With its blend of vast empire management and gritty RTS battles, the Total War series has always differentiated itself from other genres. Creative Assembly has garnered a large fan base for its historical epics, but they have come to expect certain pitfalls at the launch of a new game with heavy patching post-launch not uncommon.
• Developer: Creative Assembly
• Publisher: SEGA
• Reviewed on: PC (Steam)
• Release Date: Available Now
As a relative beginner to the series, I was immediately impressed by the detail put into creating a believable and immersive atmosphere, with CA’s grasp of the historical period evoking films like Gladiator. In the early tutorial missions, I really felt the power of being a Roman general, (likely influenced by the surprise appearance of British screen actor Mark Strong as the tutorial character’s voice artist), and quickly became engaged with the game. I was disappointed to find this narrative thread was relatively short and only existed for the tutorial (as with Strong’s contribution). This was also where I discovered my first bug, as the tutorial ended midway through what I would discover to be its second section, leaving me to begin a full campaign none the wiser.
Whether playing the tutorial or not, your first hours with the game can be overwhelming. A steep learning curve and sometimes obtuse systems make getting a grasp of the mechanics and using them effectively quite challenging – but persevere and it can be rewarding. Rome II presumes intelligence on your part, and as part of a niche series with a loyal fan base, there’s nothing to suggest that’s a bad choice.
Beginning a campaign gives you the choice to play as one of multiple factions of the era, including the titular Romans, Germanic barbarians, Carthage, and more, (with Creative Assembly planning to release others as free and paid DLC). Plenty of detail has gone into the accurate naming of units from different cultures and each faction offers different tactical opportunities.
The bulk of the time is spent on turn-based empire gameplay on the world map. It’s fiercely addictive, and I found myself constantly wanting to make my next move. You’re tasked with managing owned cities and provinces, aiming to build and upgrade important buildings within them and grow your populace which in turn allows you more space to build. Different structures boost the province in individual ways, such as boosts to population morale, provincial income or cultural influence. All the while, you must build and maintain armies and fleets, placing them tactically to protect from hungry neighbours or revolting citizens, or sending them on conquests of your own.
Unfortunately, this was where the game eventually lost me, as ending a turn meant the fun ground to a halt as the AI cycled through enemy turns for anywhere between 2-5 minutes. With dozens of AI states on the map, it quickly became a chore to play, and a 2 minute turn with even a 2 minute wait until the next just didn’t add up to an enjoyable experience for me. It’s worth pointing out that though I wasn’t playing on a great computer, I was well above the game’s minimum requirements.
Engaging in battle with an enemy army you meet on the map loads you into a field or city where you have the opportunity to strategically place various units for maximum impact before the fight begins. Once you start the battle, the action is impressive and, as with previous games, includes the option to view your units in first person mode, throwing you into the thick of it in a satisfyingly immersive way. In addition, a new feature to Rome II is a tactical map view where you can command your armies on a greater scale and add some clarity to the battlefield. It can be very satisfying putting great thought into the composition of your forces and the formations you use to engage an enemy; and when you pull off moves like using a diversionary attack with foot soldiers to mask a cavalry charge from behind a hill, Rome II feels thrilling.
There seems to be far too much complexity to some elements of the game, however. RPG-style levelling and abilities on your generals and agents quickly feels unnecessary and time-consuming when the characters rapidly succumb to the ravages of time and need to be replaced with fresh recruits, which have to be taken through the processes again. There are cultural goals you can choose to chase instead of winning by warfare, but add even more detail and stats.
Additional modes include historical battles for those wanting to learn more about the history of the period, such as the sacking of Carthage and the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which can be taken on seperately from the campaign; skirmish, multiplayer 1v1-4v4 battles and campaign versus and co-op (2 players).
The great parts of Rome II shine brightly, but are constantly weighed down by the lack of polish and focus. An early barrage of information and game mechanics, poor optimisation and bugs may put you off before you get a chance to enjoy the scale of an empire and giant battles, and see the clear passion involved in the creation. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it may be worth waiting for the post-release support to work out the kinks.