by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
In 2013 when Total War: Rome 2 was released, people were angry: they were angry because the game was a buggy mess, because the DLC was expensive for what it was, but most of all, they were angry because the legacy of Rome: Total War, the most beloved Total War game of all time, had been trampled on. Now, after a two year exploration into the world of Warhammer, Creative Assembly has announced the first installment of the Total War Saga series (set in 8th century Britain) and to build hype in the mean-time, has released a new standalone campaign for Total War: Rome 2.
Empire Divided follows the formula of previous Rome 2 DLC Imperator Augustus, giving the player a new campaign on the already existing grand campaign map. This new campaign is set in a different time period and consists of different factions with updated and altered unit rosters. In the case of Empire Divided, that time is the crisis of the 3rd century, in which following the rise to power of Emperor Aurelian, the Roman Empire splintered into Gallic Rome, Palmyra and Aurelian’s Rome. These factions represent the three playable Roman factions, among a variety of other playable options including the Caledonii (Celts trying to retake Britain) and the Sassanids (antagonist of Palmyra and future opponents of the Eastern Roman Empire). The campaign also has new mechanics such as banditry, cults and new improved skill trees for generals.
I started off playing as the Caledonii, because having played that campaign in Total War: Attila, I was curious how it might differ. Though I did enjoy reconquering Britain, once I made it onto the continent, I began to realize how much this DLC feels like it’s treading old ground. The Caledonii were playable in Total War: Attila, as were the Saxons, as were the Sassanids, and their campaigns haven’t really changed, which begs the question, why make them playable factions? Similarly, mechanics from Attila have been pointlessly added to the campaign, such as sanitation.
The new mechanic of banditry (meaning you lose some food when exporting to other provinces) is entirely ignorable, as any penalties that do result from it are very small. The other new mechanic of cults is interesting on the surface: you can build a ‘cult building’ in your settlement for free, which will offer you benefits, but will also influence the religion of your population and will cost money to demolish. This influence however, is incredibly easy to counteract, and with no other penalties, the mechanic kind of backfires and just gives you really great free buildings. These mechanics feel a far-cry away from Rome 2’s excellent slave mechanic, which almost directly punishes a player for greed, creating deadly revolts when too many slaves are amassed in one settlement.
It’s like Empire Divided is trying to reflect the crisis of the third century by adding mechanics from and similar to Total War: Attila, but those mechanics lack the guts that Attila had, to really kick a players teeth in.
OUR RULES HAVE CHANGED
When I was growing up playing Rome 1 (Yes I am that young) I used to get excited knowing that all I had to do to make a faction playable, was defeat that faction. It turned the table, allowing me to step into the shoes of the enemy I had just fought and appreciate their struggle instead. This is one of the reasons it has always griped with me, having to pay to unlock grand campaign factions. It is something that has made me very conscious of the value of Total War content. I love Creative Assembly, but Rome 2 is their worst game in terms of DLC value.
Unfortunately, Empire Divided is another example of this. If DLC is about addition, you’ve got to ask: what is Empire Divided adding to the game? And the answer is not very much beyond a couple of failed mechanics. I think this is a problem as much about choice of time period as it is about game design. The choice was made to base a DLC in a time of crisis for the Roman Empire, when since the release of Total War: Rome 2, Creative Assembly released Total War: Attila, an entire game rooted in crisis, both in terms of its design and narrative, which included many of these same playable factions.
With the advent of Total War: Warhammer, Creative Assembly has shown us how every DLC faction can be unique, and so you can’t release a DLC as if it’s four years ago, because players won’t settle for generic historical content anymore. To quote Karl Franz, as Creative Assembly did in the Total War: Warhammer announcement trailer, “Our rules have changed”.
So if you’re really desperate for historical Total War content, then Empire Divided is fairly typical, but it’s certainly nothing new. And if you want a Total War game that better reflects crisis in terms of game design and narrative, then I’d say, just buy Total War: Attila.
Solid Total War gameplay.