One of the most anticipated games in the past 9 years, if not the most, finally came out last week and undoubtedly many people have seen their friends lists in Steam blow up since then. Creative Assembly has dropped their latest work, as the undisputed king of epic strategy games, but does it live up to the excitement generated by its initial teasers?

Rome 2 follows the same standards as all Total War games, giving players a gigantic map – the biggest yet in the franchise’s history (Empire had Russia but in sheer number of settlements and provinces, Rome 2 eclipses Empire) – and letting them loose with the same methodical task of taking over the world at their own pace, or their objective, within the time given. Very little has changed since Shogun 2, and not for the better because unfortunately, some elements were included from the previous entry that absolutely should not be there nor should they have been in Shogun 2.

Namely, the food element. Let it be said right now – the food limit does not adversely hinder your ability to win the game if you figure out how to play correctly, but it certainly hinders the rate of your countries expansion, the creativity afforded you in managing the digital empire of your choosing, and forces you to micro-manage every last town you control in a bad way.

If you are playing as the titular Rome – why you wouldn’t be is a mystery, at least once – you should not be constricted so arbitrarily in how many armies you may field. Frankly, neither should any faction as they all fielded large armies or hordes of barbarians. This element was implemented in the game to keep it from being “too easy”. As anyone capable of even reading Wikipedia or the internet can tell you, Rome fielded large armies from the beginning. The Horatius your generals constantly refer to? He fielded an army probably the size of your maximum army in the beginning of the game – except that was over 300 years before the game started, within the city of Rome itself before it ever became anything close to a superpower. Fast forward a little bit to the Battle of Cannae, 216 BC, where Rome allegedly fielded around 80,000 troops and almost all of them got killed in the double envelope tactic that would come to dictate military strategy for the next 2,200 years. Not long after the campaign starts, yet you can only field 3 legions.

Obviously it would be a little unfair to the AI factions if you could bust out of the gate with 8 legions, considering you could easily take over all of Italy and a large part of Gaul within the first few turns. But, the entire point of this supposed rebalancing of the armies for both the player and the AI was that “battles will have more severity.”

“This system has been implemented to make battles more decisive and for them to have a bigger impact on a war between two factions” said someone, supposedly, though there is no one attributed to the quote.

This system  utterly falls apart in the latter turns of the game for so many reasons that it’s ridiculous. Take rebellion as an example. In every TW game, the longer you allow a rebellion to go unchecked (I’m literally quoting the in-game advisers from the past games), the more strength it will gain. So, let’s say you take over all of Libya’s territory, or Garamantia, or really any faction. They get pissed off and they rebel. Suddenly here’s a full stack that spawned from nowhere. Or, they don’t rebel but one of their remaining armies (another extremely annoying part of the game) even though they have no territory, comes and attacks you. They take over the city. One turn later, they pump out multiple 20-unit armies. Excuse me? The rules of the game? Why does the AI get to ignore them? It’s not just that, either – I’ve literally seen the Spanish tribes run from the west coast, to the east coast, and back again, in the same turn – same army.

I digress.

It falls apart because, even if the enemy faction drops a 20 unit army on your 10 unit garrison, your next army can simply be a turn away and then defeat them. Then the cycle starts again. Battles have no significance in the game, because, if the AI loses, they get to run away, and their faction stays alive forever until you hunt every individual unit to the ends of the earth and kill it in the battle map and make sure that they all die. Then they’ll inevitably come back again if there’s a rebellion – and if you play as House Julii, it will happen because of Julii’s silly public order debuff. If you lose, the AI almost always chases you down and slaughters you.

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You should probably just give up now.

The game, even with it’s bugs, is quite beautiful – at the right times. Often the units look wonderful, and the detail that has gone in to finally giving them historically accurate shields based on era (thank god) and slightly differentiating uniforms, especially in the pre-Marian stages of the game (which are only the first few turns unfortunately), is definitely appreciated. Gone are the pastel colored waterways and units, replaced with dirtier, deeper, more realistic textures and meticulously crafted weapons, ships, buildings, and armor/weapons.

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Good, Testudo is accurate this time and not fictional.

Rome 2 features a lot of new and appreciated features, such as the ability to send your army directly into the ocean without needing a separate ship. Good, because the Roman navy was the Roman army, and you can look to plenty of historical examples like the campaigns of Germanicus to see that they didn’t need a separate navy to necessarily ferry them around. Another wonderful feature is that, when auto-resolving, you now have a choice of what stances to use, which will dictate what percentage of troops you might lose in a battle when it is an even match.

Rome 2 also gives you back the feature of diplomats, spies, and veterans that made Fall of The Samurai that much better than Shogun 2. The range of their abilities and benefits is pretty wide, so it will take a lot of time to fully appreciate them. There are some less glorious parts of the game, like the Senate mini-game. I have yet to understand it but I imagine if I did, or if it worked properly, it would be much easier to force a civil war to occur. That’s another feature – unlike the bad Shogun 2, the civil war is a challenge but it is not as easy to completely lose the campaign because of it. I hear, anyway, because I have yet to see it happen in my game and at this rate don’t think it will.

Unlike the original, or even Shogun 2, despite the battles not being significant, the memories you will take from the campaign certainly are. You will grow to hate enemy factions with an undying passion. Client states will make you rue the day you ever protected them from being conquered. Enemies will drive you insane with their persistence and blind stupidity – which isn’t always going to lend to a better experience. Despite on multiple occasions stressing that the new combat system will make the AI less suicidal, they still do it. They still attack an army of 5000+ men with 1 unit of 9 men. And when you autoresolve because

WHY WOULD YOU WASTE YOUR TIME ON THAT BATTLE? 

the unit survives to be ridiculous another day. Thus the story of how the Vivisci survive 10 turns after Spain is conquered.

There is one fun element in the game that is kind of unexpected, if you think how weak the diplomacy and alliances used to be. It’s quite evident that the AI factions are designed to beg you if they can be your client state, but only when they are about to get wiped from the map. What ensues soon afterwards is the client state needs no protecting at all – in fact, they run around like a redheaded step-child and they conquer and subjugate and start wars with as many factions on the map as possible, as quickly as possible – drawing you into war with half of the world. Then, they march their armies directly alongside yours, and don’t help you in the slightest bit.

I won’t give much attention to the bugs, because the game was broken on release. There was a point where I had 118 food surplus. The minute after I patched, my food surplus went down to 20. Slight error in calculations there. Or there’s the fun part where enemy ships would glitch through the ground. My favorite glitch was the fact that the Tortoise siege ram was literally broken – the second your unit picked it up, the unit animations for every unit on the battle map slowed to less than a frame per second. It’s a good thing they leapt on pt

2013-09-03_00008I can conclusively say this game is better than Shogun 2, as it should be (not Fall of the Samurai, though). Where Shogun 2 used the food limit to completely and arbitrarily limit your ability to play the game – forcing you to take over territories as slowly as possible for fear of the realm divide ruining your game – Rome 2 implements this food limit as more of a goal to reach towards, giving you a reason to improve your cities. It will definitely keep you playing for a long time, but you may get frustrated more than all the other games combined.

To any fan of Rome Total War or the Total War series, this is the best game to come out since Medieval 2, even with it’s downfalls. Go get it unless you just don’t care for Roman history.

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