Old School Tactical from Flying Pig Games

Attila: Total War – The Last Roman 

Developed by Creative Assembly and Published by SEGA

By Lloyd Sabin 15 August 2015

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Let’s Be Honest with Each Other

I love Attila: Total War, but I’m not very good at it to be honest. I’ve played campaigns as the Geats, Langobards and the Huns in the standard game and after many, many false starts and immediate ass-whuppings, the best I could come up with so far is ‘not getting slaughtered at the very beginning.’ Even then, my Geat campaign ended in piles of ash where my capital city once stood and I don’t think I made it to 50 turns as the Huns. My Langobard campaign is ongoing…fingers crossed. I suppose that’s not too bad considering the main goal of these campaigns is to simply survive until a certain date but still…not a very stellar performance.

Cue the Last Roman campaign, featuring the Last Roman himself, Belisarius. The campaign is set on a mini-map which is virtually identical to the map that Creative Assembly produced for the Hannibal at the Gates campaign for Rome 2: Total War…it’s just set much later, obviously, in the 6th century AD. Playable factions include the Roman Expedition led by Belisarius (not the Eastern Roman Empire, led by an AI Justinian), the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Franks. I chose to play the Roman Expedition first.

Excellent, I am 'losing decisively!' Wait a minute...

Excellent, I am ‘losing decisively!’ Wait a minute…

 

Overwhelming Slaughter

And similar to the beginnings of my other Attila: Total War campaigns, I was promptly, and I mean in like 5 turns, slaughtered by the Vandals in North Africa. It got frustrating quickly…so much so that I almost nerd-raged and quit. Then I thought – take the plunge, and lower the difficulty. It took time for me to finally do this out of shame, but I lowered the difficulty to easy and swallowed my Total War pride.

Naturally the game became much easier once I switched its difficulty from normal to easy, but it was definitely too easy at this point. A little tweaking in the difficulty would be welcome so there isn’t such a yawning chasm between difficulty levels. But don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the campaign and now that I have been broken in somewhat, my next campaign, which I will play as the Vandals, I will set back to normal difficulty…as long as the slaughter at the beginning isn’t immediate and overwhelming.

Turns out the Langobards never arrived. Maybe because I had the difficulty set on 'easy.' I'll put it back to 'normal' the next playthrough for a tougher game.

Turns out the Langobards never arrived. Maybe because I had the difficulty set on ‘easy.’ I’ll put it back to ‘normal’ the next playthrough for a tougher game.

Once the campaign gets going, the Last Roman features interactions with some fascinating (albeit non-playable, for now) factions including the Berbers, the Moors, Sardinia and even the Basques, among others. I’m trying to think of any other PC game that I have ever played that even mentioned the Basques and I’m blanking – just having them in the mix is a credit to Creative Assembly.

The Roman Expedition plays like the hordes do in Attila: Total War…you start out nomadic, and can temporarily camp, to form the equivalent of a small town. Players can build buildings that are portable as tents and similar structures, but they never settle down, unless you take a city and declare your independence from Justinian and the Eastern Romans.

Now it's a party - the skutatoi heavy spears are here!

Now it’s a party – the skutatoi heavy spears are here!

Declaring your independence is always an option throughout the campaign, but I never did it. My reward for being loyal to the Emperor was cash, occasional reinforcements and sometimes whole armies, some of which would I would eventually foot the bill for, some not. This makes the campaign more of a nail-biter, because if the player is down to his last army, which I was in mainland Italy versus the Ostrogoths, the campaign is lost if you’re army is defeated and your general killed. It makes for tension in every turn.

Many of the tactical vistas are distractingly beautiful.

Many of the tactical vistas are distractingly beautiful.

That said, the gameplay did grow somewhat repetitive playing as the Roman Expedition as my options grew limited and I was surrounded by enemies on all sides. There is no trade as most of the encountered civilizations despise Rome and want to crush what’s left of it once and for all, and other diplomacy is basically limited to “we’ll kill you/ok we’ll stop killing you now.”

For my next campaign as the Vandals, I am expecting this to change as I won’t be playing as an expedition any longer. Also, if it grows too dull, there is always the option of declaring independence. Although I did not do this, I expect new options to open up for a more traditional Total War game at the expense of eliciting the ire of Justinian. The options must be weighed.

If I remember correctly this is the first sandstorm I ever encountered in a Total War game.

If I remember correctly this is the first sandstorm I ever encountered in a Total War game.

 

More of the Same, But More Gooder

The turn-to-turn gameplay is classic Total War – so if a strategic layer married with a tactical, pausable RTS layer never floated your gaming dinghy, it probably won’t here either. The campaign AI is competent – I wouldn’t have had to restart and then lower the difficulty if it wasn’t – and the tactical AI is not bad either. I didn’t witness anything fancy in either mode, but the AI didn’t do anything incredibly stupid either. The connection between the two layers is fantastic, with siege damage and other indicators on the campaign map visible when switching to battle mode. Both layers ran well on my four year old rig as well, better than Attila: Total War, to be honest. It feels like the game has been optimized better for the Last Roman.

Bros before...well, you know. I have served the Emperor Justinian well and rewards await me.

Bros before…well, you know. I have served the Emperor Justinian well and rewards await me.

Battles are fun to play, and are streamlined. Armies and units can be set up in a deployment phase before the fighting actually begins, and controlling things as the battle unfolds is straightforward – the UI is simple. Note that I have been playing the Total War series since the beginning, so if you’re new to the series it may take some time to learn the ins and outs of the tactical mechanics. Strategic mechanics however, are downright simple and anyone who has used a PC recently should not have an issue getting things done on the strategic map. Campaign objectives, the Total War Encyclopedia, in-game messages, diplomacy…all are available within a couple of mouse clicks.

Climate change is still a serious factor in The Last Roman, as it is in Attila.

Climate change is still a serious factor in The Last Roman, as it is in Attila.

Despite my initial trouble and my humbling adjustment of the game’s difficulty to easy, in addition to some repetitive gameplay, I will definitely return to the Last Roman, at a minimum just to see how different the Vandals play (and I expect that there will be many noticeable differences). The Last Roman campaign is not as all-encompassing as the main campaign but clearly that is by design. So if you felt a bit overwhelmed by Attila, you may be more at home with this new mini-campaign.

 Night battles are still tremendous fun to play, unless you're on the receiving end of a nocturnal ass-whupping.

Night battles are still tremendous fun to play, unless you’re on the receiving end of a nocturnal ass-whupping.

Just be aware that it may take some tweaking for you to hit that 6th century sweet spot. Once you do, it will be a rewarding campaign with exotic cultures to trample underfoot, unit variety, historical transition from the ancient to the feudal world, and even some role play in the back and forth between yourself (as Belisarius) and your family, your wife and your Emperor. The Last Roman offers a good variety of interesting new tweaks for the core gameplay in what can be a more manageable package, and for that I can definitely recommend it. Hell, I’m even returning after being smacked around real good in my initial outings! The Last Roman is both interesting and punishing enough to draw some excellent gaming mileage, and well worth the price. Don’t hesitate to take a dip in the historic Mediterranean!


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