Total War: Rome II – PC Game Review
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.