The Total War series has always been known for two main features; massive scale and attention to detail. Those two features sound odd when put next to one another but no large scale strategy game gets the balance of huge battles and intricate details quite like Total War games. Total War: Rome 2 is the next installment in the series and it looks to evolve the gameplay even further. Whether you’re marching your barbarian hordes to glory or making sure Rome remains standing, there is a lot to do and take care of at any given time. Battles can be tense and require the utmost attention but thankfully, there are streamlined processes to help you out. Rome: Total War was seen as the high point of the Total War series, and the sequel sees you command generals and barbarians alike in their respective conquests. It’s just a shame there are so many hiccups along the way.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Total War: Rome 2 is its beauty, assuming you have a powerful PC. With all of the settings turned up the game is an absolute system hog and will give even the highest end PCs a run for their money. This is both a blessing and a curse: battles feel vibrant and visceral thanks to each soldier living and dying based on their position in the battalion, but it can also mean some chugging. Even with some settings turned down I faced a lot of slowdowns and odd hiccups during the bigger battles. Rome 2’s camera is another problem as it doesn’t always make the fights easy to see. This is especially true during some of the bigger battles and the close-up fights in cities. Rome 2 remedies this with a tactical map of the action that pauses the game, but it’s still a shame the action is hard to follow at times.
The reason it’s a shame is because the action in Rome 2 is great to watch. Whether you’re watching from up high as swarms of soldiers clash with one another or getting up close to watch, it all looks terrific. Close up shots are particularly well detailed as soldiers block incoming attacks and strike down enemy soldiers with high precision. The sound effects of battle also go a long way to making the game feel right during these scenes. But enough about how pretty all this murder is. Let’s get to the meat.
In Rome 2, gameplay is split into two forms: commanding a battle and building up cities or forces. The commanding parts are straightforward, at first, and the game does a great job of leading you into the more tactical and strategic forms of battle. For instance; flanking an enemy or using the appropriate unit at the right time can change the outcome from a narrow victory to complete domination. Choosing units can be as simple or complex as you want, as Rome 2 has hundreds upon hundreds of unit types. Some differences seem to be bit of a stretch but for those history buffs or tactical geniuses that appreciate the small differences, it’s all here. Rome 2 gives players the opportunity to specialize units for different tasks and doing so makes your army as flexible as you need it to be. This is a great feature as that flexibility leads to a great sense of adaptability, giving you a chance to uniquely answer all the battles thrown your way.
I had a fun time commanding my men around a battlefield; I just wish the other parts of the game were as fun. Political manipulation, building a city’s defense, generating new armies, and backstabbing close friends, it’s all here in Total War: Rome 2. I’m glad for the change of pace the planning and plotting lends to the constant battles, I just wish it was given more context. Vagueness in a game with so much precision feels out of place and becomes quite frustrating. There were moments where I thought making one political choice seemed obvious but doing so led to civil war or worse. After the dust cleared I was given a choice that didn’t seem to make much of a difference in the end. There are times when the game doesn’t give you all the facts, such as whether or not conditions in player-owned provinces are improving, and doing so requires multiple clicks to find the answer. My issue here is that Rome 2 does so much to streamline things like regions and combat that having these difficult and frustrating moments feels out of place. I particularly liked the way the game handles regions- in the past it was a laborious task of working on each region for things like food and happiness but now it’s all grouped into larger units, making the process quicker and more efficient. Besides, who wants to waste time worrying if a country is starving when I have battles to win?
It’s not all bad, though. The differences between ruling nations you’re able to play offer welcome differences to play style. Nations such as Rome focus on building their capitol's strength up while the Germanic Barbarians just want more and more men. These two play styles offer different experiences as well as different units, upgrades, and so on. The entire city building and planning is done from a top-down view of the game world. This all takes place outside of the field of battle and it plays similar to a Civilization game. Players take turns growing armies, researching new upgrades, and playing the role of nation leader. Enemy armies take the opposing turn and this all stops when two armies collide in battle. Up until that point it can be a bit of time looking for cities or regions that are in danger as the map can be a bit hard to read or navigate. For those of us that know their European maps this is of no consequence but for gamers who are just trying to find the right city it can be a task. Thankfully, the majority of the upgrading and army building processes are streamlined and makes the whole thing go a bit faster.
AI is a big factor in any strategy game as the intelligence of your enemy can make a battle worthwhile or just plain silly. While the AI in Rome 2 can offer a challenge and proves to be formidable at times it can also do things that are questionable at best. It didn’t happen often, but when the AI chose to fight to the death rather than run towards reinforcements I felt as though I’d cheated a surefire loss in a way. Path finding also became a strange happenstance at times but it was never enough to ruin a game, just enough to make me scratch my head.
Total War: Rome 2 is a great choice for anyone looking to get into a deep strategy experience. The battles feel great and watching your army overtake an enemy’s, or just scraping by to victory, hasn’t felt so rewarding in an RTS game in a while. Battles can be massive, featuring thousands of units, and while that can make any system chug it’s still a sight to behold and a wonder to witness. Everything from the clash of swords to the screams of soldiers makes the battlefield feel intense and enjoyable. The plotting and planning that leads to those battles can be difficult and frustrating at times and it makes me wonder why it wasn’t streamlined as much as the battles were. There is a clear difference between the battle and the planning stages and that’s too bad. I didn’t have a bad time with the non-battle sequences but it took time to get used to. If you’re willing to put in the effort and learn what Total War: Rome 2 wants to teach you then you’ll find a game that is deeper, more robust, and more detailed than any strategy game that’s come before it.