When SEGA and The Creative Assembly initially came together and hammered out an agreement regarding worldwide publishing rights the former was a very different company. Youthful in the world of third-party publishing yet established enough that every new release made a significant impact, SEGA’s fortunes have undoubtedly waned in the years since. The two constants however, have been that which would’ve once been considered the polar opposite to SEGA’s marketing strategy: PC exclusives Football Manager and Total War.
While all else has been shaken to its core, these two franchises have remained strong and consistent. Pillars of their respective genres, dabbling on other formats may not have always turned out smelling like roses but they’ve never broken their respective franchise. They have, for all intents and purposes, been the most bankable titles aimed at core audiences for the last half decade, more so even than Sonic The Hedgehog. And with that we arrive with the latest title, Total War: Rome II. No pressure then, The Creative Assembly.
Unsurprisingly Total War: Rome II delivers the goods. The Creative Assembly have near-dominated the grand strategy genre for many years with only Paradox Interactive able to compete in terms of gameplay, and yet miles behind in terms of production values and audience. Total War: Rome II is every bit the modern strategy experience that fans of the franchise will be expecting and while there are many new ideas that core audiences will question, the overall outcome is one which is wholly positive. Total War: Rome II is one of the finest modern strategy videogames available to PC gamers today.
Beginning at the start, a Prologue delivered through a steadily paced tutorial, players begin with simple tasks such as learning the camera controls and a few simple tactical options. Nothing strenuous, but it’s a nice opener for newcomers to the franchise who need to be told the obvious: flank and attack from the rear, resist charging head-on into an amassed army the drastically outnumbers your forces etc. Furthermore, the differences in terrain are well established here. This is one area where Total War: Rome II demonstrates subtle but confident progression: it’s no longer a case of black-and-white advantage/disadvantage. There’s far more to take into account than the colour of the soil upon which your troops stand.
Outside of the Prologue Total War: Rome II offers a wealth of gameplay modes for the solo player: Campaign, Historical Battle and Custom Battle all offer literally dozens of hours of gameplay, the latter customisable to an astonishing degree. And of course, atop of this you have the online gameplay modes which propel the Total War: Rome II experience into brand new territory. One-off matches or entire campaigns are playable online, potentially sapping not just one evening but entire weekends in their wake.
The Campaign is a lengthy endeavour that tells a tale resembling historical fact but not hemmed in by it, teaching the player about the mechanics, units and tactics of Total War: Rome II continuously throughout its lengthy duration. Players begin by choosing their culture and faction, with significant statistic bonuses and deductions offered by each, and as would be expected Total War: Rome II then plays on two fronts: the turn-based world map and the real-time combat.
The world map is where you overarching strategy plays out. Throughout the Campaign you will be given various objectives but how you choose to go about achieving them is up to you. Making allies and declaring war, financing and adopting new units is committed to here, and territories you control are presented in a direct and elegant fashion. Players move their units across the map in turn to engage in various activities, such as ending a spy to sabotage an enemy base or moving a strong unit to block the path of an oncoming enemy. Choosing to lead your troops into a battle switches to the real-time display, in which your tactical condition remains important but in a very different fashion.
Total War isn’t exactly a youthful sprite these days, and as such a control scheme has evolved to the point where any established fan will be able to immediately jump into the action. Indeed, fans of real-time strategy videogames will be able to adapt to in-game system with ease, though the world map may take longer to acclimatise to. However, just as with previous Total War titles, it’s positioned as such an important part of the experience that it’s remarkable other big name strategy titles haven’t yet lifted the idea for their own purposes. Command & Conquer is long due an overhaul, and perhaps it’s time that it accepted that – with innovation such as this map – the student has become the master.
While Total War: Rome II doesn’t blow away the competition visually, it does a good job of maintaining a convincing presentation even on lower specification systems. Opting for immediacy over detail, Total War: Rome II never once confuses its troop types or user interface for the sake of looking pretty; a commendable effort which clearly demonstrates The Creative Assembly’s dedication to player experience over graphical clout. It’s a sharp edge as opposed to a blunt cudgel, proving that the design team know exactly what’s right for Total War: Rome II in the face of what is actually being demanded.
While the majority of the Total War: Rome II experience sticks to recognised formula of modern Total War titles, its gradual evolution results in an aggressively superior strategy videogame. It’s a huge undertaking for any gamer, and getting the most out of Total War: Rome II will take passion and commitment from the player just as it has from The Creative Assembly. Total War: Rome II is a deep, methodical strategy videogame in which bloodshed is just one tactical option, but is inevitable throughout the many battles you will face. And in each one you will experience one of the most elegantly designed real-time strategy videogames to date.