About a decade after the original Rome: Total War’s glorious and critically acclaimed release the sequel (never mind the trio of total war games released in between) has shuffled its way onto store shelves, or should I say steam servers. After putting dozens of hours into Total War: Rome 2 I can say that Rome is more of a hulking Testudo of Roman legionnaires than a roaring hoard of Celtic shirtless mustachioed barbarians. It tries to sell itself on bombast and that is the most apparent thing when looking at a Total War game. With the obvious improvements to the battle camera and animations it seems that is where The Creative Assembly put their focus and it ultimately is. Despite this focus in the end when the clock has passed 6 am and the sun peeks its blinding rays betwixt your shades it is the player agency and the story they create that keeps it going into the long hours.
I describe Rome 2 as a lumbering testudo (the famous roman shield formation) because it has a slow burn, it was full of and still has some lingering bugs and it nixes many strange things that the incredible Shogun 2 added and advanced. The obvious changes are diplomacy, which has become a sort of odd game of popularity between ancient civilizations. The disheartening removal of any family tree, much to my dismay and the addition of the province system are some of the bigger changes. First and foremost and why this review is coming weeks post release is the bugs. Rome 2 was a mess on launch although much better than it was before it was released to the public it still is an undergoing project for The Creative Assembly. Many of the worst bugs have been fixed in more patches than I though were possible in the few weeks its been out but I have to applaud the developers for realizing a mistake and trying their best to fix it. Problems with terrible optimization, framerate issues despite my having a system well above the recommended specs, and numerous pathfinding, AI, and visual glitches plagued its release and made it nigh unplayable when I first installed the beast. Most of these issues have been fixed and the game is now a relatively smooth and painless experience UI and actual gameplay changes not withstanding.
Now that the Carthaginian elephant that was those bugs in the room has been addressed we can move onto what people really care about, the main campaign changes. Every Total War fan knows that the campaign is what makes any Total War great. Creating your own story over hundreds of hours as you amass an ancient empire spanning across Europe and Asia is what makes the experience empowering. Every Total War revolves around this tenant and it is what a fan expects coming in. The new changes try to alleviate many of previous series headaches such as moving and managing numerous small units and taking care to place garrisons and manage every settlement from Roma itself to the smallest barbarian hovel. My favorite addition is the concept of provinces and the campaign UI. Originally as I said before each settlement was individually controlled but with the addition of the provinces settlements are grouped into provinces which each have their own provincial capital. Provincial capitals are the only cities that have walls and must be put under siege while the smaller settlements and cities still make for some great battles within their streets they are not proper sieges. With this sieges are less frequent and there is a greater stake due to needing every settlement within a province to issue edicts. Edicts are new and handy buffs that you get once you control an entire province. Things such as adding public order and food surplus or gaining more tax revenue. This makes the player want to take provinces and not just make war to take cities or towns close to them. I started thinking in terms of province’ as no mere settlement will do.
The new campaign UI makes this province system especially painless as any province you have selected shows all the other towns and cities within in that province and their controlling faction. You can issue construction and orders to all settlements within provinces all while moving and looking about the campaign map. Armies are more easily managed thanks to the size of your empire limiting the number of armies you can have and each requires a general to lead them. This means larger forces lead by veteran generals rather than single units running all over the map. The battles are more epic and important as a result and on top of this the garrisons are now controlled by what buildings are in the province so without having troops within the city you can still thwart invading forces. The armies now have stances such as forced march and fortify and raid. These make the loss of small units without generals easier as you no longer need them to conduct raids.
Despite the nice campaign UI along with provinces and streamlining there are many issues where you least expect them after so many advances in Shogun 2. Generals no longer have tech trees that have an obvious outlining of progress and now just have random abilities added with level ups and some odd choices that are up to you, this may be largely due to the generals dying as soon as they get awesome because of the turns each lasting a year in game time. So when your general is a veteran he is also 65 and on his deathbed. The Creative Assembly did their best to alleviate this with traditions. Traditions make the player have more of a personal connection with armies as you can name them and reinstate them even after total destruction. The armies with experience gain traits and traditions becoming permanent even if they are not currently fielded. Also lamentable is the loss of the family tree so you can no longer marry your generals and have sons to avenge them. The focus is less on generals this time around and on the legions and or armies themselves. The last major offender is the battle UI as it has only become more complex with massive unit cards taking up half of the screen during tactical battles, also odd glitches occur with battle advice not letting you turn it off.
Thankfully the tactical battles themselves are the best they have been. The battles are epic constantly due to the consolidation of forces that I spoke of before and the individual units and animations are fantastic with the new engine. The battles work as classic Total War battles have since their inception, units are controlled in large groups of 100-160 men and each of those is part of a larger force. The focus on realism mixed with Hollywood bombast is what makes the series great and new additions such as the battle camera only highlight this. The animations are fantastic as each civilization has different units each with their own animations from Roman legionnaires to Egyptian Chariots. The battle camera lets you zoom in behind a unit and follow them with the UI minimized as you watch in a Hollywood war film meets ancient war style view. The biggest addition is naval battles being able to be a part of land battles. You can land ships to drop troops to support the land forces or have a separate battle over a port while your men fight in the streets.
Multiplayer has also lost some luster from Shogun 2. Gone are the avatar campaign and the custom general with a focus on just straight up battles or co op/vs campaigns. I personally found the menu in Shogun 2 muddled, especially for multiplayer. Starting and resuming campaigns in multiplayer is as easy as ever. Turns however in the games current take nearly 15-20 minutes to pass in multiplayer. The enemy turns made by the AI take forever as the game has to send information across multiple servers and you may want to have your phone or a book handy while you wait.
Total War: Rome 2 is not without its fair share of issues and in some ways is a step back from the blissful Shogun 2 but I would be hard pressed to find any strategy game equal to Rome 2 outside of the Total War series that rivals it in scope, ambition and beauty. There are significant additions but much of what makes Total War great is lost behind some odd streamlining. Despite its buggy release and the odd change it still makes for a great strategy title and one of the best Total War games. The time period is a fan favorite and any Total War fan, strategy game fan, PC game fan, or someone looking to get into PC gaming would be hard pressed to find a better way to pass a few hundred hours.
+New Campaign UI