My relationship with the Total War series has been a loving one. The only thing I like more than thrusting a spear into the heart of my fellow man is telling someone else to do it, so the fit is damn near perfect.
That said, I can now tell you that Total War: Rome 2 is probably the most absorbing, enjoyable and rewarding Total War title so far, thanks to Creative Assembly’s policy of holding on to the old and simply flavouring it with the new.
What makes Rome 2 so special is the attention to detail that’s on show here. Not only have CA given the battle system a few much needed tweaks and additions but they’ve expanded the possibilities of political intrigue and it’s in this that Rome 2 pulls away from its forebears.
There are more ways for you to anger the nations around you, more ways to ignite the fires of war. At one stage a civilisation near me was completely wiped out by their enemies and to my surprise their former leader came to me for shelter from those who would have his head. Perhaps he’d heard that the Spartans are all really just big softies.
Luckily for him and his I was in a good mood, not so lucky for me and mine was the legions of well armed men that landed on my shores looking to find their escaped adversary. Thus war was upon us.
It’s the possibility of little political intrigues like this that really make Rome 2 stand out for me. Like the time one of my highest ranking generals had lost Klout with the Spartan Royals and I opted to have him killed to resolve the situation. Or having to throw money at people to stop them spreading rumours about my family members.
Fail to keep face in the eyes of those who matter and you could find yourself in the midst of a civil war!
Sadly, while the campaign is more robust and gloriously time-consuming than ever before the game is lacking in any kind of storied campaign mode along the lines on Total War: Napoleon’s story campaigns that took players through the rise and fall of Napoleon himself. It feels like a storied campaign following the decline of Rome would’ve been a nice little addition to the package, although I’d be willing to bet we’ll see it in DLC form.
The closest thing we have here to a story based campaign is the prologue which proved problematic for me. It certainly added to my Total War rage quit count as the AI did strange things like the time I lost a settlement so it teleported my main force to that city and then slaughtered it ridiculously. When I say “ridiculously” I mean cavalry butchering spearmen in head-on charges that sort of thing.
This is just a small bump in an overall smooth experience; nothing of the like affected the campaign which is the meat of the experience. Sadly Rome 2 also suffers from certain technical issues that seem to have always plagued the series. Seemingly random crashes, the occasional missing texture, nothing game breaking but certainly some nuisances.
Rome 2’s battles are more fleshed out and impressive than ever with improved effects, mechanics and AI. You’ll watch in awe as arrows and javelines clatter off the sides of enemy installations, occasionally making it over and taking some poor sod’s eye out. The units even have added personality now as individual soldiers speak amongst themselves and squad leaders give short pep talks. Generals still give rousing speeches to their men as battle commences but now they do it on the field once your army has deployed, giving a more dynamic feel to proceedings.
Even more dynamic is the new mixed land and sea battles that require a lot more of your mind power (unless you’re the type of cheater who pauses the game to give orders. Once you’ve mopped up the enemy forces (or they’ve mopped up yours) your ships can land at the water’s edge and come ashore to support your ground troops making it almost essential to make sure not to neglect one force in favour of another.
The detail involved in the battles of Rome 2 is just amazing sometimes as you watch your men trying to batter down the doors of the enemy’s city while holding their shields above their heads to block arrows and deflect rocks, shifting the angle to match the trajectory of the next incoming shot, shield heavy with arrows pinned to it. It helps to humanise these little virtual creatures you’re ordering around and you end up rooting for them not just because you want to win a battle but because you just don’t want them to die.