Total War: Rome II PC Review

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“Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear. Believe for mine honour, and have respect for mine honour that you may believe. Censure me in your wisdom, and awake your sense, that you may be the better judge. If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s.”

Flowery, I know. The passage above is delivered by the character Brutus in Shakespeare’s classic, Julius Caesar. Justifying his actions in the death of his dear friend Caesar, Brutus extols the virtues of right and wrong. Which is much in vein with the experience of playing Rome 2, (let’s rid ourselves of the Total War addendum for now) the characters within the game often espouse such language throughout. But exactly how deluded are the proclamations in this instance? Let’s see.

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At first glance, (and definitely if you have followed the progress of the game and seen the plethora of wonderful looking screens in various previews), you could be forgiven for feeling slightly disappointed in how the game looks. I played Total War: Rome 2 on my definitively not ancient July 2012 top of the line MacBook Pro; the game automatically put settings at Extreme, and even I was underwhelmed by some of the visuals especially in the sandy sunsets of the Italian peninsula. I am not sure if the screens released for preview reasons were altered in anyway, but the game didn’t look as beautiful as screens suggested. I may only have a Geforce 650m graphics card, but it’s also the same graphics card that easily played FarCry 3 and Crysis 2 at Ultra and Extreme settings respectively. If you take a look online, you will also hear dissenting voices on the matter with the games scalability (Total War: Rome 2 can play even on very low power rigs) on various graphics cards. However, I hope that the promised updates and patches will rectify any beefs other people will have with the game (the developers have promised to update the game weekly, on numerous aspects of the game); as it stands, it still looks pretty good and the shimmer of the see coupled with the number of characters displayed on screen, it still looks nice even if it’s not a visual masterpiece. But as with others who had also been playing the game, here your mileage may well vary. The fact of the matter is much of the game looks great, the murky woodlands and hills of Great Britain and Scandinavia look pretty great, especially as you realise the changing weather affects the way the battle will progress. They definitely got the British summer climate right, that’s for sure.

Total War: Rome 2 continues the long line of the Total War series of games, an accomplished and polished tacticians dream. Creative Assembly hearing the chorus of voices provide what their series fans have been asking for by giving us exactly that. Bigger battlefields (around 10,000 to discover so the developers say), more diplomacy options, and an even more polished engine, all spread across the huge canvas that is the world. Things start off well – Rome 2 lures you into its confines the promise of more than before. Your campaign begins in 272 BC; the Romans dominate the Italian peninsula and are ready to expand their hold on the world. It is here that you are thrust into power of one of nine playable factions (Rome, Carthage, Ptolemaic Egypt, Macedon, Pontus, Parthia, The Suebi, The Averni and The Iceni), as these factions represent a range of groups from the Romans, Hellenic, and Eastern to the Barbarians. Each cultural group has their own strengths and weaknesses in various ways; for example, the Romans are rich in culture and rely on civil order and provincial gains, while the Barbarians lack civility and avoid dependence on trades or recruiting units in the same manner as Rome.

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Each faction has its own abilities and may endear to you in many ways. What I am trying to say here is if you have a certain path of progression there will be a faction here which shall take your fancy – whether it’s the superior research abilities of the Hellenics, or the trading skills of the Eastern factions, you have something which will suit you. This is the part where you have to praise Creative Assembly for the obvious love and care they lavish on Rome 2. It really is a game where time and effort was clearly spent and it translates into a wonderful and organic experience. As you play the game progressing carefully, tentatively, ensuring regional armies are bestowed with certain tasks, you’ll also increase the standing of your household families and their gravitas. You have to be careful to ensure that certain household families (Generals) are given certain heroic tasks to ensure that influence is as high as possible and in doing so avoiding rebellions from your populace.

Having not played a Total War game since Medieval Total War back in 2006 (if I remember the date correctly), it was tough coming back to the game. The lengthy tutorial at the start really helped me get back into the game, though if you are a new comer to the series I would advise you to play the prologue as the Romans, then switch factions and play with each, listening to every advisers advice. It was confusing trying to command sea battles and applying skills and traditions, as the game didn’t feel the need to explain those mechanisms to me in any fashion. Again, maybe this could have been my haste, but it’s always nice to have the ability to turn such options on when in need. It doesn’t help that the interface is distinctly unfriendly to newcomers, and much of the games options such as the Political, Trade and Diplomacy aspects are never really fully explained, save for the talking head in the top left corner which gives brief overviews. This is something that Creative Assembly could really improve going forward.

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It might seem that I am underwhelmed with Rome 2; I am with certain aspects like the obfuscated user interface and the disappointingly scaled visuals. But I am more overwhelmed than anything; this can be seen as a good or a bad thing depending on your attention span and will to learn the ins and outs of such a game. The truth of the matter is if you’re buying this sort of game you will be ready to invest the necessary time to delve into the game and unearth its intricacies, and if you’re after a quick fix then you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s a fascinatingly deep and rich game, lovingly crafted with so much potential. There’s so much to do and see, conquer and rule depending on how shrewd and intelligent a ruler you really are. Many will stumble, fail and fall, seeing their empire reduced to burning, crumbling rubble. Their populace rebelling and their complete inability to turn the tide against all odds resulting in you being usurped and cast into oblivion, but that’s part of the fun of such a game in my opinion. You are not insurmountable, you can’t crush armies with reckless abandon, you have to plan attacks and know when to retreat to fight another day. That is something the Total War series has always found a way of delivering with certain pomp, and, at moments, it’s intoxicating.

There are however, other niggles that many have already come across; these elements of the game will no doubt be ironed out in the coming weeks and months. There remain questions (and in some quarters fury) over the sometimes-erratic AI, which results in the enemy occasionally doing questionable things. This is completely eradicated when playing online, as the human enemy (or ally) won’t be making the same baffling errors as the games AI is guilty of doing at times. But that’s nit picking – it really didn’t make too much of a difference in my experience (I played the game at various difficulties ranging from Easy-to-Hard), and I had no major complaints. But these are all things I believe will be ironed out knowing the commitment Creative Assembly have with regards to this franchise.

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However, there are the constant crashes that I suffered in the first two days of playing review code, and the game freezing without warning requiring reboots. This was partially remedied with a few patches released from when the game went live. Then there is also the visual whores fascination, or rather self-entitled gamer-rage disgust with the disparity in visuals from the screenshots to the game they are playing. It may not look amazing at times, but at no point does the game look so Audio wise the game has some lovely thematic music playing throughout, suited to the scene and generally adding to the occasion. It’s when it comes to battles the audio comes alive, as you pan and scan around the battlefield and catch a glimpse of an enemy hoard sprinting over the crest of a hill, the sun rays glistening off the water at the brow and an almighty roar heard. It really does add to the moment and sounded fantastic through my Sennheiser 598’s – there were moments when I even looked over my shoulder as I heard a random shout believing for a second that I was being hailed from the rear. The audio adds to what is happening in a believable and wonderful manner.

Multiplayer is catered for in the form of head-to-head battles in 1v1 to 4v4, and also with a multiplayer campaign 1v1 or even a 2 player co-operative campaign. Such focus on the multiplayer is good as there is no over complicated modes and it works pretty well. Smooth and reliable, without too many issues. However before I would be tempted to delve back online I would have to spend a fair amount of time practicing so I do not keep getting slaughtered, as it stands in a competitive sense I am a little out of practice. But with time things will come together.

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Total War: Rome 2 is a hugely in-depth and highly engrossing experience; it has it’s pro’s and con’s (as does every game), but this is a game that will age like a fine wine and as such get better with time (and developer support and updates). If I was to wish for something, it would be a much more user-friendly interface in game. As it stands, it isn’t as friendly nor as welcoming as it could be. Then there are the visuals and the sometimes, erratic AI – these things I do believe will be rectified sooner rather than later. Rome 2 is a return to form from the Messrs’ that be Creative Assembly, but, saying that, I don’t think they ever lost it. Ambitious? Yes. Rough round the edges? Definitely. These are all elements that can be sorted in time. Just sort out that UI and the Tutorial section to enable newcomers to pick up the game easier and it will be pretty damn good.

8/10

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Version tested: PC

Developer: Creative Assembly

Publisher: SEGA

Genre: Real-Time Strategy