Thursday, 5 September 2013

First Impressions: Total War Rome II


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After a long wait we finally have the sequel to the most celebrated Total War of the series, Rome II.  Now it's launch has been much like any other Total War launch and that involves bugs, glitches and performance issues.  At the moment forums and community sites are a battlefield of those who are enjoying the game despite the bugs and those who are disappointed or unable to play the game at all.

But that aside how is the game.  Well it's quite the departure in many ways from the series more tried and tested mechanics.  Probably the first one you will notice while playing is the army and fleet limits.  These are to represent your faction being smaller and more upcoming faction rather continent spanning empire.  As you increase in size and achieve goals set by the game you increase your number of armies and fleets allowing you to war on multiple fronts if you wish.  It's not a bad idea but it certainly changes several aspects of army management.  Armies now must have a general to be either on the field or acting as a garrison for a town, so you can no longer split an army to deal with a tiny remnant force on the maps edge or act as diversion so the AI will ride out to attack.  The whole force has to move to attack regardless of the enemy army size.  On the upside though you no longer need to recruit garrison units specifically to quell any negative public opinion as buildings now generate a garrison of it's own to represent this.

Armies now also no longer need a fleet to go on the offensive across the sea's.  Simply ordering a force onto water automatically puts them in transport ships which are weak but wholly capable of dealing with fleet specific ships with enough units.  Ramming is now the key tactic in naval engagements as the AI at the moment is fairly slow at fighting a war at sea, especially when several ships are all crowding around a specific foe, they simply sit there waiting for orders to either ram again or board.  Ranged units on board ships pretty much dominate the waves in the early stages of a campaign.

Towns and cities now belong to a province which could hold as many as 4 or 5 in total.  Holding a town or city does allow you to build and upgrade as normal, but controlling every population centre in a province allows you to enact edicts which grant bonuses to every town in the province.  This system is pretty good as it allows you to plan your strikes against a targets and makes wars against larger nations feel more like wars of attrition as you battle over a single town for ultimate control of a province.

Battles are much like Shogun 2's really with the new aesthetic of Europe, Asia and North Africa.  There are literally hundreds of units in this game, spread amongst a hell of a lot of factions.  Most of these are obviously non playable, but Creative Assembly have already stated that new culture packs will be adding more factions in the future anyway.  We already know the Nomadic Culture Packs will add Scythia, Roxolani and Massagetae as playable factions so that's cool.  Also aesthetic packs will make factions more visually diverse so that's cool. 

Battles certainly have more reliance on unit specific abilities like shield walls, Testudo, Phalanx and more tactical abilities like anti-cavalry tactics, furious charges, war cry's and a hell of a lot more.  Some are complaining about the use of these abilities but really they have been part of Total War since Rome I and probably before that.  The new coastal battles is interesting as it allows your friendly navies or enemy navies to battle at sea while your army fights it out on land, but afterwards the victorious fleets can land their ships and join the fray on foot.

Campaign specific changes such as rival families and diplomacy are a mixed bag.  The rival families or tribes or whatever it happens to be dependent on the culture rarely seem to do much unless you play the Romans, Greeks or Carthaginians.  Diplomacy however has a lot of new options which the AI actually respond to now based on past actions.  In fact the game even gives you a breakdown of all actions that pertain to that faction for the purpose of diplomacy.  The options are expanded now with the ability to form defensive alliance, non aggression pacts, coordinated assaults with allies and forming confederations without the need for war at all.  It's still odd you can't trade provinces with allies or demand them anymore but maybe that will be added in a later update.

Overall on first impressions it's good from a gameplay perspective.  From a performance perspective you may want to wait a little.  The game is currently a mixed bag performance wise with people having issues with graphics or frame rates despite having systems that exceed the recommended specs.  The first patch will be out on Friday to alleviate some of the issues and improve performance along with some AI alterations to hopefully make them less brain dead at times.  Yes the AI isn't all that bright in a siege situation as always but in open battle they are more aggressive and willing to use flanking manoeuvres.  Again like the rest of the game it's currently a mixed bag AI wise.

If you're on the fence about getting Rome II then I would recommend holding out until Friday's patch to see how it changes things.  No doubt it will need more tweaking over time and CA have already stated they will be making weekly patches anyway so when weighing up the purchase take this weekly patching into consideration, at least they are willing to put the time in to making the game better and more stable.

Thanks for reading.  My video review is still in the works.  I will be recording footage this weekend now that I have found a happy medium for the graphics and performance, but again I will be waiting to see how Friday's patch changes things for me. 

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