Total War: Rome 2 Review
by Niall Coleman - 2nd September 2013
Total War: Rome II (PC) Review
Total War: Rome 2 or II as we are all about the Latin in this review (Hardware cælo est optima!). Is, as the name suggest the second incarnation of the Roman flavoured offering from the Total War series. As with all the other games in the series, Rome II was developed by The Creative Assembly and is published by Sega. This is the 8th title in the series which started with Shogun: Total War in 2000 and gave us the first Rome: Total War in 2004 with a jaunt to the middle age in between... as well as a change to Total War being the prefix rather than suffix. To mark this momentous release we built a whole new gaming rig to play test the Steam review download that Sega kindly gave us access to. It is not at all put together from bits lying around from the hardware reviews cause I totally fried the old gaming rig about two days before the review launch! Nope, no sir, that didn't happen. You just got to watch out for the donkey p0rn and always, always use a proxy tunnel.
Anyway, if you're wondering what you need to do justice to Rome II the minimum requirements are a 2.0GHz Dual Core or 2.6GHz Single Core processor, 2GB of memory, a 512MB DirectX 9.0c compatible Graphics card and a 100% DirectX 9.0c compliant sound card for all the pretty noisy bits. It is a chunky 20 GB download from Steam, and we would recommend having a little extra for patches, DLC and saves... depending on whether you prefer local or cloud saves. As for our experience well we had no problems playing on an Intel Core i5-2500K, Z77 motherboard, 8GB DDR3-1600, Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 and 120GB Sandforce SATA3 based SSD.
The 12 playable factions Rome, Carthage, Ptolemaic Egypt, Macedon, Pontus, Parthia, The Suebi, The Averni and The Iceni (Athens, Epirus and Sparta) are divided into main ethnic groups of Latin, Hellenic, Eastern and Barbarian. This allows not only a wide variation on play style and unit traits but start locations, tech trees and story arc.
In addition to the field battles, sieges and naval battles found in the other Total War games, The Creative Assembly have developed new battle types for Rome II. Most notable of these is the combined naval/land battles. This is an extension of the work they did on "Fall of the Samurai" to integrate naval and land battle rather than have two stand-alone actions. Where "Fall of the Samurai" allowed us to have Naval artillery support for coastal land battle, Rome II takes it a stage further and allows us to assault or defend a coastal city with both land based units and a Navy marines that can come ashore or board enemy ships as needed.
As with the other Total War titles, The Creative Assembly pride themselves on historical accuracy and as an extension of this as well as the campaign and multiplayer game we are treated to some historical battles. These digital re-enactments have been a pillar of the series since the original Shogun and are a nice easy way to dip in and out of the game when we might not have time for a longer session in campaign mode. Before we get into the campaign we also have the option of taking the prologue. This was a feature introduced in the previous edition of Rome and acts as a tutorial for those that have never played a Total War game before. The prologue is a mini-campaign that introduce new players to the basics of the game and specifically the real-time battles. In the prologue campaign, we play as the fictional Roman general, Silanus, who is voiced by actor Mark Strong. Silanus is on a quest to obtain more military power as he rises from a mid-ranked officer to a pro-consul, ultimately this sets the stage for the beginning of the mini campaign.
The Roman Republic (Latin)
Ptolemaic Egypt (Hellenic)
Additionally the Greek States Culture Pack DLC adds a new playable Culture including three new playable factions:
Each of the four ethnic groups play somewhat differently for example variances in industry, revenue, research and new technologies. Each ethnic group has its own speciality also, for example the Romans are superior at growth and the Eastern factions are skilled traders. As with Total War: Shogun 2, we are prompted to make faction wide decisions with the scenario being specific to each group. Each decision leads us a specific path based on our previous actions and this affects the way the campaign plays out.
The territory that these factions occupy are labelled as provinces (groups of regions). We conquer regions seperately however control of an entire province allows us to pass edicts, providing bonuses such as increased public happiness or military production.
In each province, we also have to choose wisely in terms of building management, focusing essentially on centres of excellence rather than building one of everything, everywhere. Public order is also more in depth and changes frequenty as we progress. Growing and decreasing depending on the situation and when it hits -100, a rebellion occurs. Positive rankings also have their benefits, as do scores in between.
There have also been enhancements to the administration of armies and navies, removing recruitment restrictions but also adding in a new limit. This limit is tied to the faction's "power" which is calculated much like "fame" in Shogun 2. Power is generated by success in the game and when at home we can create specialist units, in the field it is a more mercenary based change in units.
Our military forces are highly customisable beyond just the unit composition. In Rome II it is possible to change the name of an army or navy, select its emblem and over time armies and navies can also gain traditions, dependant on the number of battles fought. This is in addition to an increase in stats based on experience and reflects more an army's specialisation in a particular fighting style, equipment or battle type.
Armies and navies can also be placed into different stances to perform a number of different functions such as setting an ambush, raiding, fortification or marching further than normal. In another change, since there are no longer resource slots outside of settlements armies can now enter a "raid" stance. This reduces the army's upkeep and when in enemy territory produces some income. That said, if an army enters raid stance in friendly territory is causes unhappiness in the region so we need to plan our moves accordingly.
As with other Total War tiles, agents can be recruited to augment our military. There are three core types of agents in Rome II: the dignitary, the champion and the spy. Then each ethnic group has its own variants for these. As well as the type specific abilities all agents can assassinate other characters and when an agent is asked to perform one of their abilities there is a deeper set of choices on how to complete.
One significant change for the Rome II battles is true line-of-sight. Terrain now blocks line of sight and enables units to move around the battlefield without being seen allowing us to more effectively create ambushes and removes the need for any stealth specialised units. It also means that scouting is crucial and our choice of units for this task has an impact on how well we perform.
As briefly touched on earlier, naval and land battles have been combined into a single battle system, which allows us to fight with both elements simultaneously but further tweaks have been employed such as the ability to travel up rivers and dock at set places. The Creative Assembly have also refined the unit choices for naval battles, sticking with two main categories with various abilities in the "tech" tree. All of this combines to offer a significant variance in play style from battle to battle.
If conflict and espionage are not your thing, you probably should play a game called Total War ;-) ... however The Creative Assembly have given additional attention to the diplomatic system for Rome II which will give it broader appeal.
Rome II builds on classic RTS roots to offer a wide reaching tech tree during our civilisation development. This is split into civic, military and naval technologies and through building appropriate centres of excellence we can enhance our ability to develop and move through the tree. (Of cource each group in the game has its own specific tree's and abilities to enhance success)
With this new emphasis on more cultural aspects, Rome II isn't just about the classic military victory conditions of previous Total War games. We can now play for a Cultural, Economic or Military victory. The various conditions are outlined when we choose our faction and begin a new campaign. We also noticed that we are not tied to pursuing a single victory condition from the start. We can begin in a militaristic fashion but change to a Cultural or Economic focus if victory seems more likely.
First up, The Creative Assembly have told us that they have focused on the most popular areas of multiplayer which are straight-up head-to-head battles (1v1-4v4) and multiplayer campaign (1V1 or 2-player Co-Op). New features include Quick Match (1v1-4v4) which enables players to choose a faction and jump straight into a match made game with a balanced, preconfigured force on a carefully crafted battlefield or if we want to configure an army from scratch this is also possible. (Quick Matches also have leader boards to chart our position against friends) The entire range of battle types are available in multiplayer as well, along with the five great capital cities of the ancient world: Athens, Rome, Carthage, Babylon, Alexandria.
Speaking of locations, a great new feature of multiplayer lies in the battlefields. We are now able to select a battle map from the full Rome II campaign map. Simply drop a pin on the map and the battlefield at that location will be available to play upon. This means that there are around 10,000 unique battlefields to discover and if you find one you love during the campaign, you can mark it as a favourite, and share it with other players.
Graphics and Audio
At a time when Microsoft and Sony are launching the next gen super consoles and gaming is expanding into controller-less gaming, social media gaming and F2P MMO we had to ask ourselves are Sega and The Creative Assembly releasing a glossy version of a game they first released 9 years ago? Or a re-skinned and tweaked version of Shogun 2?
The simple answer is that The Creative Assembly have done nothing significantly new with this game. It is the same format as Shogun: Total War, released 2000 in the same setting as Rome: Total War released 2004. That said, on top of those they have added over a decade of tweaks and improvements as well as enhancing the gameplay enough to offer appeal to those who like games such as Civ 5. As a result we get masses of detail, loads of variation, endless possibilities, brain bursting stats, frantic, tactical excellence in the battles and just loads more Total War. So while there is nothing revolutionary here, how could we not enjoy this game... we certainly loved it...
...and we HATE it. Why? Well, it's probably time for The Creative Assembly to move on... not to a new genre but to a new era. As I peer over the top of my cubical and look out the Hardware Heaven office window, I see the rain and the streets filled with exhaust smoke. There is a homeless guy round the corner begging for change and the news feed tells me that the USA and UK are on the brink of getting involved in the Syrian civil war, which ( for those of you not following global politics) is not just a civil war but also a more subtle war proxy between Sunni Vs. Shi'ah, Iran Vs. Saudi Arabia and the west Vs. Russia and China. (WE ALL GONNA DIE! IT'S WWIII! START BUYING CANNED FOOD!) And that's just this week... there are so many significant eras in world history which The Creative Assembly could take and develop in the Total War world. To have now dipped into another "sequel" seems a waste.
...but it is a fantastic waste, with some great enhancements to the game engine and presentation which is staggering in its scope.
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