Total war: Rome II (TW: R II) has been out for three weeks now, and I think I’ve sunk about 80ish hours into it at this point, so I can immediately tell you it’s compelling.
TW: R II is as you might expect a Total War game set between 250BC-150AD. Much like its predecessor, you can play the campaign as one of the 3 main families of the Roman Empire, the Brutii, the Scipii, or the Julii. Unlike the preview TW: R game, you can now also choose to play as Carthage, Egypt, various tribes of Gauls, and if you were lucky enough to preorder, as the Greeks.
Making the Greeks a preorder bonus has receives some criticism, as they are also available after preorder, as a day one DLC pack, yet this DLC pack will set you back €7.69 or $7.99. This decision does merit an article of itself as it is not the first time a publisher has made such a decision.
What has changed?
Other than the addition of more playable factions, the way conquest and armies work has also been revised. Naval battles can now also be fought in real time, rather than having it auto resolve. When engaging near coastlines, combined naval/ground combat can occur, leading to interesting new possibilities.
Armies (and fleets) now also work as a unit. These armies can also increase in experience and be assigned traditions (which work similar to general skills of previous titles). Every army will also be assigned a general, and when this general dies, a new one has to be chosen.
Depending on the size of your empire, you are allowed a certain number of armies/navies, and only those armies/navies can recruit units (so you can no longer recruit one unit of archers and have them stroll about the place on their own). In order to help with this, recruitment now works region wide, so every production facility in a region will send units to the army that requested them (as long as that army is in the same region).
Regions are areas containing 1-4 cities, of which one is always a fortified capital, and the other cities are all unfortified.
This was done in an effort to limit siege battles, which became a nuisance in earlier total war games, as it was always much the same battle. Similarly the number of maps with cities you can siege has also been increased, in order to break the monotony.
Another quality of life improvement is the improved auto resolve system. The auto resolve now offers an aggressive, balanced or defensive stance, which gives you increased lethality or fewer losses depending on the stance. The auto resolve now also lists the win chance, projected losses and margin of victory.
Finally armies and fleets can be set to stances on the campaign map, impacting the type of battle that will take place. For instance if you hide an army in the forest, and set them in the ambush stance, the next passing army may trigger the ambush. Resulting in the ambusher having more freedom where the initial troop placement is concerned. The ambusher will also have access to a variety of traps. These can be fireballs, pitch pits, spikes, barricades, etc.
Additional stances include Fortify (which gives you more morale, some fortifications, etc), Raid (which raids the enemy territory and makes the upkeep cheaper), and Forced March (which allows your armies to move much faster, but they are more vulnerable when attacked).
All in all these changes really improve the gameplay, making it feel more diverse.
How does it play?
Battles have never felt better, charging lines crashing into each other have a much more visceral feel to them, you can nearly feel the shock by just looking at the troops buckle under the impact. This is further helped by the cinematic camera while allows you to follow a unit of soldiers as they engage the enemy forces. Although it should be pointed out, that the camera can act up at times looking/yanking in weird directions, but when it works, the closer perspective make the battles come more alive.
In this perspective you can also easily notice the dynamic animations of the soldiers, when under missile fire they will raise their shields overhead, when the enemy forces are rushing them, they will brace for the impact. You can even see them stumble when they take an arrow to the knee.
The addition of naval battles in this era is also a very welcome addition. Naval battles in this era were brutal, as soon as the fleets close, you can expect chaos. Hulls will shatter left, right, front and center, ships will burn, troops will fight across decks, and sailors will drown.
The best way to deal with these battles is to view them as duels between ships, and you can use any additional ship to gang up on the enemy.
Artillery in this game is highly effective, both during sieges and in the open field. On the open field you can use it to pummel the enemy troops while they try and close range, forcing them to come to you, or retreat outright. Even when the enemy makes it to your lines, you can still focus down their missiles troops using your artillery. During sieges the ability to breach walls, and soften up enemy troops without even getting anywhere near them, is invaluable.
Not only that, but bombarding a group of enemy forces with a nonstop rain of boulders feels very satisfying.
How does it feel?
While visually impressive, I don’t think the graphics have improved much since TW: Shogun II, the main improvements are the close up perspective and the ‘feel’ of the combat, combines with the dynamic unit reactions.
Seeing naval troops beach their trireme and jumping onto the beach to form up in ranks feels very immersive, locking shields and spears in a phalanx formation while cavalry charges accomplishes much the same feat. As do many other things.
The music is not very memorable by itself, but it doesn’t need to be, as it does exactly what it needs to do, which is complementing the gameplay, and adding more immersion to it.
The immersion is such that I could look up after playing what I believed to be 3 hours, only to notice dawn was about to break.
There are however several bugs or funny AI behaviors which break this immersion, not least of which are:
– Ships clipping through land as all available landing locations have been taken.
– Enemy troops circling on the spot while being bombarded by artillery.
– After defending the gate of a city with some 300 guys, the enemy army numbering 5000 would go sit outside underneath a tower and keep circling there while slowly being picked off.
While there are some bugs, and the graphic fidelity hasn’t improved much since TW: Shogun II, the other various changes and improvements make this game a must buy for any total war fan. I would also heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys grand and regular strategy games.
My only qualm is that the Greek City states are a preorder bonus. These are also available as day one DLC for those who did not preorder.
Eliniale (CO.RE) out