Surprise! Eyes-On With Total War: Rome II

By Alec Meer on July 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Where's it set again?

Most of the internet knew the nature of the Creative Assembly’s next Total War game as of last week, but as a man of honour I have ignored the leaks and waited to mention it until I could tell you about it properly. Onwards then, and to battle…

‘Big’ would be the obvious word. “Enormous” is probably a slightly better one. “Bugger me, what an awful lot of soldiers and boats and increasingly demolished buildings that is” would be a more accurate summary of my thoughts at the time of seeing Rome: Total War II. “My deepest sympathies to anyone else currently working on a historical real-time strategy game” would be my thoughts now.

Admittedly, my first look at Rome: Total War II did come via a very big screen and some rather loud posh speakers, but I’m reasonably confident that the enormous scale of the Creative Assembly’s return to arguably its most enduring game would have dragged my jaw inexorably floorwards even had I been watching it on an eye-telephone.


Click to embiggen this one

This demo is all about scale, and what the latest iteration of CA’s proprietary strategy engine can do with it. The battle of Carthage is the setting for a seamless assault by sea and land. A vast force of Roman ships pile from the black ocean into a sweeping coastline, expelling hundreds of legionaries onto a beach overlooking the towering fortress-city of Carthage as arrows and rocks rain down on them. It’s Saving Private Ryan in sandals, and a dramatic statement that navies and armies are no longer separate, compartmentalised entities for Total War.

As soldiers swarm towards siege equipment left on the beach by their forerunners’ failed attempts to fell Carthage, Roman artillery boats sail coolly down inlets towards the city’s flanks and proceed to unleash hell at its defenders. As catapults and siege towers join the fray, apocalyptic music swells and smoke, fire and rubble mount. Carthage has held out for two long years of the Punic Wars, but today Scipio Aemilianus and his legions will bring about its fall.

As Romans clamber up siege towers, the shields on their backs lending them the appearance of aggressive cockroaches, Rome II’s new unit-lock camera shows the battle from an over-the-shoulder perspective. Rows and rows of differing faces shouting and waiting as the tower rolls inexorably to Carthage’s walls. Zoom out again and the size of the approaching army once again startles. Zoom out again to a Supreme Commander-esque tactical overhead map (not an interactive one as such, mind) and streams of soldiers are swarming the city from all angles as artillery boats creep around the sides. It seems impossible that one player could control all this, but a developer assures me that a broad move up from squads to legions does not mean over-complication.


Click to embiggen this one

The sound is something I can’t ignore. It’s not the sound of little pixel men moving forwards in eerie unison, it’s the clatter and clamour of an army thumping towards its fearful goal. As a catapult finally brings down a wall in a shower of shattered stone, the siege engines spew their cockroaches over the top of another. Inside, Carthage shows the cost of a two-year siege. Much is already in an unhappy, semi-trashed state, while angry graffiti creeps over the walls like a viral spread of physical discontent. Carthage is nonetheless still a stronghold, and a huge one at that, filled with multiple roads, hills, towering structures and multiple capture points. The canny general can plot the most efficient/least defended/most defensible path through Rome II’s cities, not simply rush for the central square – no more ‘headshotting’ cities, as CA put it.

Smoke pillars emerge where the city is suffering shelling from the artillery ships, while in the streets the Carthaginian defenders rush towards the Roman invaders. There’s an almighty crunch as the two shield-wielding forces collide, but before too long Scipio’s army has a clear edge. Then, a sharp trumpeting sound overwhelms the clatter, and something huge blots out the light. Ah yes. For what would Rome: Total War be without elephants?

So that’s the drama: Total War at its biggest to date, land and sea fused together into seamless assaults, and a return to CA’s most diverse and exoticism-friendly setting. What about details? Well, Total War: Rome II is the follow-up to Shogun II and its add-on Fall of the Samurai, so primarily the plan is to take the techniques that were there focused on a relatively small time and place into something much broader. You can play the campaign from the off as any of the nations on Rome II’s map, that mass choice of cultures and combat styles that Rome’s wannabe empire and its enemies comprised – each with their own tech trees, content and internal conflict. The campaign map will be bigger still than Rome 1′s, with all I can glean of the new territories to be explored/conquered being that the game will be “going further East” in addition to containing all the countries and sates of the first the game.

The map will also be scattered with invisible, branching storyline triggers which demand consequence-laden choices and dilemmas beyond the merely military regardless of which nation/state/tribe/faction you play as. It’s not quite procedural, but you won’t run into the same story ‘Easter eggs’ every time and they’re not locked to specifically Roman history and lore.

‘Human drama’ is a term that keeps coming up, both in terms of the intrigue and politicking on the campaign map (because, let’s face it, the Roman Empire was playing the game of thrones centuries before George R.R. Martin sprouted his first beard-hair) and right down on the battlefield. The per-unit camera, the more detailed faces and glut of new animations is intended to demonstrate soldiers’ state of mind and likelihood of success as much as are morale and health meters. Whether it will actually be feasible to watch much of the game from this perspective remains to be seen, but in this demo at least Rome II is more war than wargame.

“Shogun 2 was about one line of infantry hitting another and having an elegant duel on the frontline,” series lead James Russell tells me (in a full interview to follow soon), “whereas this is about the Roman war machine, the impact and steamroller smashing on the frontline.” For that, units need a sense of mass, stonework needs to seem to quake, and this means animation and audio escalated further than before.

It also means approaching TW’s battles in a different context than previous games offered. “We want the player to be thinking like a Roman military leader. A Roman emperor was not thinking about what to do with specific units of archers, he’s thinking about where the tenth legion is. We want the player to be thinking about their legions rather than a random collection of units.”

In theory, this means a little less micromanagement and “fewer but more significant battles” as vast armies go to it, though I’m assured unit diversity and the essential rock, paper, scissors thinking very much remains. It also means those legions, being more enduring, generate their own history – gaining new traits and perks as they win or lose great battles, their behaviour and abilities reflecting their experiences to date.

Of the campaign map and its politicking I’ve seen nothing as yet, however, so I must take said promises at face value. What I can attest to is the mighty magnitude of Rome II’s battles. If ever a demonstration were needed that PC is now a full technical generation on from its console kin, this is it.

Total War: Rome II is slated for release late next year. We’ll have some interview features with the devs up for you over the next couple of days.

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126 Comments »

  1. PostieDoc says:

    yay

  2. Mordsung says:

    I hope they end up with some of the factions from Barbarian Invasion.

    Return of the Saxon scourge!

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    That sounds amazing.

    Not that the AI will be able to use those boats on release, mind… (close pessimism tags)

    • MrMud says:

      or play sieges

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      That said, it was kinda surprising the first time I fired up a Shogun 2 battle and ended up playing a human. A neat, if not-always-practical solution to AI problems.

      • MrMud says:

        The problem is that the game is not balanced for it.
        TW has always been balanced for you to crush the AI, so as soon as you start loosing even trades then the strategic game goes downhill quick.

    • neonordnance says:

      Shogun II got around this with a rather well-done multiplayer. I actually preferred multiplayer to singleplayer campaign for the first time in my TW experience, which goes all the way back to the game that made me fall in love: Rome Total War.

      It’s still a great game that holds up today, which makes me a bit sad. I still had my fingers crossed for a 1850-1920 game, which encompasses the american civil war, the russo japanese war and of course world war I. I still think they’ll make it, although FOTS helped to scratch that itch.

      But regardless, this looks brave, innovative and awesome. Day one purchase for sure.

      • gunny1993 says:

        I think they will move away from large scale conflicts and focus on specific region (personally i would love to see some early Chinese or Egyptian )

  4. Prokroustis says:

    F yeah..

  5. misterT0AST says:

    I will buy a new computer just to play this.
    God how I loved Rome: Total War.
    First thing I did in the campaign: selling all my territories to the Senate for a RIDICULOUS amount of money, sailing to Crimea, conquering Russia with mercenaries, to then take over Europe from the East.

    • dawnmane says:

      same here regarding buying a new computer just for this!

      • DuddBudda says:

        I bought a new PC for Shogun and I shall upgrade for Rome ! I don’t even know why I’m typing this I’m just so happy

        • Lowbrow says:

          This is exactly the type of game that Onlive should be jumping on. I don’t play Shogun 2 on my laptop because the loading times are horrible, but I’d buy it again on Onlive if they had quick loading screens.

          This would be the perfect promotion: don’t upgrade your computer, buy it from us! Onlive seems to be more focused on shooters though, so I doubt they’ll come to their senses.

          • Premium User Badge

            lurkalisk says:

            The only problem there, is that most people would basically be getting an interactive 720p youtube video. Its potential for demos is excellent, outside of that, I don’t understand why anyone cares.

  6. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    Squee. That is all.

  7. mouton says:

    Maybe they will actually write reasonable AI this time.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Its cruel to joke like that.

      • mouton says:

        I just came from Spec Ops: The Line, a cover-based modern shooter that for some insane reason features deep mature writing. So anything can happen, even a Total War with great AI.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Shogun 2 actually had pretty good AI, both on the battlefield and the campaign map, so I believe they have finally realised the importance of getting it right and have learned their lesson (part of which is just designing the game in an AI friendly way). The battlefield AI in Fall of the Shogun was considerably poorer, but that was caused by introduction of artillery and other powerful ranged weapons so hopefully shouldn’t affect Rome.

      • TheWhippetLord says:

        Shogun 2′s battle AI was indeed loads better than the Empire/Napoleon one. I particularly liked the bit where it didn’t paralyse my computer whenever I made a breech in someone’s wall.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Oh I fully expect to be clicking 50 billion times just to move a unit of cavalry past a tree.

      • lordcooper says:

        I dunno, my first thought on seeing those screenshots was that those wider roads will really help with the pathfinding issues.

        • DiamondDog says:

          Yeah, but what happens when you get to the curb?

        • DarkFenix says:

          And will stop one unit of militia hoplites holding back a full stack army.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Yeah, Shogun 2 seems a step up from the historically-realistic idiot generals of Empire, who would do things like stand in front of their guns, causing their general to be decapitated by their own artillery. Apparently that was partly due to the AI guy leaving partway through the development of Empire, though.

  8. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Sounds very interesting. Not sure how I feel about the shift from squad to legion control but it definitely sounds intriguing.

    • BwenGun says:

      I’m actually quite looking forward to it to be honest. For a while I’ve really craved a Total War game that actually gave the battles of the time a proper sense of scale, and the jump to legions might just do that. Hell if we’re really lucky they’ll be a setting to allow a hardcore mode where orders from your general take time to reach the commanders of the legions whilst they may ignore them entirely or do their own thing, and sometimes the messages may simply not arrive.

      Though admittedly that’s a long shot that probably won’t happen.

      Though for anyone in the know, have they said anything about how Legions will actually work? As in will they be amalgamated blocks of various different units (so heavy infantry and archers might form a single legion with archers automatically standing behind the infantry) or is it basically just upping the number of men whilst allowing the same basic control scheme as used in previous games?

      • ReV_VAdAUL says:

        Your point about a hardcore mode where orders can be misunderstood would be great, I know some very hardcore games do do that but are few and far between.

        Also the amalgamation of different troop types / weapons in a single block / legion sounds like a positive thing, the arbitrary separation, while wholly understandable has been irksome from a historical perspective.

        The reason I’m a bit wary though is my experiences with smaller battles that I’ve really enjoyed, especially the Viking Invasion mod for Rome 1 (It was a mod to bring the Medieval 1 expansion pack to life in the Rome engine which it did amazingly well) it was extremely hard and often consisted of very bitter battles with small numbers of troops on each side. A battle where a few rag tag remnants of spearmen units held off a besieging army while my general’s bodyguard (a heavy infantry unit) desperately smashed battering rams so I could maybe hold out long enough for relief forces to arrive is a particularly fond memory.

        I can fully appreciate the positives of truly huge scale battles but I do fear something might be lost with the shift to a larger scale. This is extremely early days and I’m not passing judgement but it is something that I am a bit unsure about right now.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Well a legion is like 3-6 thousand men, and in fairly sizable battles there might be a dozen of them on one side, so definitely the scale is right for legions to be the movable units, though that means a lot of the smaller battles should just be like 1 on 2, or 2 on 3.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      I’m going to keep mentioning Scourge of War: Gettysburg over and over, in terms of ways of handling huge armies realistically. Even if you’re a flying invisible deity as in previous TW games rather than a human on the field, having some kind of coarse-to-fine control over your men would be a good thing, and multiple levels of command is one solution to the problem of how to parse commands from the strategic level to the level of stabby mans.

    • DigitalEccentric says:

      To be honest, this may just be a deceptive peice of ‘promo speak’ that doesn’t mean a lot. In Empire/Napoleon an individual unit was supposed to represent an entire ‘Regiment’, so perhaps they are just making a similar shift here.

      Larger individual units that are mean’t to encompass entire legions but ultimately, as far as TW is concerned, amounts to the same thing as it always has – you have up to 20 (or 40?) units you can command on the battlefield. The scale is just different.

      Or I could be wrong and this could be a brand new army management system… who knows.

  9. Caleb367 says:

    SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY

  10. Lemming says:

    Am I the only one hoping for another series of Time Commanders out of this?

    • Ilinx says:

      You aren’t the only one. More Time Commanders!

      • BwenGun says:

        Yes! Watching that show was gloriously silly sometimes. I especially liked when they had a team of military men (I think) who failed so spectacularly when it came to tactics that I couldn’t help by bounce from shouting at the t.v. (well guffawing at it anyway, I’m English after all) and smugly looking on as their plans fell apart. =D

      • Richie Shoemaker says:

        My wife worked on that show (before I met her). I didn’t know until after we were married either. I would gladly release her from her chores if there was a second season.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Knowing ITV, they’ll report this as found footage from early Roman cameras.

    • Fincher says:

      DOCTOR ARYEH NUSBACHER

    • gunny1993 says:

      OMG iv’e been trying to remember the name of that series FOREVER, thanks so much lol. And yeah it was great although most of the people on it were think as shit

  11. bill says:

    Sounds good, but after reading the Crusader Kings diaries it seems a little personality-free. they need to make defined characters as leaders and generals, with their own history, quirks, etc…

    • Grygus says:

      The focus of the games are different so a Total War game won’t (and shouldn’t) have the depth of CK’s personalities, but to an appropriate extent, this has been in place since the original Rome.

      • Premium User Badge

        Kong says:

        just a little bit won’t hurt would it?
        ja, TW is all about commanding them units, a lttle more character would not hurt though, like in Medieval?
        sry sounds great having a legion standard. I am still fighting what is left of imperial japan :))

        Edit: yeah a little teensy bit of Crusader Kings II would not hurt. TW should have teamed up with Paradox a long time ago. A wet dream I call this vision. That is what old gamers are made of, wet visions…just kidding

  12. lordcooper says:

    I can’t wait to send a few Legions rome-ing around the countryside.

  13. varangian says:

    Gave up on TW after the disappointing Empire but this actually gets me interested again. Mind you I think it’ll be one where I’ll keep my wallet shut until the games been out for a few weeks just to make sure the ‘new, improved AI’ which I’m sure they’ll promise us doesn’t amount to ‘everyone will attack you’. Again.

  14. Dril says:

    But, and this is the big question, will they be making this as open to modding as the original and M2TW were?

    Or are modders going to be sidelined and ignored in favour of TCA DLC and micro expansions?

    • Minigrinch says:

      This and the bizarre restrictive construction system they added in Napoleon (and tested in Empire) are the reasons this is a wait and see title for me. Paris runs out of room for buildings? Dont make me laugh.

  15. Simas says:

    AFAIK Paradox are working on a new unannounced project as well, and there is a rumor it’s Rome 2 :)

    • Kandon Arc says:

      No they announced it today – it’s East vs. West a 1946-91 Hearts of Iron game made by the guys who did Arsenal of Democracy.

      • Simas says:

        I mean the real Paradox Development Studio. They are working on a new project (lots of twitter hints by devs). And my bet it’s Rome 2 or some new IP based on Dark Ages.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    That looks magnificent. I’m queueing up some appropriate music already.

  17. Calabi says:

    I bet they still havent sorted out the main problem with these games. Controlling your army.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Controlling your army works fine, it is always the shoddy AI that is the obstacle. They should really *reduce* your ability to control your army. Maybe just where you give individual commanders orders a few times, and can update them once of twice.

      More realistic and easier to have on a par with the AI.

      The more power you give the player the worse they will outperform an AI.

  18. Jimbo says:

    All of the excitement!! Now to read.

  19. Polyninja says:

    Question is; will the multiplayer campaign work this time? I’m fed up of broken promises.

  20. Wololo says:

    I want this. I just hope it won’t crash to corrupted saves like Napoleon and Shogun 2 do. Kind of kills the fun :w

  21. makute says:

    I really hope this turns to be better than the dissapointing Shogun 2. CA should show some respect to the dedication of the Europa Barbarorum II team and ask for help at the Modding Summit.

  22. mizzOUstu says:

    I don’t know why people hate on the word embiggen. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

    • Premium User Badge

      Surlywombat says:

      I won’t mind so much, but they never tell you how to debigulate.

  23. dongsweep says:

    Late next year! Poo

  24. cjlr says:

    Suprise? I think this surprised absolutely no one. 3:1 said this was the next total war game.

    And unless they liase with the Europa Barbarorum team, it still isn’t going to be anything more than good. Ah, EB, how I love you so. Taking Rome from ‘good’ to ‘mind-blowingly excellent’…

  25. rebb says:

    Form Testudo !

  26. jackflash says:

    I like the direction it sounds like they are taking this.

  27. Dorga says:

    It’s nice to see how the graffiti are written in greek :)

  28. Premium User Badge

    Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Yes.

  29. Unaco says:

    The original R:TW was my favourite of the TW games… Spent months and months playing it Vanilla, and then many, many more months playing it with the Total Realism mod. Haven’t had the time to sink into the later games, or haven’t sunk that time in yet, except for a decent Teutonic Campaign on Kingdoms… got a decent Grand campaign going in Napoleoleoleon, and started a couple in Shogun 2… but they didn’t grab me and drag me in as much as the original Rome did… Great games, but just missing that something. So I’m looking forward to this one.

    I’m also, currently, slightly obsessed with the Malazan Empire, which has definite echoes of the Roman Empire. So I’ll be hoping this is open to Modding, and we’ll see something akin to Malazan: Total War eventually. Those screenshots could easily be taken from the books.

  30. Poppis says:

    And what about modding?

  31. mate says:

    THE DAY HAS FINALLY COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    yay

  32. SirKicksalot says:

    Last time they tried to deliver an enormous and innovative game they shat out Empire, so I’m not that excited for now.
    On the other hand, it’s fucking Rome 2!

  33. Discopanda says:

    This article’s very title made me gasp, and then brought tears to my eyes.

  34. takfar says:

    Oh. My. Pantheon. Look at the size of that city! The topography! It’s everything I ever wanted out of a TW assault map. That’s all I can think of right now.

  35. Vinraith says:

    Mixed reaction. I loved Rome Total War, except that really what I loved was Rome Total Realism and Europa Barborum, and modding on that kind of scale is no longer possible with CA’s games. So I suppose, despite adoring the era, I’ll have to wait and see how broken vanilla is, and how much retooling the modders can go within the limited scope now allowed to them.

    All in all, I’m more excited about Hegemony Rome, and a little worried that CA may end up undercutting Longbow here.

    • Jimbo says:

      Hegemony was great – better than TW in some ways. I think they’re different enough to warrant playing both though, and I’d expect Hegemony: Rome to be out a good while before Rome 2.

      • Vinraith says:

        I agree completely that they’re very different, but I’m not sure how apparent that is to your average gamer shopping for a historical strategy title.

    • DiamondDog says:

      Well you’d have to hope Hegemony is released way before we see Rome II.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Exactly RTR and EB easily doubled the quality of that game. Shogun II was fun and better polished than any other CA title to date, but without those kind of robust mods I found myself tiring of it after a few campaigns and moving on to other stuff. Never did get the expansions…

  36. takfar says:

    Also, reading the article gave me a hardon.

  37. Ertard says:

    That is an awful lot of graphics.

  38. Binho says:

    Mixed reactions as well. On one hand…ROME 2!!!!!!! On the other hand, hopefully it’ll be less pop-history than vanilla Rome 1 – or at least as mod friendly, so we can have moar Europa Barbarorum and Rome Total Realism.

    • Vinraith says:

      Considering all the “story elements” stuff they’re discussing, I suspect it’ll probably be even more “pop history” than Rome 1 was, and with no way to fix it this time. We’ll see, though, I’d certainly like to be wrong about that.

      • Binho says:

        I suspect you are right on both counts. I really hope not though…

  39. ukpanik says:

    In summery, expect bigger & louder game breaking bugs.

  40. DigitalEccentric says:

    Considering how the franchise has been pretty much tied to Steam since Empire, I’d be surprised if they didn’t consider turning to Steam Workshop for their modding needs. Civilization V has just done it, after all…

  41. Premium User Badge

    fiendling says:

    Awesome!

    Rome: Total War is the Total War game I’ve put the most hours into by far, nothing else comes even close.

  42. dsch says:

    Vaguely excited, but feel CA are really just retreading old ground now when there’s so many other settings to explore.

  43. Universal Quitter says:

    Those screencaps remind me of that old American folk-saying: a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.

    A perfectly cromulent article.

  44. Premium User Badge

    Lordcrazy says:

    Alright good to see the elephants, now what about my Incendiary Pigs eh? This can’t be a proper Total War Rome without some Incendiary Pigs…

    • Vinraith says:

      I’m really hoping the keep the “Hollywood history” crap to a minimum in this one, though I think I’m likely to be disappointed.

      • BwenGun says:

        Before the original RTW there hadn’t really been a major piece of mass media focused on the time period, outside of Gladiator, for a fair while. Since then two things have changed, the first is that HBO did it’s Rome series which whilst not massively accurate did at least get the tone mostly right and didn’t indulge in the silliness factor. Secondly the most popular mods for RTW were the ones who emphasised realism.

        It may be naive, but I at least like to imagine that some of that may have rubbed off on the RTW devs. I suspect things won’t be perfect but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at the very least Egypt won’t be using units from 2,000 BCE.

        • Vinraith says:

          Well, I like your outlook. Fingers crossed.

        • Binho says:

          You mean like they did in season 2 of HBO’s Rome? :P I do love that show, but their portrayal of Egypt was as Hollywood as the rest.

          The only time I’m aware of that Hollywood depicted Hellenistic Egypt ‘realistically’ was when they showed Alexandria at the start of Alexander (the Colin Farrell one). Unfortunately, I doubt 90% of the audience would know that Alexandria was in Egypt, even if you hit them in the face with a map.

  45. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Wait, wait! Rome: Total War has only recently been ported to the mac and now this?!

    Well, I guess we’re not counting porting/release delay between pc and mac versions. Especially since most titles do not get ported at all.

    But yeah, a mac version would be nice thank you very much! What? Well, fine, then! *buggers off*

  46. TsunamiWombat says:

    The thing I remember most about Rome: Total War was getting Calvary Units despite stubbornly refusing for as long as possible as I like my slow chunky infantry.

    Then I was winning forever with just Heavy Calvary.

    Historically accurate maybe, but somewhat boring.

  47. Real Horrorshow says:

    I almost hope those pics are renders and not in game. This is going to fuck my dual core CPU to death.

  48. Ateius says:

    This looks and sounds so amazing. I do hope they drop the economic/trade system from Empire-Napoleon-Shogun like a hot rock, though.

  49. DodgyG33za says:

    I was driven to visit Carthage last year after loving playing them in TW:R. The screenie looks great – it matches my memory of the landscape to a tee.

    Although strictly speaking the sea forces were coming from a blue sea, not a black ocean.

    I really really hope they spend loads of time on the AI though. I know it isn’t easy, but if they can’t get it right they should simplify the mechanics until they can, and then build from there. I love my eye candy, but love a tough and fair fight even more.