by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Back to Rome
After 25 years of making games, Creative Assembly are celebrating by giving us what we have been waiting for since the initial high of gaming bliss wore off some seven years ago. Finally, the Total War series is returning to what may well be its biggest success. Total War: Rome II is well under way, and with a development team of over 100 people and a 40% bigger budget than anything they have done before, we’re sure to be in for a treat.
For that one reader who is unfamiliar with the Total War series, the game consists of two distinct elements. The first is a grand scale, turn based, empire building strategy game which allows you to develop cities, defend trade routes, conduct diplomacy, and manage your empire’s diplomacy to name a few things. When two armies meet on the field of battle, however, that’s when Total War’s signature element comes in. Creative Assembly consistently manage to bedazzle their players with the visuals of this real-time 3D strategy game, and even based only on a sneak peak at a pre-pre-Alpha demo of the game, Rome II looks do the same.
Bigger and better
Total War: Rome II will be released some 9 years after the original success and when asked about their reasons for returning to this particular game, James Russell, the game’s lead designer stated that every time they released a patch for Shogun II, the community responded with a unanimous “That’s great, but where’s Rome II?” The fanbase wants it, they want to make it and that’s all there is to it. He also added that they are determined to make it the best Total War game to date, which is quite a goal to set considering the dedication and nostalgia lining the hearts of Rome: Total War fans.
There is no denying that this era and the Mediterranean setting the game will feature makes for great empire building, Rome was after all arguably the world’s first real superpower. Rome II’s campaign map will be significantly larger than the original’s, which will presumably open the game up for more playable factions. This era allows for a great variety of different cultures, units, fighting styles and tactics to be used, and the setting also allows for a rich variety of exotic locations.
The game will feature multiple rival factions leading to an unpredictable starting position as well as internal struggles within Rome itself. Political intrigue, family rivalries, and power struggles in the senate will all come into play as the player must choose whether to save the republic he loves or take the imperial throne he desires. The dilemma system will also come into play as the player will have to make certain decisions which will have game changing consequences. Human level stories are therefore woven into the very fabric of this grand scale empire building strategy game, where immersion is taken to a whole new level as you face decisions the likes of which Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had to make.
What’s unique about Rome II when it comes to the battlefield is the spectrum of combat perception. The actions taken on the campaign map will change things on street level. Big cities will feature multiple capture points, breaking the action up into many smaller battles and lending greater realism to the feel of the game. For the first time, naval and land battles can take place within the same instance. Units can be landed on a beach, from which they then proceed to lay siege on a city. Ship born artillery can also be used to take down walls while the army stands outside waiting for a point of entry to open. Even at this stage of development, seeing walls and buildings crumble under the barrage of naval artillery is very satisfying. It is safe to say that Creative Assembly’s placeholders look more polished than some other studios’ finished product.
The graphics engine has been massively enhanced with new lighting and particle rendering features. Facial expressions and emotional interactions will be present during gameplay, allowing the player to zoom in all the way to a soldier’s face and see his reaction as an arrow pierces his shoulder. Context sensitive camera action will also allow the player to see and hear the commanding officer of a squad giving his men a pep talk before turning around yelling “CHARGE!” Your units will look and feel much more convincingly human, and the fact that not all of them are wearing the same kind of armour lends an even further touch of realism to the game’s visuals. Combat is set to feel more brutal, rendering it more visceral as a result. With this, Creative Assembly seeks to present a much darker vision of war.
Other factions will be playable from the start, and despite the studio’s focus on Rome and her struggles at the time, those factions will feature different internal politics, units, tech trees, and tactics. Technology and tactics also develop over time, resulting in dynamic gameplay where the player will have to constantly adjust to a rapidly evolving enemy and learn how to manage his own increasingly advanced units.
Despite there being ample time yet for the team to polish this game, I for one can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m not the only one either; especially now that they have announced that they have big as-of-yet-unknown plans for multiplayer.