Time To Cross The Rubicon Again.
Sega has been very good to fans of the real time strategy genre. In an age where most games are first person shooters, Sega is willing to buck the trend of publishing a game designed to appeal to tens of millions of people, and back a developer like The Creative Assembly, who has a comparatively smaller—but rabid—fanbase for its more measured, intelligent strategy games. At this year’s E3, Creative Assembly was showing off Total War: Rome 2, and they were letting people sit down and get some playtime with it.
The allure of the Total War series has always been its ability to recreate old fashioned, historical military battles, back before automatic rifles, aerial bombardment and mechanized tanks did away with formations and thousands of troops marching onto a field of war to clash. The original Total War: Rome was a watershed moment for The Creative Assembly, with the game even being used to illustrate historical battles for the BBC. Now the sequel, Rome 2 is gearing up for release, and it looks like a safe, logical expansion of what has come before.
There are a lot of big changes to series, notably some serious cribbing from the Other Great Strategy Game, Civilization. Politics plays a big role in the game now, with would be Roman Caesars having to worry about in-house factions within Rome itself vying for power. There are various diplomacy options now, such as marrying off daughters for political alliances, publicly discrediting rivals, or, when all else fails, assassination. Conquest now also yields some new benefits, such as declaring an entire region as a Roman province, which now significantly cuts down on the amount of micro-managing required as polices can be executed throughout the entire territory. There’s now also control wonders of the world in a given region, and commanders enjoy a global buff from provinces that contain a wonder. It’s obvious that a lot has been added to the political/cultural side of the game.
On the battlefield, the biggest change is the much requested implementation of combat on the naval front and on the field simultaneously. Ships can go to war with each other while the battle rages on the shore, or if there’s a naval advantage, ships can provide support fire from the water on the enemy forces. There’s also now an ability for specific squads to form “traditions,” which translate to buffs for that particular unit benefiting any soldier that becomes a part of that unit.
When it comes to the battle itself, this is still a game of acting fast and thinking even faster. The enemy AI has enough wits to exploit bad formations and inattentiveness to changing battle conditions. Despite the fact that my demo gave me a distinct advantage of holding onto a hill with forces dug in, I still found myself in a precarious position when I squandered too much attention managing the naval battle that was occurring out on the ocean. Troops still have a paper-rock-scissors style of strength and weakness about them, so while cavalry will slaughter a typical infantry, they fall victim easily to archers, and so on. Taking advantage of cover like forests, and exploiting the morale of enemy troops make it possible for even outnumbered troops to make smart decisions that can still lead to victory.
Of course the graphics—when running on decently tuned PCs like those at E3—look VERY impressive, and The Creative Assembly still gives people the option to zoom right into the thick of the battle and watch individual soldiers cross swords. Rome 2 is looking very good at this point, but so far The Creative Assembly has never really stumbled when it comes to improving on the Total War series. PC strategy fans have plenty to look forward to in September when the game releases.