Augustus once said, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” This statement is exactly what Creative Assembly did with Total War: Rome II after the original success of Rome: Total War, which came out in 2004. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the original Rome, but Rome II is truly a chiseled marble work of art. This newest title in the Total War franchise continues the trend of being a turn-based strategy game with real-time tactical combat.
If you're familiar with the Total War series, and with Rome in particular, this game will feel like you’re driving a newer model of your car with a s@#$ ton new features. At first, these additions may seem overbearing and scary, but, once mastered, you’ll love the fact that they are there. Each faction has its own play style, preferred tactics, and technology tree. Unless you’re a true veteran, I’d play your first campaign on an easier setting to learn the new system some. If you need practice with land or sea battles, you can still set up custom brawls outside of the campaign to test your gall (horrible, apology-worthy Rome pun) when it doesn’t hurt your massive army.
In Rome II not only can you play against other players online, but there is a ranked and ELO system to really see who’s the best. Where do you stand against other players? Now you can know. I’ve always been pretty terrible at the combat without the ability to pause and strategize, but if you’re hardcore and want to see classical armies fall under the might of your sandals, definitely get involved in this feature.
Along with custom fights and ranked battles, Rome II kept historical bouts. Do you think Hannibal could have taken Rome if you were in command? Prove it. These fights give you the ability to rewrite history through your decisions and tactics.
While combat feels similar, in Rome II it has been simplified some for the user. Individual units have easy to access tactical buttons for formations, ammunition types, and techniques. You can even scroll all the way out to have a top-down view to quickly and more efficiently command. The downside of this is that you don’t get to witness the beautiful visuals of the mass murder that's occurring. There is nothing better than having your Athenian cavalry charge wedged into the back of a Spartan phalanx while in cinematic mode. Oh, and take ALL the screenshots. Cinematic mode puts you on the field of battle so you can see what your troops witness at the most key of moments. Sure it’s hard to command in this viewpoint, but it's totally worth it.
The greatest struggle in Rome II comes with all the new functions in the overworld map of the campaign. Managing your population, happiness, tax, corruption, trade, diplomacy, agents, armies, and culture while keeping your foes at bay can be quite challenging – no one said ruling all of Europe would be easy. Depending on which faction you’re playing, you’ll either have houses or an autocracy. Family members and generals need to keep level; if they get too strong or two weak, they become problems. Sometimes you need to assassinate your own members to keep them from getting on their high horse and revolting. The knife may not be popular, but it’s efficient.
Deciding how to build out your cites takes much planning. Sure you can level your own buildings, but then you need to pay for the new ones. Are you going straight for economy? Do you want to influence culture? Is there too much civil unrest? The larger you get, the more complex the game becomes. Keeping tight trade agreements with other nations is key in keeping diplomatic relations healthy and the coffers high. Each faction is unlocked at start, unlike past games. If you never want to play as Rome, you don’t have to.
I’ve played Rome II on three different machines, and even on the high-spec one, the time between turns in the campaign is brutal. There are so many factions that the game has to grind through, even when you don’t show enemy moves. Sure you go through a few a second, but there are THAT many that you feel it every time you press the ‘End Turn’ button. Even as you completely crush certain faction, others arise at certain dates in time. If I had to pinpoint a single frustration in the game, it would be this feature.
Compared to the original Rome, this is a true upgrade. I like how Rome isn’t split into three factions and how you can play all the factions from the get-go. The overall experience feels more customizable. The tech trees alone let you choose how aggressive or civil you’re going to try to play with twelve different paths you can go down. There are even non-conquest victories through research and culture advancement. While before, the over map seemed like a means to get form one battle to the next, it feels like a separate/different game now – which I’m putting in the positive column. Each faction feels unique and plays quite differently. You can most certainly simulate your battles if you don’t want to take the time for each one or if you like to skip the minor ones.
Simply put, if you’re a Total War fan, loved Rome, or want to take up a new strategic challenge, I strongly recommend this game.