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Total War: Rome 2 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Leading attacks on land and sea simultaneously
  • Stances and out-of-battle tactics
  • Overwhelming scale that constantly tops itself
  • Characteristically steep learning curve
  • Interface that's a bit over-reliant on tooltips
  • A few pathfinding issues

Total War games are released often enough that a new one isn't usually what you'd call an event, but Rome II is a special case. While the series has been consistently great, the original Rome was the breakout model for The Creative Assembly's unique blend of 4X and real-time strategy, and an updated return to the franchise's most apt setting--the classical era--is overdue. Whether you've been keeping up with Total War or not, revisiting the Mediterranean with improved camera controls and richer options for diplomacy is a welcome endeavor. And while it still sports a few usual quirks, Rome II does a great job expanding on the series' massive scope.

The user interface is much sharper and more colorful than it has ever been, but it's also extremely reliant on simple icons over text. Total War veterans will find that the commands for recruiting units, ordering city expansions and so forth are all where they should be, but anyone who's new to the series or must simply reacquaint with the massive array of options may lean heavily on tooltips for the first few hours of play. Thankfully, the mild menu clutter is only really an issue in the world map, where you can take as much time as you need. When engaging enemies, things are kept relatively simple--at least, as simple as a battle involving tens of thousands of soldiers could possibly be.

"Rome II does a great job expanding on the series' massive scope."

One of the big draws of the Total War series has, of course, been its often breathtaking scale, and The Creative Assembly continues to find ways to raise the bar in that regard. A decade ago, seeing armies of countless well-rendered soldiers roughing it out across miles of terrain was enough to wow us. Now, battles unfold on both land and sea simultaneously. Transporting units across water is easier than ever, and attacking by sea is now just as viable and exciting an option as striking from land.

Ships are heavier in movement than infantry are, and the dynamic between navies is far more individualized than it used to be, with the actual positioning of each unit playing a vital role in your ability to efficiently fire upon, board, and physically ram enemy vessels. The latter is a slow process, but the sense of accomplishment is great--if there's anything more gratifying than leading a charge that sends an opposing battalion fleeing in terror, it's watching one of your ships smash its hull into an adversary's, sending its crew sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Because many of the biggest cities on Rome II's world map are accessible from water, you can storm the gates of a settlement with siege weapons while simultaneously invading from the shore. A successful, multipronged attack in Rome II is both invigorating and a stunning sight to behold, particularly if you're running on a PC powerful enough to render everything in the exquisite detail that the game is capable of displaying.

"A successful, multipronged attack in Rome II is both invigorating and a stunning sight to behold..."

Equally as impressive is Rome II's real-time tactical element. The relatively clean interface masks overwhelming complexity--this is not a series in which you can simply group all of your units together and go on a map-wide raid, at least if you're evenly matched. Winning any battle requires constant attention to unit formations and a keen understanding of how well one type of infantry performs against another. Factors like morale, fatigue, and weather conditions also play a major role in the outcome of any conflict. The tactical segments are easy to control, but there's a lot to pay attention to.

That's only half of the game, though, and the turn-based, empire-building element of Total War has also come a long way since the first Rome. While the interface gives the game an even steeper learning curve, it's also much more intuitive once you actually get the hang of it. You'll particularly appreciate that all of the buildings within a province can be controlled from any city in the area, which speeds up micromanagement considerably once your domain eventually stretches across multiple continents.

"...the turn-based, empire-building element of Total War has also come a long way since the first Rome."

Another change is the stance system, which allows armies navigating the world map to automatically raid for resources, stage ambushes, or set up defenses. Battles are never static and are always the result of careful behind-the-scenes planning, which makes for the most unified Total War experience to date. The series has always combined elements of various strategy subgenres into a unique whole, and the blend of economy, diplomacy, and tactics gets smoother with each entry.

Everything affects everything else. Vital war expenses can cripple your finances, poverty can cause civil unrest, and efforts to control both your own people and your enemies--by enslaving captives, spreading religious culture, and establishing trade routes--can impact how the dozens of rival factions in the game perceive you. It's an environment in which a sudden peace offering from a nation you're at war with can be just as exciting as a successful siege against a capital city.

"...a sudden peace offering from a nation you're at war with can be just as exciting as a successful siege against a capital city."

That ambitiousness has always been a selling point for Total War, and with each new entry, the series grows in scope and offers even more options. That also means that it's still an intimidating play, even with Rome II sporting the series' most extensive tutorial to date. It's a game that requires patience and immense commitment. If you know what you're getting into, or are at least patient enough to figure out everything on offer, Rome II is a worthy continuation of the franchise and an overdue update to one of the greatest strategy games of all time. It's every bit as vast and absorbing as you've come to expect.

This game was reviewed on PC.

More Info

Release date: Sep 03 2013 - PC (US)
Sep 03 2013 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Sega
Developed by: The Creative Assembly
Franchise: Total War
ESRB Rating:
Teen

Topics

review

12 comments

  • Bloodstorm - September 2, 2013 6:27 a.m.

    I wish I had the computer to run it, but after having to run Shogun 2 on the lowest settings, I'd be surprised if I could even get this to play without stuttering. Once I upgrade, it will be mine.
  • MeanwhileGuy - September 10, 2013 12:45 a.m.

    Gamesradar, I thought better of you. Did you even play the game properly, so for +30 hours? I mean, the metacritic for this game is a 4 for a reason. The AI is hilariously broken, the game suffers from dozens of different glitches and bugs, the graphics are nowhere near what the Creative Assembly showed in early demos, because of their badly optimised engine downgrading the graphics, even if your rig is absolutely high end. The flag mechanic in open battles turn what should be a strategic, intelligently thought out maneuvers into a dumbed down mess. Oh and having the entire Greek states like Athens and Sparta cut out of the game for day 1 dlc is absolutely unforgivable. CA had a 40% bigger budget than any previous TW title for this game. So how is it so broken? Terribly broken AI, numerous bugs, severely downgraded graphics and a barebones release (multiplayer is a joke, and is once again broken, plus things like cutscenes, family trees and Senate features are straight up GONE), all mean that THIS IS NOWHERE CLOSE TO A 9. I implore anyone reading this to go watch Angry Joe's review of this game, as he gives a much more comprehensive, and truthful, opinion. And that includes you, GR.
  • Bloodstorm - September 10, 2013 5:19 a.m.

    Not sure why you posted this under my post , I assume it was unintentional, but I'm going to address you anyways. Bugs are a thing that happens. As a software engineer myself, I can tell you bugs are unpredictable. One machine may find a game riddled with bugs, and another might find the game completely bug free. Due to the open ended nature of PC hardware, and the almost limitless combinations that can be had, it is nigh impossible to find every bad combination. For a games this big, much like Skyrim was, you are to expect bugs to spring up after release despite all the development and testing you've done as a studio. It is impossible for them to test all possible scenarios, and so that is what post-launch patching is for. It's not like this isn't unprecedented, as Empire Total War and Total War Shogun 2 launched with it's share of bugs that had to be ironed out.
  • MeanwhileGuy - September 10, 2013 6:46 a.m.

    Woops, wasn't meant to be a reply. The comment system must have goofed somewhere. And you're completely right, games this size, like your Skyrim example, often have completely undetectable bugs depending on what hardware you're running. That part I completely accept. Though in Rome 2's case, it feels like Sega forced CA to push the game out early. There are already so many YouTube videos of the AI acting completely illogically (for example just sitting in front of your units, or bullrushing your lines to try and get to the flag) or things like ships sailing through solid land. It just seems completely at odds with the interviews I've seen of their AI director claiming it's the best it's ever been, which just doesn't seem to be true. I mean, I love the Total War series, as Rome 1, Medieval 2 and Shogun 2 are some of the finest strategy games I've ever played, but when you exit a battle back to the main menu to find that the menu background textures have disappeared, that to me is some extremely bad optimisation, and indicative of lazy testing. Another thing is the multiplayer campaigns, which regularly freeze upon your and your partners turns ending, forcing you to quit to the menu, which crashes the entire game. Surely someone would have spotted that? I don't mean to rant and I'm in no way disagreeing with you, but it feels like the majority of reviewers are ignoring or not bothering to acknowledge some very real issues with the game, issues the consumers have had no trouble pointing out.
  • jh4911 - September 2, 2013 10:42 a.m.

    Absolutely buzzing for this game.
  • thinkerluchho - September 2, 2013 7:30 p.m.

    certainly, the creative assembly is my favorate studio
  • wadesmit - September 3, 2013 4:59 a.m.

    Well-written review. I wish it was more comprehensive though. A couple of extra paragraphs extrapolating new features and gameplay would have been nice.
  • ObliqueZombie - September 3, 2013 6:36 a.m.

    I'm not an RTS kinda guy, but the sheer scale and epic battles seems like they'll be enough for me to learn it. Plus, I wanna see how my rig will handle all of those characters on screen at once.
  • madaraowns - September 4, 2013 12:12 p.m.

    Sorry this game isn't all it's cracked up to be, but then I'm bored of the games, I prefer they go more into the future like shogun 2 fall of the samurai with gun units, artillary, bigger castles n stuff. Its more funnier to play Rome Total War 2 with cheats, as you can download them here http://gamehostia.com/pc-rome-total-war-2-trainer-cheats/
  • tri-nitro-tolueno - September 5, 2013 10:32 a.m.

    Its a Piece of junk! Looks nothing like the quality of the game we see in the trailers or demos. The game is clearly unfinished. The textures look absolutely awful even on extreme settings and the AI is even worse! In Metacritic user score (over 750 ratings) is below 4.6...
  • dennis-cardenas - October 4, 2013 2:41 a.m.

    You can find Cheats for Total War: Rome 2 here: http://gamehostia.com/pc-rome-total-war-2-trainer-cheats/ Works on all game version.

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