by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Sword and sandal warfare
Total War: Rome 2 opens up with a grand cinematic featuring dramatic music composed of beating drums, horns and the blast of trumpets in a similar vein that Roman Caesars would have received when returning from a victorious campaign against a barbarian force in Germania. It features a number of the various factions which become available once the menu appears. The grand scale is immediately evident. Experienced Total War gamers would already be familiar with the game, but for newcomers to the series, Total War: Rome 2 is part turn based strategy and part real time strategy.
Unfortunately, in the first couple of days, the game itself was almost unplayable. Repeated crashes meant that whatever gameplay was available would be just a sample of the full product. The bulk of the working game, and indeed much of the important play takes place on the campaign map which plays out in a turn based fashion. It is from here that warmongers improve their cities, organise their finances, research technologies for both civic and military aspects, and recruit armies. It is all well and good to have an all-conquering army but if things aren't running smoothly at home on the civic side of things, the army will be of little use. This becomes quickly apparent if your cities aren't producing enough food to feed your troops, as they'll begin to weaken even before they've reached the battlefield. Advisers do appear at various times to guide you in a general direction, but you can ignore them if you so desire. Experienced Total War gamers may even decide to turn the advisers off altogether.
Real time battles
Once you do decide to head into battle, things move from turn based to real-time. After setting up your formations, it is time to let your hardened troops loose on the enemy. The formation and unit types play an important part of winning a battle as does the terrain and it pays to know which units work well in open areas and those that perform better hidden in forests or through the streets of a besieged settlement. The make-up of your army may also determine the strategy used. Having a ballista or long range weapon means that you can dent the enemy forces somewhat before your infantry heads into the fray. A well balanced army will probably feature a mixture of long range siege weapons, some archers or slingers, some infantry, and some cavalry. The enemy AI is fairly intelligent and archers will fire at troops that march or stand within firing distance.
As with any of the recent Total War games, if you're not familiar with the gameplay, it pays to go through the tutorial style Prologue campaign. It gives a basic overview of all of the major aspects of the game. As mentioned prior, advisers pop up from time to time and give an indication on what needs to be done. They don't hold your hand however, and you are forced to learn on your own somewhat. This is all part of the fun though. Battles are one particular area that you need to learn on your own. Working out which of the multitude of battle formations works best in certain situations takes time and could be somewhat daunting for newcomers to the series. Even those familiar with the other Total War iterations will need to get used to the different units, but will find it less taxing that those without experience. Each of the unit types has particular strengths and weaknesses as do the enemy. Naval warfare, although not new to the Total War series, works somewhat differently from previous iterations, mainly due to the manoeuvrability (or lack thereof) of the ships. Ramming enemy ships so that they sink can be a viable technique, although getting through a fleet of troop ships filled with archers can be quite dangerous.
Battles are grand. Easier to get started than previous titles, but still hard to master. Visuals are superb
Game crashes prior to patching were frustrating. Naval warfare is dull.