reviews\ Sep 25, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Rome: Total War - PC - Review

Here lately, it seems as though the majority of the RTS games that I have played have revolved around marching armies of orks, elves, spacemen, or any number of fantasy creatures around looking to conquer a fictional empire. This is not a bad thing of course, but it is nice to actually get something now and then that really is based around real life events. Enter Rome: Total War, the newest in the line of Total War games (there was also a feudal Japan one and a Medieval one as well). Now, before I sat down to play this game, I was curious on how good it was myself, seeing ads up in stores for it, and then shortly after I heard that the History Channel was actually using it for demonstrations or something. Well, if that doesn’t clue you in on how good it is, not much probably will.

Rome: Total War is based in the Mediterranean area back in the mid 600 AD years. Multiple factions are vying for total control of the region, including Rome (of course), Carthage, Egypt, and even the Gaul barbarians … just to name a few. Your mission? Expand Rome for the good of the land and the people. Now, Rome was of course a superpower back in the day, but trust me … doing this in a game format isn’t going to be a quick or simple process.

The game takes place in two primary forms, one being a world map area and the other actually being out on the battlefield. The World Map is where you will be spending time handling all of your diplomatic and personal issues, which include such things as gaining favor with the citizens and the senate, working out trade routes or other deals under the table with other countries, and of course recruiting more individuals for your armies and building new structures within your cities to help gain more support, renown, wealth, and happiness amongst your people. In addition to this, and on a much deeper note, you will also take care of family business here too, like blessing a potential marriage between a young lad and one of your noble daughters … thus making this fortunate individual a Governor to run one of your great cities that you have taken in the name of Rome.

Now at times, tensions can begin to run high between factions, and this is where you can also work with both diplomats and spies to help you get done what you want to get done. Spies will of course sneak around to help expose more of the map, and will also plant themselves in cities to report back information about types of structures, defenses, and military that are present to help you prepare should you have to go to war. Even if you don’t take them immediately, it’s still nice to know what’s going on around your neck of the woods. Diplomats on the other hand take care of all of your personal dealings with other peoples, like opening up trade routes or allowing for military presence within the city, but they are also handy for delivering threats or demands as well, like setting up bribes, demanding the turnover of a city, or even telling them that the alliance is broken and war will be commencing.

Screen Shot for Rome: Total War

Now, when things go south, fighting becomes pretty inevitable. On the world map, movement is in a free form fashion, so it is possible to move armies within enemy territory without war actually breaking out which is nice, and this also gives you the opportunity to pick and choose individual skirmishes and when or when not to get involved. Now, when cities get involved, there are actually two primary ways to deal with taking over a city if you are on the offensive side. You can elect to simply siege the area, which basically cuts of all food and supplies and opens the opportunity for you to basically starve them until surrender. If this doesn’t seem to be working quick enough, or in such times as when citizens revolt and take a city back if you have no military presence there, you can elect to hit the battlefield and fight it out Braveheart style.

Once war has been declared, the screen changes from the world map perspective to a battlefield viewpoint complete with all of the armies selected under the General that you are using to head up the attack (and unbelievably, I think that there were times that I had well into 7 or 8 hundred troops and possibly more ready to move when ready to head into conquest). Each army is made up of the general and his calvary, and each individual group of units can be selected and controlled separately (archers, spearmen, etc). While moving and using an army of that size may sound difficult, it is actually pretty simple thanks to unit cards that allow you to select various troops when needed, and before you know it you will be setting up major skirmishes either by yourself or alongside an ally if they choose to help reinforce you or you them, and the battle that lets loose really is a sight to see.

During the battle, the camera can be moved around and positioned where you want it to go, and this not only allows you to see what’s going on from a strategy standpoint … but it also allows you to get right up close and personal with the action. The graphics during the battles are spectacular, and they are detailed down to a point where horses will dance a bit and individual soldiers will kind of shuffle at times to give them a bit of a unique personality when you get in close. In addition to that, archers will load and pull back on their bows to fire, and when the black cloud of arrows sails into a group of footmen or whatnot, they will collapse, grab parts of their body, and do other actions to really almost get your adrenaline going. The head on charges also look great, and the clashing of two opposing attackers can result in some great action with flying bodies and stuff … but it gets even better the more troops get involved in the conflict. Honestly, it’s something that needs to be seen to get a full appreciation … but it’s almost worth it in itself just to watch the battles that take place.

Screen Shot for Rome: Total War

There is a lot that goes on in the game and a lot to worry about as you can plainly see, but another good note to the developers here is in the fact that you can select some assistance in either map in kind of an information / tutorial kind of perspective. The game is quick to drop reminders and hints to help you out along the way if you choose to have it do so, and you can also set the AI up to handle all of your recruitment and building if you happen to be a better war strategist than a diplomat (like myself). While it won’t make all of the decisions for you, the combination of both can be a real help if these kinds of games aren’t your normal thing and will assist you in getting rolling and really enjoying it rather than fumbling around with managing money or starting over due to really bad decisions based on newness.

As I discussed earlier, the graphics for Rome were nothing short of great in my opinion from animations to the smooth camera work and lack of lag even when large numbers of troops filled the screen. The sound in the game is also spectacular, and really did get some goosebumps going on me at times when I would hear chanting and marching of approaching enemies in the distance, or watching my troops shout in celebration as they hoisted their swords and spears in the air to celebrate a hard fought victory. The music is also very emotional, and you will often times hit the battlefield to the beat of marching feet and war drum / horns, while you will get some ambient scores to help relax you and think while working on your diplomatic issues on the world map.

Overall, I really don’t see a whole lot here in the game that I could flag as being bad or something that would really turn someone off, other than the fact that the game is very detailed and probably won’t be as fun to the gamer who wants to just sit down and goof around for an hour here or there. Still, for anyone who enjoys playing games that have a lot of good entertaining action, a great and historical background, and plenty of opportunity to show the rest of the Mediterranean world from back in 684 A.D. just how kind or cruel a dictator you really can be, then this is the game for you. Strategy buffs should most certainly look into grabbing this one off the shelf, and anyone who enjoys Roman or ancient history should definitely go out and grab a copy of this when possible. Sure, wizards and trolls are a lot of fun, but Rome: Total War shows why real life history can be even more enjoyable when done right.  

Review Scoring Details for Rome : Total War

Gameplay: 9.2
While commanding hundreds (and possible more) troops can seem like a tough affair, the controls are set up to make it surprisingly simple thanks to a quick click card at the bottom of the screen. In addition, managing things like diplomacy and relations are also one – click affairs, and there are tips and pointers that you can have if you wish to help you along as you go.

Graphics: 9.4 
On the world map, the colors are bright and detailed and the animations look good. On the battlefield, the camera is easy to maneuver and will allow you to get right up close and personal to the action. There are also some good animation effects that were added, like individual horses shaking their heads or soldiers shuffling a bit as they defend or wait to charge an enemy.

Sound: 9.4
Nothing really sounds better in an RTS game than the sound of clashing metal and Rome provides it to a point where it really makes you feel like you’re in the game. In addition, the sound effects of cheering, yelling, and stomping feet really do add to the experience, and the music was done very well to provide a great fit to what is going on at the time, whether it be peaceful or heading into a battle.

Difficulty: Medium
The controls are easy to set up and get into, but don’t think that this will be an easy game to beat in a weekend. There is a lot to manage and do, and thankfully there is some help along the way. Still, decisions need to be made, and mistakes can be costly, but not to where you will have to scrap your current game and start over.  

Concept: 9.3 
RTS games that are done right are a lot of fun, but when they are done right and are extremely fun it makes it even better. On top of that fact, I couldn’t really find any reasons why someone wouldn’t like the game … which is a rare thing these days.

Multiplayer: 9.1

You can take your conquest online and fight for supremacy with up to 6 people, and while you don’t get the big battlefield scenes this really makes sense due to overall time something like that would take to other people waiting to play.  

Overall: 9.3
Well, if that History Channel comment didn’t sell it for you up front, then maybe something in my review did. Either way, this is a great game that will provide a lot of enjoyment to action, strategy, or history fans (or all three in one), and all aspect were covered well all the way around. Definitely give this one a shot even if you’re not really a huge RTS player, and if you are, then you should be on your way out the door and off to your local game store here in a few minutes.



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