Creative Assembly have been turning out Total War games on PC for a hell of a long time now. There may have been a few hiccups along the way, but generally each new entry in the series, despite its setting, has been an improvement over the last. And now we come to the release of Total War: ROME II, the teams second visit to the Roman setting. Can it really move the series along in the manner that we, the fans, expect? Of course it can…
Those who have not played a Total War game before may be surprised to find out that the games come in two, quite different parts. There is the highly publicised real-time strategy side of the game. You know, the game which involves moving massive formations of troops across a battlefield to face the enemy in glorious battle – everything a player could want from an RTS game.
But then there is the campaign side of the game, a side which plays out more like a basic version of Civilization, with the player capturing provinces, adding new buildings and recruiting soldiers into their armies, which they then move around the map until they come across an enemy. The campaign game is turn based and runs at a much more leisurely pace than the RTS game, but is no less fun.
These two different aspects have made up pretty much every Total War game since they began, to one degree or another, and remain present and correct in ROME II. So, pull up your commanders chair and get comfortable, world domination in ROME II is gonna take some time.
Introducing the game to both newcomers and veterans of the series is a handy prologue campaign that tells the tale of Gaius Fulvius Silanus. The player is thrown straight into battle and given control of a few units, with the objective of breaking the Samnites siege of Capua. Here, the player will be given the very basics of camera and unit control, use of the surrounding terrain, and how to pick your battles. It is gripping stuff as your units move from the cover of trees to overwhelm the catapaults that are harassing the city.
This prologue campaign has a nice narrative running through it, which continues after the initial battle to the turn-based world map, as the player reinforces their army and holds a pass against more Samnite forces. The game offers up the basics here for increasing your power within the world, including explaining how to add buildings to a town to unlock additional unit types and such. In reality, there is a lot to know for both different aspects of the game and the prologue only covers the bare minimum. But playing through, which will take a few hours, will give a new player the basics they need to get started, and veteran Total war players will likely benefit from the recap.
The two different sides of the game, the RTS battles and the turn-based world domination, can easily be seen as two different games, and treated as such should the player choose. When playing the Grand Campaign, it is possible for the player to have the computer auto-resolve battles for them, removing the need for the RTS game. The game will give a brief prediction of the outcome, just in case the prospect of total defeat would move the player to control the forces themselves. For those more interested in the RTS game, Historical Battles will give them command of set forces and placed into the ultimate re-enactment of famous battles from the era. Then, or course, there is multiplayer with head to head battles, co-op play and even quick matches now available in which the player simply picks a faction and is then thrown into the game.
But the Grand Campaign will undoubtedly be where most players spend the vast majority of their Total War time. If the player takes on every battle they come across, a single campaign could effectively last for many, many hours, depending on the skill of the player. And replayability is not only offered by the different choices that the player makes along the way, and the optional objectives that turn up through the course of play, but also in the simple act of choosing a faction at the very beginning from the nine available.
The different factions offer different strengths and weaknesses, making for a slightly different experience each time around. From the barbarian-like Iceni with their reliance on infantry, to the discipline and technological advancement of Rome, each faction offers not only different tactics and troops during battle, but a different starting place on the world map and different obstacles to overcome on their path to domination. With over 700 different units in the full game, there is a lot to see and it will take many months of play to experience everything in the game.
On the world map, the player will find themselves expanding borders and conquering new regions as they improve upon currently controlled areas through constructing new buildings and maintaining order through kindness or a iron hand. Every choice that the player makes will have an effect on both their controlled lands and the other factions on the map. Agents offer a way to learn about these other factions, with the chance to perform assassinations or open negotiations among other things, and diplomacy comes into play when the player forms alliances or trade agreements with the other factions. It’s a big and lonely world, it would be good to at least some friends.
When it comes to battle, the player can take advantage of the improved camera system, which includes the highly exciting first-person view from any available unit. A tactical view gives an overview of the area, taking into account line of sight, which allows players and their opponents to remain hidden from one another by using the terrain or other features, making it much more realistic, increasing the importance of scouting to ascertain the enemies full strength.
Battles take place on maps that seem faithful to the era, with both siege and naval warfare playing its part with open expanses of water and impressively large walled cities adding to the strategic options available. Battles can now include all of these elements together, with naval warfare taking place alongside the land battle, and ships being able to reinforce armies from the water. Obviously limits are placed on the naval warfare in accordance to the era the game is set in, but it remains very involving and the new ways to use your sea going forces improve gameplay overall.
With each latest entry in the Total War series, the visual aspect of the game has been improved, and this trend has continued in Total War: ROME II. Even on my modest gaming PC, ROME II looks absolutely stunning. The world map looks gloriously detailed and in battle the animations are realistic as the troops move, with things like lighting and weather adding to their detail and leaving them looking incredible. There are the occasional visual glitches, such as frame rate drops, but nothing that affects the overall beauty of the game.
There is so much to Total War: ROME II, so many little effects and special gameplay moments, that it is impossible to cover everything here. Creative Assembly have been top of their game for a while now, and Total War: ROME II sits comfortably on the top of the pile. PC gamers would be mad to pass up on this chance for global domination and epic battles in the ancient world. Simply the best Total War game to date.