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Posted on Sep 10, 2013 in Electronic Games

Total War: Rome II – PC Game Review

By Peter Suciu

total-war-rome-2-coverTotal War: Rome II. PC game review. Publisher, Sega. Developer, The Creative Assembly. $59.99

Passed Inspection: Massive amounts of gameplay options, strategic and tactic options, fantastic visuals

Failed Basic: All the headaches of ruling an empire, a few bugs that need to be worked out

It might sound terribly cliché but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and expecting to finish a full campaign of the newly released Total War: Rome II in a day would be ambitious beyond the dreams of Augustus Caesar. This epic strategy game from The Creative Assembly and Sega will surely take much more than a day to play; if anything, this is a game where there really couldn’t be much more added.

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That said, there is a lot to savor but also some elements to scorn.

Hardcore gamers might at times feel slightly overwhelmed with everything Total War: Rome II has to offer. It almost seems as if the developers put in everything ever considered for the game and held back very little. Hardcore history buffs, especially those with an interest in Roman history – those that understand the nuances of how the Roman Republic transformed into the Roman Empire – will, however, appreciate this attention to detail.

Those who are looking for a fast-paced game should look elsewhere. In other words, this game is not going to satisfy fans of the Starz TV series Spartacus. This is far more like HBO’s Rome, where politics, plotting and intrigue play a role as much as direct conflict does. Building an empire in Rome II takes time and planning. Sure, you can venture out in every direction with your armies – but this will result in you playing the “decline and fall of the Roman Empire” instead.  That might be one way to finish a game in a single evening, but probably won’t be the most satisfying of gaming sessions.

Strategic Game
Rome II is actually two games in one—as was very much the case with past Total War titles. One part of this is the turn-based campaign that offers a view of most of the known world according to the Romans: Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. This gives you a sense of where you’ll want to spread out and, more importantly, carve out your empire.

The problem is that there are already annoying factions, powers and civilizations that are going to stand in your way. There are Celts in the west, tribes in Britannia to worry about, Greeks and Syrians in the east, and of course Egyptians and Carthaginians to deal with—in due time. Of course you don’t have to play as the Romans, but what is the fun in not trying to “Render unto Caesar” and doing the “I came, I saw, I conquered” sort of thing?

Playing as the Romans might offer the most fun, but there are still options to try to take down the top dog. Fortunately the game offers a lot of options and that means endless replay options. So once the world has been conquered to your satisfaction you can try it all over again from another perspective.

Playing as the Romans isn’t limited to leading Rome against the rest of the world; part of the strategic level action is spent dealing with problems back home. (Maybe this is why some Roman Republic generals spent so much time on campaign.) For the record, the game really isn’t about the Roman Empire but actually begins some three hundred years earlier. This is about the road to empire, and it is up to you to get the Romans there.

There is a lot to this. You need to recruit generals to lead your various forces, but to get the generals you’ll need to increase the size of your armies. It isn’t hard to see why the Empire of the Roman Republic needed to increase in size and stature.

Micromanaging
Rome II is also very much a management game, and this includes controlling and improving the various provinces, each of which contains cities. As the empire grows it becomes ever-more important to increase the size of the population centers, such as constructing new high-grade military training buildings that allow for recruitment of troops from the provinces.

Structures in Rome II include farms, mines and buildings that make up the infrastructure of the empire. As the empire grows this means there is an ever-increasing amount of micromanaging, and here is where the game can start to bog down. While this isn’t really a Classic Age version of SimCity, taking care of things on the home front and in the provinces is still very important.

If you’re one who likes to go out and fight battles, then the strategic level of the game might seem tedious.

Adding to the problem, the early release of the game clearly needs a few bug fixes, as the glitches that exist in the version reviewed can just further bog things down. The map’s size is one notable issue and scrolling across it should be a simple affair, but at times this locked up the computer.

There are visual bugs as well, including moments where units walk through rather than across bridges, but apparently these should be resolved in a soon-to-be released patch.

Political Game
Another aspect of the strategic game has nothing to do with conquest and has everything to do with politics and the deals that come with it. If you think that the politicians of modern America can be somewhat aggressive it is worth noting that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Roman Senate—by fellow senators no less! Thus it is fitting that a big part of the game includes a domestic politics system.

You don’t merely play “as the Romans” in Rome II; you get to choose to lead one of the prominent families in Rome, such as the House of Julia. If you get too much power the rival houses will begin to fear you, but they might plot against you.

If you opt to play one of Rome’s rivals, you can lead one of that power’s internal factions as you would lead a Roman “house” but with a few differences. In the other nations, notably the tribal-based powers, if you lose power you’ll lose respect and then they might look to overthrow you. Again, this can create some unique re-play options, especially as you explore playing other factions in the game.

As with the managing of an empire this might not be for all tastes and, yes, it can be annoying to be doing everything right only to have the Senate decide you wield too much power and plot against you. Of course, this explains why Caesar met his end and, more importantly, why his nephew Octavian didn’t take the same chances.

Tactical Game
The other half of Rome II is very much a true war game. In this you can play out the kind of massive battles that have always made this series stand out from any would-be challengers. Within these battles you can literally order thousands into battle, but as with past Total War titles it is an all or nothing affair; a wrong move on the field of battle could be a major setback in the strategic portion of the game.

Having so many units on the field engaged in combat can look stunning, but you should expect the game to slow down at times unless you have a reasonably powerful system. Rome II thus looks good but perhaps falls a little short of Shogun II. The detail in the units is there, and you can zoom out and get a bird’s eye view or zoom in and see the hacking and slashing up close. Caesar would surely have envied such options!

Though the units look fantastic the same can’t be said for the terrain, which often looks muted and too rich with “earth tone.” A battle outside of Alexandra looks not too dissimilar to one in Gaul.

Empires: Total War, which focused on empire building during the 18th century, added naval conflict options with ship-to-ship combat; now Rome II combines the naval and land battles but except in few cases this adds very little to the experience. There are times that naval units can influence a battle, but these are far and few between.

Personally, this reviewer tends to shy away from the real-time battles and favors the strategic levels. This may make me more like Octavian where I trust my generals while I focus on the plotting and planning, but the other part of it is that the massive battles can take a lot of time—and sometimes I feel battles I know I should have won end up going the other direction. In fairness, I’ve also won battles I should have lost.

The good news is that players can let the computer “fight” the battles so they only see the results. This might not satisfy those who like to lead the troops into battle, but it does help pick up the pace a bit. In addition, there are options to just fight battles, so if you really want to experience the exploits of a Roman general in a single evening this option makes that possible.

Final Thoughts
The best thing about PC games is that the final game doesn’t have to be the final word. Yes, Rome II has some bugs – those will be addressed. Rome II may have some balance issues—that can be fixed. The game isn’t perfect and likely it never will be, but most of its problems can be fixed with patches.

Even so, this will not be a game for everyone. It is a massively large game that will take a lot of time to play. For those who like to build empires, improve what they’ve conquered, plot and plan, even assassinate rivals and make those who dared threaten you wish they hadn’t – well, then Rome II offers much.

It is a truly ambitious game that most delivers on what it promised. Just don’t expect to conquer the world in an evening.

Armchair General Score: 90%

About the Author
Peter Suciu has been collecting militaria and playing military simulations since he was a child. He’s been reviewing computer games for nearly 20 years, and when he’s not waging battle from his desktop he is a business reporter for several magazines and websites. His work has appeared on CNBC.com, Fortune.com and Forbes. He also collects military helmets and runs the MilitarySunHelmets.com website.

21 Comments

  1. 90? Wow just wow. Thoroughly shocked. Can’t even get a accurate review from a dedicated wargaming site on how the game is such a backslide to the tenets of the series.

    • I thought the review was fine. I’ll buy the game now.

      Law, could you be more specific?

    • So where’s your detailed review and critique to educate us?

      • Sorry, all booked up. When I buy it, I’ll post on the forums.

    • I rescind my complement; the review was sloppy. Not only is the game bad history but the encyclopedia isn’t even complete. Under siege units, it says “New text needed here”. How did the reviewer take a town? Did he just keep doing tech unit liege engines appeared?

  2. Does it have multi-player on strategic and tactical levels?

    • Rome II does have multiplayer for the campaigns and for the tactical battles.

      While I did have an opportunity to play the campaign in a multi-player setting for my review, and thus did not base my opinion on it, I found the tactical battles in multiplayer to be generally well polished in the present state.

      I have also found that the latest batch has improved the overall gameplay experience.

  3. Good review. I fond it a bit tedious that everytime there is a reviewer who enjoys the game, someone has to come on and complain because the reviewer didnt hate it like they do…its not an accurate review unless you hate it…then its a good review. You know, there actually are people who play the game and love it, dont experience crashes, have it run smooth and find the AI to be quite reasonble.

    • Its not even about the bugs, I have an I7 and a duall 680s even though sli isnt support yet. I’m disappointed about the direction the series went and the ripped guts. Its going to very good in the future via patches or mods but right now IMO, it’s not a very deep game RELATIVE its OWN pedigree

  4. So I will make this brief. I am a huge total war fan and my mini review will be biased.

    That said I disagree with the Generals Score. To me the game is more of a 75%.

    I will elaborate. The strategic battle goodness of previous total wars is there and is awesome. I will also note that I only have about 12 hours into the game.

    The first non-bug problem with the game is the UI. I suggest to start playing a harder faction (so you will have to work to build vs having a huge army at your finger tips turn 1) just so you can spend hours figuring it out. This is definitely a downgrade from Shogun II, however Rome is doing a lot more than Shogun II. /shrug

    The next odd choice of design was the province choice. So each province has 3 cities, when you hold all cities in a province you can issue province wide edicts. This is cool and each province is different. It gives a ton of flavor to different regions. However this also means that every time I conquer a city of a province everyone else gets pissed again. Example. I held Larissa and had it stable. When I moved and took Pella, Larissa got the negative bonus for being conquered again. Grr. Also at this point what you can build seems to be limited in each city. You really have to plan the whole region. Which is an interesting design choice. I guess that lets you build cities on the front into war machines and then tear it down later to turn them into production. /shrug. I feel limited by it.

    Lastly, the AI movement on the map. I said go to Pella so the AI went south of Pella and jumped the army into the ocean and blockaded the city port. /scratches head. Hmmm. So now we get back into another interesting design choice. Cities have ‘auras’ of influence. You cannot enter that aura without a treaty or without attacking the city itself. Sometimes you are just trying to move a relief army to assist your besieged city but there is someone between you that won’t give you access. Grr.

    Sub-part to the above. I am separating this because it might be a design choice or it might be a bug. I don’t know at this point. So when my army dove into the water to blockade Pella it entered the influence aura of the city. This meant that my army was stuck. I could only attack the city. It could not return to land because of the aura and it could not move out of range because of the aura. My army was effectively trapped. That left me only one option to attack the city. Is this a feature or a bug, I dunno but it is frustrating as heck.

    Other small cool things. Armies can now gain traits along with leaders. This is very neat.

    Not so cool thing. Agents have 3 primary stats now which means generals have 3 defenses. you have to monitor traits to keep this balanced or your general is going to be susceptible to certain agent ploys.

    Kind of neat about that last bit is your general’s special abilities are tied to which stats they have. Not all generals are generic and not all of them can rally troops anymore. Some give rest breaks and others attack bonus’s.

    Lastly. I have no clue what heroes do. None. They seem to act like agents but are different. I am Sparta (horrible hard faction btw way) and I have Leonidas roaming around challenging leaders of armies to battles. Not sure if heroes are more like the Geisha from Shogun or what. They seem just tacked on and a waste. I dunno.

    Cool bit. When you auto calc you can now chose how your army fights. Defensive, neutral or aggressive. More aggressive you lose more but kill more and so on and so on. Neat, though it rarely does more than change the outcome by a few % points of losses. Still neat.

    A solid 75% if you like total war games get it.

  5. The game released on the 3rd. I’m all critiqued out. I’m a leave you with this though . If you are true fan of the series and are fond of the integral aspects of what this series was founded on, and you go buy this game you’ll be sorry. Based on this review everything is better than fine.

    Check this out This guy is a little juvenile with his delivery, but he hits on a lot of the issues vets, ESPECIALLY vets of the series would have. If you are new to the series or a beer and pretzel guy, this game is shallow ok game.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_QK-lcW8a8

  6. @law actually now that the video puts it like that I agree.

  7. I have purchased all of the Total War games and this is by far the best and most glorious!

  8. Yeah, the video was an eye-opener.

  9. Scanning the manual as Steam takes it sweet time installing the game, I see no mention of money or bread and circuses. How do you have Roman politics without those?

    • The tactical game is all wrong. Triarii, hatastii, etc were not single units but were difference line of the same maniple. Hastati weren’t all that heavily armed.

  10. I will admit that I have not experienced a lot of what the video mentioned. I have had a lot of weird bugs. I also agree that the random victory point to hold in the middle of the grass plains really sucks. What is the point of varied terrains if you are going to tell me where I have to stand.

    Again I agree with the video that I like the core of the game and what it is built on, but the game was pushed out before it was ready. That is most likely a Sega thing and yeah the way the DLC was done really angers me. It is like they knew all the areas that needed help but did not want to spend to get it done.

    Also has anyone figured out what the promotion of the characters do in the faction screen? I have also yet to be able to adopt a character. I married one character off but I do not know to whom or if it mattered. Marry was just highlighted so I was like what the heck. Not like in previous total war games where your heirs mattered. Yeah that whole first faction screen boggles my mind.

  11. Well, I was going to buy this, but since it’s a $60 game AND a lot of the people that have played it themselves say it’s not good I’m going to pass until I hear that all the problems are fixed. It’s particularly disturbing to hear the AI has major issues. I’m really not quite sure how this game rated a 90.

  12. Its not a review – its an advert and damage limitation exercise.

    No doubt his brief was to give a positive review, no matter what.

    Armchair general joins my list of “never to be trusted again” review sites.

  13. I was a big fan of the Total War series until Steam got involved, having purchased Napoleon Total War today and spent 8 hours trying to install it the insanity being that even with your own disks it still requires downloading from Steam instead (a huge task with a slow connection). So what exactly was the point of buying the disks I ask?…I tried…it would take days on my tethered phone. I won’t be buying anything with them involved in it again…a shame as the Total War series WAS superb.

  14. I should also have added that Steams tech support is completely woeful, they are are un-contactable even when logged into Steam itself as a second log in is required which doesn’t recognise user names or passwords…I guess it keeps enquiries to a minimum. Who these people anyway? they don’t write the software and they certainly didn’t pay for it, I did! though not to get in involved in a further 11gb download….I will avoid Rome II for this reason alone which is a real shame as it is looks excellent.

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