I’ve always loved strategy games. There’s something about building up a civilization in my image and slowly conquering the world that calls back to my primordial instincts (or my not so hidden narcissism), and this is the only real chance I have to live out these fantasies. I was ecstatic to sit down with Total War: Rome II to literally rewrite history in my honor, and I was blown away initially with the updated visuals and cinematic touches. But after a few hours, the new coat of paint and updated mechanics started to wear thin. Total War: Rome II does everything it can to build upon what’s worked in the past, but never quite manages to break out of its own shadow.
One of the coolest new features is the seamless transition from sea to land combat. While naval combat has been in a few Total War games, Total War: Rome II finally allows you to amphibiously attack a target where you launch your ships onto the beach and unload your infantry platoons behind enemy lines. It’s made the battles much more dynamic and added even more excitement to the mix.
Staying on the subject of things new to the formula, the new cinematic camera may be my favorite feature in the game. This camera zooms in on a specific platoon and gives you a perspective from just above the heads of your soldiers. It offers absolutely zero tactical advantage, but it’s incredibly engrossing. As you watch your footmen charge into battle, you’ll hear the thundering of their boots and the shouting of their generals as they push towards glory.
This finally gives your units a bit more personality as the generals scream orders and give heroic speeches to inspire their troops. Hearing them reminding their men that although they’re outnumbered they can still be victorious just draws you that much deeper into the experience.
There are a few other new features that come into play with varying degrees of usefulness. The inclusion of line of sight makes the terrain play a vital role in the game, and forces you to send out scouts or decoys if you want to be able to maintain control of the battlefield. It’s a nice little touch that does add more realism to the gameplay. You’re also now able to control your siege weapons from a first-person perspective and manually fire them. From here, you’ll watch your munitions fly through the air and hopefully land in the middle of some enemy troops. This does make them a bit more useful, but more often than not it simply took time away from actually commanding my troops, and it was time that I couldn’t afford to use.
The actual battles play out similarly to those included in previous Total War games, but there’s a much higher emphasis on morale this time around. You may not need to fight to the last man if you’re able to successfully outflank your enemies and send your cavalry crashing through their ranks, as there’s a very good chance that they may simply panic and run for the hills. Through some proper planning and cunning strategy, it’s not unthinkable to have one unit take down three or four enemies simply by demolishing their morale.
I really wish they had put as much attention into diplomacy as they did in some of the previous titles, as in many ways it comes off as an afterthought. Sure, all of the political alliances and trade routes are there, but getting the computer to agree to something that would be massively beneficial to them can feel like pulling teeth. As it stands, it’s simply much easier to steamroll over your neighbors who don’t seem willing to better their nation and deal with the consequences of inducting a new city to your civilization. That is, as opposed to wondering just why the hell Athens is refusing your defensive pact this time.
One fantastic little upgrade is how the civic system has been handled. Normally, an inordinate amount of time has been spent finding exactly which cities are suffering, but now the sprawling maps have been broken into groups, allowing you to handle them in larger chunks. The best example of this would be Italy itself. As opposed to juggling 11 individual regions, you’ll only have to manage 3 larger groups, allowing you to make decisions quicker and spend more time on the important stuff.
Even with this, Total War: Rome II also suffers from the same late game issues mostly strategy games suffer from. The game slows to a crawl as you’ll have to spend more time using your spies, waiting for technology to upgrade and all of the other minor aspects of the game to play out as opposed to actually conquering foreign lands. There’s no easy fix to this, and I can’t pretend I know what should be done exactly, but it’s still an annoying blemish on the genre.
There is a multiplayer component here, but by and large I feel it misses the mark. You’ll have a chance to amass an army with resources before the game starts, and then you’re thrust into a giant battle against your fellow players. It sounds fine in theory, but in practice just feels painful. The game is abysmally slow to get through, and without the intrigue that comes with the single player campaigns it just feels dull. I’m sure some people will love this, but I don’t think I’ll be playing through that again. I would have loved a hot seat campaign mode, but as it stands, the multiplayer may as well not be included.
We held onto this review since there were some absolutely horrible bugs in the visual department when Total War: Rome II launched, and we were told there was already a patch on the way. However, while this patch did help reduce texture pop ups, the game can still be brutal to run. I use a fairly high end PC for our reviews, and there were times in battle where my frame rate dropped into single digits. Still, there’s no doubt that it’s a gorgeous game.
I would have loved to see the path finding get a bit more attention here, as issues show up there at the worst of times. Almost every one of my sieges thus far has featured a moment where troops get caught up on each other or impotently charge into walls as opposed to using the gate that just opened. It’s laughable at best and infuriating at its worst to watch a plan completely fall apart when troops aren’t able to perform at a level above a mentally challenged house cat.
Total War: Rome II is the best-looking game in the 13 year-old franchise, but it stumbles over some simple things that I thought we had fixed in previous iterations. The battles are incredibly fun the first time through, and setting the stage for future conquest is initially exciting, but once you realize that you’re playing checkers as opposed to chess much of the lustre is lost. I’m sure I’ll keep playing Total War: Rome II down the road, but it simply wasn’t able to hook me in the same way its predecessors did. If you’re new to the franchise, you honestly can get more for your money out of some of the older titles such as Shogun, but longtime fans may be willing to overlook some of these faults simply so they can dive into even more of what they love.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Total War: Rome II doesn't quite set the world ablaze as we had hoped. It's a serviceable game, but it often feels that gameplay took a back seat to a Hollywood style cinematic approach that just leaves us wanting more.