Rome II has easily been the most anticipated title for the Total War series to date, with hundreds of thousands of users pre-ordering the game well before release. However, as the fans of the series have unfortunately come to expect; the release was less than stellar. With extremely poor in-game performance on the most powerful ranges of hardware and more bugs than a dying tree, fans across the globe flooded to the official forums to express their outrage. An inevitable surge of zero score user reviews appeared on Metacritic and the average score plummeted to a lowly 3.8, but despite that the game is selling extremely well on Steam and the developers are promising regular hot fixes and weekly patches.
But are the fans accurate with their hate, does Rome II truly deserve a 3.8 rating?
Sound… where to begin. The voice acting is very good, but the amount that the characters actually have to say is limited to say the least. The only characters who say more than a sentence or two are the advisor’s who regular players of the series aren’t going to want to listen to anyway. A huge feature that fans wanted to return to it’s full glory was the general’s heroic speeches at the beginning of battles, like in the original Rome and Medieval titles. Whilst they have always been there, in the recent iterations of Total War they have been lacklustre to say the least, with the general sounding disengaged from the situation and never speaking more than 5 seconds of dialogue. Unlike in the earlier titles where they would begin each battle with quality custscenes, featuring long heroic speeches with words that inspire their men if the battle looks unwinnable similar to the famous scene from Braveheart.
They had incredible depth, if you had your opponents outnumbered you would hear your general (depending on his personality and skillset) either inspire his men to fight with courage and honor and to avoid underestimating their opponents, or simply disregard the enemy as walking corpses, claiming to be blessed by the gods with the inevitable result of victory regardless of the who they face. The amount of depth the speeches had were mind blowing, unfortunately that level of depth still has not returned to the series. Generals still begin their speeches once the battle starts and still have nothing of worth to say, infact if you do not zoom in on the general’s unit, you can’t even hear it. Despite the disappointing dialogue however, the rest is sublime, it sounds incredibly gritty and realistic in battle as bronze and iron clash with bone and shields. The roar from your units as they charge across the battlefield is awe inspiring with the sounds of hundreds of loud, angry footsteps accompanied by an intimidating earthquake-like effect on the players vision. When two hostile units are close to one another, the men inside them begin to mock and attempt to intimidate the opposition which makes for some impressive displays. When units engage in battle you can hear them clash, with high quality sounds that are actually accurate and not just played at random. You will never hear somebody scream in pain unless somebody is directly wounded or killed, you’ll never hear the clashing of metal unless it is actually happening.
What goes into your ears is the strongest point of the game, sadly.
The graphics are the games initial weak point with a myriad of bugs and glitches holding them back. When the game is configured to the absolute maximum graphical settings, the game doesn’t look as good as Total War: SHOGUN 2, the previous installment to the series and nowhere near as impressive as the advertisement footage. While the visuals aren’t terrible, in the state they are in right now they are nothing at all to write home about but hopefully that will improve as time goes on and the developers fix more and more issues with the game.
The campaign map however looks stunning, with some noteworthy U.I. improvements over the previous titles and a much cleaner, sharper look. The animations both in battle and on the map are the best yet which was a much needed improvement for the series. Total War has always been known and acknowledged for its realistic interpretation of large scale battles, so much infact that it’s engine has been used by historic documentaries to portray large battles, and in Rome II it is by far at it’s best… most of the time. The units do not adhere to formation or tactics that you order them with, a unit can simply run right through a Spartan phalanx for example. That takes a lot away from the potential eye candy as battles more often than not turn into messy and undisciplined skirmishes which is not something that the Romans or Greek were known for, completely the opposite infact.
Grand strategy titles such as this rarely, if ever have any kind of structured story and that is because it is your responsibility as the player to rewrite history as you see fit and create a series of small stories at your own discretion. Rome II allows you to do that better than ever as it now gives you strong possibilities for alliances and war with over a hundred factions. It allows the best army customization ever with adoptable military traditions and the ability to rename an army. You can create an army with mostly missile units and adopt traditions as they rank up, such as better ranged abilities which stay with the army forever. Small additions like this create a wealth of roleplaying opportunities that anybody can take advantage of.
This is the big one for a Total War game, undisputedly the most important aspect. As a die hard fan of the series, it pains me to say that this is the titles biggest shortcoming. There is right off the bat a huge potential for hundreds of hours of gameplay as the series is famous for but a combination of bugs, horrible design choices and it’s overwhelmingly idioitic A.I. stop it being as enjoyable the series pinnacle; SHOGUN 2. As shown by YouTube’s many avid fans of the series the A.I. regularly puts itself in hilarious situations, such as charging missile units with powerful melee infantry, only to stop at the last second and turn back in retreat for no apparent reason causing them to receive heavy losses when they could of easily wiped the archers out. There are numerous issues with the naval aspect of the game with small troop transport ships simply nudging much larger, combat orientated ships ever so gently and causing the larger vessels to go the way of the Titanic. There are also issues with the individual soldier A.I. inside of large units, such as a single man not being able to disembark from a ship when landing which causes the unit to become stuck in formation infront of it, becoming unattackable and unmoveable which can cause the battles to never end. Using seige ladders to scale city walls is also a huge issue as the A.I. is incapable of finding obvious paths down the other side which causes them to sit atop the walls suffering heavy losses from attrition and enemy bombardments. I personally have only suffered a small portion of these bugs, but they are there even after the first couple of patches and they can rear their ugly heads at any given moment.
Personally, my biggest gripe with the game is the capture the flag mechanic. It has always been there for siege battles and it makes sense for them, but they are now present in open field battles which makes absolutely no sense and takes away any possible tactical play from the battle segments. A big selling point for me was that you could enter a battle with an army twice the size of yours and win heroic victories through strategy and planning, but now all the open field battles come down to who sits on the flag for the longest. If you haven’t lost a single man, and the A.I. send their much larger army onto the flag, you’ll lose the battle and all of your men will die without ever even engaging in battle. It is an extremely poor design choice and the biggest flaw that the game has.
The game overall is decent, with some of the best aspects of a Total War game yet. The many poor design choices, terrible A.I. and plethora of bugs and performance issues however hold the game back from being what it could of been. As of now, as it always has been with every game in the series; it is impossible to recommend that you run out and purchase the game. But as the months progress, and the game is finally bought up to the kind of standard it should of been upon release it will be fully worth investing in, however it is up to you; the consumer, to decide if you wish to support this kind of business practice of releasing games unfinished and untested.