Total War: Rome II – First Impressions

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Developer: Creative Assembly

Publisher: Sega

Author: Lloyd Sabin

This Is How We Do It

Here at Grogheads we do things a bit differently. We don’t race to get the latest review of the hottest game up before release day. We have never felt that was the correct way to go about it. So our “First Impressions” piece hasn’t been released in the first 24 hours. It has taken us a few days to reconnoiter the game. Four days of gameplay doesn’t make a review, but it has given us something worth reporting.

We slowly wade into games most of the time, patiently observing, trying out features, taking notes and then ranting and raving like drugged cave men if something is wrong. Which brings me to my first point.

Total War Rome II Impressions Rome 5

Rome II is here, and there are many people with things to say about it as usual. Below are some of my notes on my first few hours with Creative Assembly’s latest.

Total War, Total Chaos

Once the dust has settled on the release of Total War: Rome II – More Gooder, The Sundering of Wallets, or just Total War: Rome II, for short, the next title should absolutely be Total War: Release Day Antics. I have been playing computer games for 25+ years and have been writing about them for 10+ years, and I have never seen such chaotic division, screaming, ranting, and virtual insanity as I have upon a Total War release – before the game was released.

It wasn’t this way in the beginning because the original Shogun: Total War was released in 2000, before the interwebs really had their icy grip on us. The original Shogun was also a pretty novel idea, well executed and awe-inspiring at the time. Its follow-up, Medieval: Total War, really hit that gaming sweet spot when it was released around 2002. Epic and well-programmed, as well as easy on the eyes, fans were happy and numerous…modders took it further and created masterpieces like the Total War XL mod, and a golden age was born…the Total War Golden Age, if you will. Even if you won’t, I’m calling it that anyway.

Riding a wave of success, Creative Assembly then tackled the ancient world for the first time with the original Rome: Total War in 2003…and the rumblings began. Flaming pigs? War dogs?? AI issues??? Don’t make me flip my computer desk over, man…because I WILL MAN…how could Creative Assembly commit such crimes?

Honestly I enjoyed Rome: Total War…it was the first time I really studied the classical era in any detail, so what did I know about historical errors or inconsistencies? Not much. I was also no tactical genius, so the AI that got so many into such a lather was ok by me playing on Normal/Normal.

And such has been the case since Rome: Total War. Release day for Medieval 2: Total War (modded, probably my favorite game of all time), Empire: Total War, and Napoleon: Total War always resulted in virtual bar room brawls between the Total War faithful and the Total War teetotalers…those who totally refused to drink the Kool Aid and nitpicked every last bit of bad code, crappy AI, and graphical glitch. Both sides in this ongoing struggle have made good points over the years. And then this happened…

Total War: STFU Edition

Shogun 2: Total War was released. And the bar brawl went quiet. Like an angel appearing over a battlefield, Shogun 2 and its expansions rose in reviewers’ eyes and quieted the combatants on either side of the Total War struggle with its elegance, beauty, and solid programming and AI. Shogun 2 was a big piece of gaming zen, with fanbois and haters dancing together in the streets, dogs and cats living together, Total War insanity…in a good way. It felt like the franchise had taken a turn, shook off its past mistakes and was moving on to the greatness we all had hoped for, no matter what we thought of the game previously. And it did, for a time.

Total War: Rome 2

And so here we are, post-Total War: Shogun 2. Where do we go from here? It’s difficult to know…if you visit the Total War Center or other online communities, you’ll be convinced in about three minutes that the series is going straight to hell. Then, if you choose to listen to the fanbois, you’ll be convinced that there has never been anything better in the entire history of computer games. After winning the Prologue and then poking around in Rome II’s innards, I set up my first real campaign, my first impressions are mostly positive.

Graphics and Presentation: Creative Assembly’s Visual Gymnastics

First firing up Rome II, the player will be met with a slightly murky, relatively dark color palette that will make the colors of the original Rome: Total War look like a box of Craypas. It is clear that the visuals of Rome II are meant to express a feeling of weight, of importance…no matter what faction you play as, the visual style and color is intended to impart a seriousness to what the player is doing.

You are here to intervene in other factions’ affairs, and you are prepared to smash the skulls of those who get in your way. And you will have the legions, or phalanxes, or war chariots, to do it. Funny how some dark gray storm clouds in the opening cinematic can set the tone!

Total War Rome II Impressions Rome 4

Foreboding! Danger! And some drizzle. There are many dark and creepy visual cues in Rome II, which lends a sense of urgency to the game. Empire building and crushing is serious business…wipe that smile off your face!

All of the graphical elements, from anti-aliasing to unit detail to water and smoke effects to filtering options, can be adjusted through the advanced graphics settings menu, and automatic settings can also be set.

My default settings were all initially set at ‘Extreme’ which frightened me a little bit. My PC is only about a year and a half old, running Windows 7 on an Intel Core i5 2400 CPU @ 3.1 GHz with 8 GB memory and a single NVidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card. Very respectable.

But “Extreme” sounds like a bit much. After initial hesitation and some less than awesome looking visuals setting everything down to “Very Good,” I overcame my initial hesitation and bumped up most of my graphics settings to “Ultra”…one step down from “Extreme.”  Images looks better, most sequences were smoother and performance did not suffer. I have played the whole Prologue without one single stutter or lock-up and had no crashes at all. But the game, to me anyway, does not look as good as Shogun 2.

Music and sound so far have been good, but not overly fantastic as they have been in say, Medieval: Total War. Audio has more or less faded into the background for me so far, but this may be because I am trying to learn the game in these early hours.

AI: Scripted for Your Pleasure

To repeat, I will be starting my first real campaign this evening. I have so far only played the Prologue mini-campaign in Rome II. For me it was a basic Total War refresher…learning how to recruit and use troops, understanding the mechanics of generals and their limits, knowing the difference between different troop types, absorbing the basics of naval combat and amphibious landings, and getting to know the basics of city building and maintenance in the ancient world.

And I learned a thing or two about the Samnites and their relations with the Romans. Basically they weren’t very good and as the protagonist you must go and give the Romans of 300 BC a small taste of what it’s like to kick some ass.

Total War Rome II Impressions Rome 3

Relations between my Romans (left) and the Samnites (right) deteriorated to the point that I had to take the Samnite capital to teach them a lesson.

Ultimately, I would recommend the Prologue. Sure a lot of players will want to jump right in, but I like to ease in, and the Prologue is good for that as well as developing excitement. Noticing little details, either on the campaign map or in the tactical battles, was an exercise in discovery.

Sometimes things did not go so well because of a bug or two. In my first play of the final act of the Prologue, my siege rams did not work properly, and my siege ladders did not appear at all. I could have burned down the gates of the Samnite capital (Bovianum) with cavalry or slingers, but I was taking losses. So I just quit out and returned later, and everything worked properly and I won…as it should be!

While in combat my forces held together well, took formation when I ordered them to, and performed rather admirably. The enemy AI was not bad…it didn’t do anything suicidal or ridiculously stupid, and looked to actually adjust to the situation as it unfolded. Overall I was impressed.

One new addition which I am not sure about yet is the addition of strategic points on the tactical maps, a la the King Arthur games by Neocore. These points add drama and urgency to the battles, but they can also sap your creative tactical thinking by becoming the only things you concentrate on. Time will tell how annoying they become.

Total War Rome II Impressions Rome 2

Little pig, little pig, let me in. Some units can batter down armored gates with flaming projectiles. Note the strategic points within the city, in red, in the distance.

On the campaign map the AI probed my faction for weak spots, sent scouts ahead to size me up, and tried to counter my drive on their capital by attempting to take a city I recently sacked. Occasionally it would win and delay me, but ultimately it lost. It put up a good struggle for a tutorial campaign.

Big ticket ideas like trade and diplomacy are not covered at all in the Prologue of Rome II, which would have been good if these concepts are indeed revamped from previous games. Auto-resolve has been beefed up, with new ‘stance’ options now available (aggressive, balanced, defensive) as well as a basic idea as to the potential outcome when using each. I liked these little additions.

The End of the Beginning

My first few hours into Rome II went better than I expected them to. Niggling annoyances aside, the game gave me an entertaining challenge in the tutorial campaign, it looks sexy (although not as sexy as Shogun 2) and most important of all it made me excited to delve deeper into its version of the ancient world.

With factions like Parthia, Sparta, Macedon, Pontus, and Egypt available among a host of others, a detailed encyclopedia and the promise of future expandability in the form of both paid and free DLC, Rome II is a spectacle in the best sense. Not everything worked perfectly at launch this week, and the polish is not as high as it was for Shogun 2. But Rome II does a lot right as far historical detail and entertainment value. It is a testament to the game that it has taken me a week to decide which faction to start as.

Does Rome II silence most critics like its predecessor? No…if anything, more players have come out more critical about this release than the last. But in my early experience, the game is technically well put together, entertaining and engaging…it’s one of those games I will sink hundreds of hours into.

Note: a game patch was released through Steam Friday which address a host of issues that were reported early, so…if you uninstalled in frustration because of a glaring bug, it may have been squashed.

Total War Rome II Impressions Rome 1

The amount of factions in these early days is impressive, and each appears to be well fleshed out.

More impressions to follow in the coming days and weeks. Right now, I can recommend Rome II for players who loved previous Total War games and who love the ancient era. And if you have never played a Total War game before, you have a lot to look forward to in this one.

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One Response to Total War: Rome II – First Impressions

  1. Boggit says:

    Hi Gus! I loved the review. I should have had my copy a couple of days ago, and I’m still waiting. After your review I’m off to track down delivery and get stuck in. I know you’re playing Rome, but what are the starting choices, and do you know what unlocks after the first campaign.

    I was a bit concerned that my rig would deal with it, but your set up is much like mine, so I’m not worried anymore. Just need the damned game!


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