Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Review: Total War Rome II

This review is going to be a little different today mainly because this game has so much potential which is also completely lost amidst the bugs and issues with this game.  So I decided to break this down into what I like and what I don't like about each section of the game.

The maps can look truly stunning at times
Obviously there is no real story to a total war game.  You pick a faction from a pool that represents different cultures of the period with Rome being the main faction for beginners.  Outside of Rome though you can pick from barbarian, eastern, north African and Greek cultures.  Each culture has a distinct style and visual flavour to them along with the usual mix of units that define their approach to warfare.

Your choice largely influences your start position and potential opponents, so for example picking Carthage means you will probably be at war with Rome early on, while choosing Iceni means you will be warring with the local British tribes for dominance of the isles.

Outside of this the story is really one you define for yourself.  Will Rome be an all conquering force or a economic power?  Will Macedon invade the Latin states and wipe Rome off the map?  Can Egypt take all of North Africa for itself?  It's all down to the player.

Total war is broken into two distinct parts, the campaign and battle.  Campaign play is where you make all the big decisions for your nation.  Declaring war, making alliances and trade, improving your settlements and choosing your next target for invasion.  Battle is fairly self explanatory but really makes the Total War experience.  Battles though do come in several types from land battles, coastal battles, naval, siege and coastal siege.

So with that out of the way here is my breakdown of what I like and what I dislike about campaign play.


Province system - The new province system makes war a little more tactical now.  Provinces are made up of several towns with a provincial capital.  The outlying towns are smaller and have no real siege defences but can be important economic centres for your enemy, so taking them can be important.  Also capturing these towns means you can then begin using them as staging points for further invasions.  Controlling a province completely allows you to enact edicts which grant some nifty bonuses.

The new diplomacy screen is nice and easy to use
Diplomacy changes - The new diplomacy system is a major improvement over previous games.  You can see at a glance what each nation thinks of you with a breakdown of every action you have taken that influences their opinion of you.  New options such as non aggression pacts, defensive alliances and creating tribal confederations are nice options to see.  The new map screen for diplomacy also makes identifying your neighbours and newly encountered factions easier.

Alliance targets - When you are allied with the AI or another player in cooperative campaign, you can set targets for attack using the tactical map which I will detail below.  It's nice to be able to coordinate with your allies this way and get the AI to attack your foes.

Tactical map - This new feature allows you to select targets for allies to attack outside of just selecting the towns of a foe, you can set specific armies or fleets.

Recruitment - Recruiting no longer needs you to select a town and build units there as your general now recruits in the field.  If the province you are in has advanced units unlocked he can recruit them there, but if you move somewhere that has no military buildings unlocked then you will be unable to recruit anything but the basic troop types.


Terrible AI - Sadly the AI in the campaign map at the moment is as thick as pig shit.  The AI is highly reluctant to attack you in the open even when you plant an army in their territory.  The AI will hide in their towns when you do approach and rarely attack you when you lay siege.  It is also quite rare for the AI to declare war on you as it is more content to attack itself rather than engage the player.

Poor performance - The campaign map causes major framerate drops for no real reason.  Although the map has always been a little shoddy in previous games this one is totally broken as far as performance goes.  For some reason they added weird spinning light effects around armies when they are taking actions and towns now have wholly unnecessary effects when they are building or under the effects of an edict.

Turn times - Ending a turn takes forever sometimes with some users reporting a wait of up to 5 minutes for a turn to finish.  It's great to see so many AI factions on the map to fight but when it comes at the cost of your average play session being more time spent waiting for the turns to roll around it just isn't worth it sometimes.


Battle Maps - The work done for the maps here is really good.  There is a huge variation in terrain and scale as you battle around the world map.  It's great to see such variance as you play and the little details are great.

The cinematic camera can highlight the real beauty of the game
Units variety - The game has hundreds of different units spread amongst the factions both playable and unplayable.  Although yes a number are just Briton slingers, Celtic slingers etc. but each one is visually distinct.

Unit detail - When you have unlimited video memory checked the detail in the units is astoundingly good.  Every units has intricate armour and weapon detail. 

Cinematic camera - A new cinematic camera allows you to get really close to the action which is a cool feature to say the least. 

Combat animation - The new hand to hand kill animations are suitably nasty but could do with a good blood DLC to spice them up a little.  Even the normal combat animations are vastly improved and really they have to be seen to be believed as you watch soldiers try to kill each other.


Poor performance - Like the campaign map the battle map is also poorly optimised.  The game can have major frame drops even on systems that are beyond the recommended requirements which is a sign of poor optimisation here.

Dumb AI - Battle AI is really crap, siege AI is the worst of it.  Units will refuse to move to engage even when under missile fire and being slaughtered by the hundreds.  Pitched battle AI is a little better but it is still easily distracted by cavalry and skirmishers.  Video evidence of the AI simply charging and then running away can be found online further showing the lack of testing this went through.

Low textures - Unless you choose to use unlimited video memory your game will look like ass.  For some reason even users with monster rigs will see low res textures because the game uses your chip rather than your GPU to determine the overall game quality.  This is a weird decision as it means you have to force the game to use unlimited memory to actually see all of the really nice detail the developers put into the game.
Looks OK without unlimited memory

Naval Battles - This is the first time we have seen fleet combat in the classical era and it fucking sucks.  The entire fleet combat system revolves around ramming each other to death, but the poor AI is incapable of coordinating properly or following your orders so it simply sits there until it dies.  This forces you to micromanage every ship in the fleet.  It doesn't help that the ram and board buttons are broken and the worst part is that transport ships that carry your army can beat a full fledged naval force by simply ramming them.  Yes if you have a force of say levy spears and send them out to see to fight against a Roman navy, you have just as much chance of winning because ramming does a shitload of damage.

Looks awesome with it on, but why does it need that?
Flags - The new flag objective system for sieges and land battles basically handicaps the AI.  Because the AI is so hung up on defending this flag they cannot simply attack you like they should.  Siege battles devolve into defending AI units sticking to the flag at all costs even if they are surrounded on all sides and under mass ballistae fire.  This idea that the city isn't lost until you capture a flag makes no sense, does that mean Berlin wasn't captured until the Soviets found a little flag in the centre of the city?  No that would be stupid because cities are in themselves full of tactical strong points, look at Stalingrad.  They need to drop the flags entirely to allow the AI to at least fight like it did in Shogun 2.

Now I haven't covered things here that others would count as con's such as limited armies, the family system and special unit abilities but I feel that the limited army numbers aren't a big deal with the AI being so inept.  The family system could use a tutorial for it so you know what is what and the special abilities have been there since Rome I so I don't get why people are suddenly so pissed about.  Shogun 2 had loads of special abilities and no one batted an eyelid then.

The game isn't terrible but it needs a lot of work to become the game they told us it was before launch.  They claimed people who could run Shogun 2 could run this but actually you can't.  They have screwed the pooch where the AI is concerned and the graphics settings are a nightmare to make sense of without some official clarification in the games menus not just the forums.

Creative Assembly have created a beautiful looking game with tonnes of potential but at the moment it sits with a pile of issues it needs to fix before it can be a true successor to Rome I.  Patching will be every week so we will see improvements but as this review is for the game at launch it will receive a lower score.  I will make an addendum to this review in a few months when the patching has been more thorough and give a post patch score but right now the game is a solid

SCORE: 6.0/10



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