The year is somewhere around 192 BC and the Roman Empire has decided to declare war on the Greek state of Sparta in the hope to one day avert the need for a racist Gerard Butler to front kick an innocent black messenger into a bottomless pit. The problem with this move is that the Spartans have a weird relationship with the other Greek states (and probably in the way those historical Greeks are known for, namely dude on dude) and the military might of the Roman Empire is spread pretty thin across northern Europe and even northern Africa – in turn making it hard to deal with every single Greek state. But luckily the Roman Empire has a few allies they can call on who are close to the Mediterranean, and it would only take about a decade or two to completely control the Greeks through complete destruction or subjugation – with minimal losses to boot. So the year is somewhere around 192 BC and a formidable Roman Fleet led by Legatus Lucius Verilius IV sets up a blockade around Sparta, signalling the beginning of the historical Siege of Butler.
It has been said that history is written by the victor, and in the case of the Total War series, completely re-written, how you see fit.
Being steeped in the history of warfare has always been a key selling point for the Total War series, and there’s no real need to sing the series praises to fans of old timey warfare, their tickets (so to speak) have already been bought. To everyone else this is a series known for strategic and tactical battles with troop numbers that simply dwarfs any other game on the market – we’re talking about a 3,000 odd mix of legionaries, archers, and mounted warriors besieging a settlement with defenders of a similar number.
Epic doesn’t really begin to cover it as that word gets bandied about quite a bit these days, but in the case of the Total War series it is definitely the most apt description. These battles (like bitches) be crazy, and with the press of the cinematic Unit Camera button the reward for giving all your forces attack and marching orders is an immensely engaging and rewarding zoomed-in real-time battle on a scale unmatched not only by other strategy games, but also film and television.
It would be hard to argue against the original Rome entry of the Total War series as being one of the seminal strategy titles of its era, as there’s something about this period of time that stands well above others. It’s probably the feeling of something historical mixed with the mythical, and the fascination modern man has always had with this swords and sandals period of time. That and growing up watching old school Charlton Heston giving water to a then unknown guy by the name of Jesus - much to the chagrin of his Roman captors. So on pedigree and setting alone Rome II has been highly anticipated, and in terms of sheer scope the game does not disappoint. Not even in the slightest, we’re talking hundreds of distinct historical unit types across Italian, Hellenic and Eastern cultures all presented seamlessly. But the true wonder to behold with this, the eighth entry in the Total War series, is that although it doesn’t look immediately different in how it is presented or played – it is how well all the changes and improvements make this easily, hands down, the best Total War game yet.
A big call to be sure, and perhaps there are people out there that do not care for the time period, a time when orgies were things you scheduled around and people going by the name of Brutus tended to backstab people with the name of Julius Caesar. Perhaps they prefer eras like feudal Japan, or the early days of Guns N’ Ammo Magazine that featured the latest bikini clad models holding the latest in musket technology. But even so, there’s no denying that when taken as a whole, with a list of improvements and changes that may not seem like much on their own - make this the most playable Total War to date. This is achieved through the introduction of simplicity without the need, or goal, of sacrificing any of the complexity the series is well known for.
First up, this is the most immediately accessible Total War game, with a vastly improved in-game advisor and tutorial system that brings to light not only the main aspect of campaign map that plays out in a similar turn-based fashion to the one seen in Civilization, but also the various nuances therein that will no doubt bring new information to even the more veteran Total War players out there. Rome II comes with a great and relatively quick prologue campaign that is story-driven and designed around teaching players many of the key aspects of playing the game successfully. It is story built around highlighting the game’s strengths and is so intuitive in its execution that it leaves you wanting to immediately dip into the huge open ended campaign mode with a sense of purpose the series has never reached before. The fact that the prologue campaign also has great production values, music, and writing is indicative of the overall approach taken with this game.
This is truly a developer putting all their skills and knowledge to use, funnelling it into one singular creation, whilst also focussing on presenting it to players not at all familiar with the series.
The changes to the empire map portion of the game finally bring it into the same league with even the best entries in the Civilization series. And when you couple this with the already fantastic tactical and epic battle sequences you have arguably one of the best strategy games on the market today. One thing that comes with the complexity of ruling a vast and expanding empire is micromanagement, and usually somewhat confusing management at that
One of the great introductions with Rome II is the way locations are grouped into provinces, so instead of managing the output, construction, and defence of every single location, this can be done in groups. The way this works makes total sense, as for example in the province of Italia, the capital is Rome which is guarded by walls and a much larger garrison army than its smaller settlements where players can make all their decisions within a singular provincial interface.
This also changes the overall strategy of your expansion as you can vie for complete provincial control through military might or via sending dignitaries to other settlements. Do you capture settlements first or go for the crown jewel in one fell swoop? This is a new feature that plays into every aspect of the game for the better, from population control to diplomacy and finances, and it’s such a great feature that it becomes hard to imagine ever playing a Total War game without it.
On the battle side, another new introduction that although sounds quite incremental in its inclusion is the ability to besiege a settlement or opposing force with both naval and land units at the same time. Its sounds like a no-brainer when you consider the vast number of coastal territories across the Mediterranean but the affect it has not only on the cool way in which you can invade a city through a waterway while you also scale the walls with an invasion force is staggering. It essentially makes fleets almost as important as armies, and not merely an afterthought or nice-to-have as seen in previous games.
Even with a unit variety count across the different types of nations and cultures bordering on the ludicrous, the game never seems to get bogged down with minutiae, even though you have probably never heard of half the types of armies you come across. In cases like this an icon notification highlighting if it’s a ranged or melee unit with a stat listing provided upon mouse hover gives you all the information you need, in a matter of seconds. It’s worth noting this seemingly menial task of identifying your enemy because it highlights the focus on the simplification of performing each and every task in this vastly expansive game, which in turn makes it the most fun to play Total War game yet.
Recruiting is made easier, managing upgrades is too, creating groups, formations, setting up each field of battle, and everything else, seems to just work better than ever. But above all it’s the most fun the series has been, and that goes a long way in keeping you hooked for countless hours.
Two people playing different factions could play Rome II for twenty hours each and see completely different technologies to research, units to recruit, lands to conquer, and armies to fight against. That prey much sums up not only how big this game is but the replay-ability therein.
There’s no shortage of variety on offer as every faction has their own set of specific incremental objectives with distinct paths for both Military, Cultural, and Economic victories - a new addition to the series that acts like a glue that holds all the disparate objects together. If you’ve ever been a fan of the series or are curious about it or the genre as a whole, there’s no better Total War game than the one offered here.
Now, back to the Siege of Butler.