wide, and because there are limited build sites in each region, there are clear advantages to owning all the regions in a province. If you own 2 out of 3 regions in a province that has a public order problem, and have no more options for buildings, you soon start lusting for that 3rd region. If a powerful nation happens to own that 3rd region it soon becomes a difficult tactical decision.
Another advantage of the provincial system is that rather than having to click through each and every region you own all regions in a province are now displayed at once at the bottom of the screen. User friendly drop down menus appear when you hover over potential upgrade sites allowing you to quickly and efficiently manage all your regions without unnecessarily dull map scrolling.
If you have just taken a new region obviously there will be some turmoil, and perhaps its previous owner didn’t have any farms, creating a food shortage. Your other regions you own in that province can cancel out the negatives and the province may not even have a food shortage. Public order is usually all but restored after a turn so you no longer need to leave your expensive army occupying a town turn after turn.
Diplomacy strongly resembles previous titles but it’s easier to effect another nations opinion of you in a noticeable way. Negative effects ware off in a reasonable time frame (depending on the “infraction”) and positive relationships are simpler to build up. That’s not to say diplomacy isn’t in depth but just that it’s easier to see how your actions effect it. The AI is also more aware of other nations and works with the game rather than against it. Of course if you’re anything like me the appeal of literally thousands of troops battling it out is just too strong for a diplomacy focused campaign.
Rather than building units at towns and joining them with a general you now raise an army at any region that initially consists only of a general and his bodyguards. You then select units to build by selecting the army itself and in a turn they are added and ready for battle. The units an army can recruit, and the amount of recruitment per turn, still depend on what military buildings are present in a province but the units don’t have to be built only at that region. It’s such a relief not to have to wait 5 turns as you tediously walk your units across the campaign map to meet up with your invasion force.
Because armies are now entities of their own they can be levelled up independently of their general. When a general eventually dies (of old age or in battle) he takes his xp with him. But provided the army gets a new general, and keeps some units, its xp will remain. Even if an army is completely destroyed you can reinstate the legacy and create an army of the same name with perks and all. It’s a cool new feature that stops armies becoming anonymous groups of units. So too does the pop-cap.
I can hear myself saying “Total War with a pop-cap? No way, that’ll ruin everything”. Well it doesn’t. Depending on the level of your Empire you will have a limit on the amount of armies you can control. So far this has proved to be more than enough but it does mean the AI doesn’t constantly fight with a seemingly unlimited number of small forces but instead tends to group units together in a large army, as it should. The limit definitely helps keep the game focused and stops a small nation owning an army much mightier than it should, as I’m sure many of us have done in the past.
Initially the choice of units available seemed disappointingly small. My first “tutorial campaign” to figure out the basics left me with little choice of units to build. Moving to my second campaign it became clear that whilst each faction may have less units than previous titles they are now completely different. Different research, building trees and unique units rather than just slightly altered skins all add to each factions individuality. And there are loads of factions to choose from as well.
With more specialised unit choice, tactics and factions’ unique units and features are much more crucial. The only problem with the factions is that some appear to be just plain better than others. Initially I played as a barbarian race who don’t even get access to archers and have a very limited choice of units. Second time through I played as Sparta (one of the Greek States DLC factions) and found that although they don’t have the largest selection of units, what units they do have are incredibly powerful.
The individuality is very impressive but I wonder if some of the nations are just worse than others. I suppose this might offer a higher challenge as it’s going to be difficult to conquer Rome with barbarians but players may just skip these factions out. It’s difficult to say fairly without having played full campaigns as every faction on the game. It’s worth mentioning that the factions included in the Greek States DLC are just as good, if not better than, the originals and I would strongly recommend getting hold of it, especially for Total War veterans. You know you can’t resist playing as Sparta.
Once 4,000 units are on screen and all the different elements that make up a battle get going it’s impossible not to get lost in the atmosphere. Unit animations and environments in particular look fantastic in Rome II. There’s even a day night cycle which really gives the battles a feeling of passing time (Rome wasn’t conquered in a day!). There’s little to no drop in frame rate during battles, even when using the awesome new cinematic unit camera. Rome II is definitely not a bad looking game throughout but more importantly the performance is great.
Total War: Rome II has made loads of big changes to the franchise for the first time in a long time. Overhauled UI’s and menus make campaign map play much less tedious and clunky. Battles are much more focused on tactics and the new factions are shockingly individual. Every change Creative Assembly have made in Rome II is for the better. I wish this had been the first Total War game I had ever played but I’m also glad as a Total War fan than the franchise is going exactly where it should be.
Reviewed on PC