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Posted on May 8, 2005 in Electronic Games

Rome : Total War – Game Review (PC)

By Jeffrey Paulding

A fitting tribute to the glory of the Roman Empire.

The siege of Massilia, in Transalpine Gaul , has dragged on for more than a year. My spies watching the mountain passes now report that the Gauls are massing a relief army. The time for battle has arrived. My cohorts are arrayed and ready on the rolling hills; they chant and pound their swords and shields, psyching themselves for bloody hand-to-hand combat. The sun glints off their armor and the grass sways gently in the breeze. These truly are the glory days of the Roman Empire .

A Roman army masses outside a fortified barbarian town. An enemy force is bombarded by siege engines firing flaming rocks.

I arrange my men in battle formation. To the center I place Roman Hastati armed with javelins and swords, and to the rear I position archers. My commander and his cavalry escort are situated near the infantry, next to the war dogs. With a mouse click, the real-time battle begins.

One group of Gallic swordsmen approaches from the direction of the besieged city while the relief force advances from the rear. Facing the city force first, my army moves forward. Archers open fire and the Gauls charge. The Hastati hurl javelins and countercharge with swords. For a few moments the two sides fiercely hack at each other, and then the enemy wavers and begins to flee. The Gauls run in terror as I unleash the war dogs, which overtake them and tear them to pieces.

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A Roman unit surges into a Scythian town after breaking down the surrounding wall. Detailed Information about a city is at the player’s fingertips.

My formations were dispersed by the combat, but with just a few keystrokes and mouse clicks I re-orient them to face the second Gallic force. Although my force is outnumbered, the Gauls prove no match for my disciplined men. While my infantry engage the enemy, I maneuver cavalry around their flank. The Gauls panic and begin to waiver – then victory!

The Massilia garrison has been weakened by their abortive sally. My Hastati smash the town’s wooden walls with battering rams, and my infantry and cavalry then stream into the central square and cut down the rest of the depleted garrison. I add another province to my expanding empire!

With that battle over, I begin planning my next moves on the campaign map. I must decide which buildings to construct, which units to recruit, whom to appoint as governor, what instructions to give my diplomats, and where to move my armies, navies, leaders, spies and assassins. There are other decisions as well: Should I allow my daughter to marry a particular suitor – is he a worthy addition to my clan? Do I follow the Roman Senate’s orders to blockade a Greek port? Do I enslave a captured city’s population or put them to the sword? The scope of Rome: Total War is immense and fulfilling at both the strategic and tactical level.

Opposing Roman legions clash as civil war begins. Egyptian archers fire flaming arrows.

Rome : Total War has many of the same elements as the earlier Total War games, Shogun and Medieval , but the excellent system has been refined and the turn-based campaign component has been perfected. Now units can move to any point on the campaign map – not just an area – and they are impeded only by the terrain. Armies have zones of control, so operational maneuver comes into play as one attempts to coordinate his forces to strike the enemy from several directions at once. Either side can hide in the great forests of Europe , recreating situations such as the battle of Teutoburger Wald , in which Germanic forces under Arminius ambushed and wiped out three Roman legions in 9 A.D.

Improvement in the campaign portion of Rome: Total War enhances the brilliance of the real-time battles – they actually look like animated paintings with thousands of detailed figures moving across picturesque landscapes. Players can zoom out to see the ebb and flow of the battle or zoom in to see the desperate hand-to-hand struggles. The scenes produced by this game engine are so realistic that the History Channel uses the software to illustrate ancient conflicts in its Decisive Battles program.

The cavalry watch as the siege engines fire flaming rocks at a distant enemy. A scene from the campaign map shows the faction Brutii dominating Greece.

The Total War game series offers players a superb feeling for the historical period by blending the era’s music and art with sound military science. From massive siege engines and towers to elephants and chariots, there is a great variety of units and each is equipped properly and behaves in a historically accurate manner. Morale, fatigue, training, combat experience and leadership all play a critical role in the outcome of the engagements.

Proper employment of the different types of troops, positions and maneuvers is crucial. A player can choose one of three Roman family factions, and once he has completed the campaign game, he unlocks the ability to play opposing nations like the Gauls, Carthaginians or Greeks. As the leader of a Roman faction, the first goal is to conquer part of the ancient world, but in the end the player must face off against the Senate and other Roman factions to win control of the empire. Players will find that the quest for the laurel crown of the Roman Imperator is both challenging and fun.

Roman cavalry and war dogs finish off barbarian enemies. Roman legionaries surround a Greek phalanx guarding a town’s gate.

Rome : Total War balances the thoughtful considerations of strategy in the campaign game with the adrenalin-pounding excitement of tactical battles. While the enemy’s artificial intelligence is demanding enough, a multiplayer component is available to those who desire to match wits with fellow humans.

With Rome : Total War , Activision has produced a strategy game of unprecedented depth, style and historical substance. It is a fitting tribute to the glory of the Roman Empire.

Originally published in the May 2005 issue of Armchair General magazine.

Author Information

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Jeffrey Paulding has been playing wargames since he was nine years old and is a lifelong student of military history and science.

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3 Comments

  1. An interesting and fun game, I’d advise it to any who are interested in strategy games in the Roman Era.

  2. when can you play the game and how

  3. love this game. been playing it since it came out. love the strategies involved in the battlefield scenarios. its a long drawn turn based game, but its alot of fun when drinking wine to or any other beverage. played on deployment and now playing it out of the service. love this game.

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