Eyes-On: Rome II’s Teutoburg Forest

By Jim Rossignol on March 28th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.


Rome II, then. I’ve just seen The Creative Assembly’s Al Bickham playing the recently-entrailered Teutoburg Forest battle on a big screen at GDC in San Francisco. As is so often the case with viewing games from the perspective of rapidly blogged trailers and press releases, I’d previously been unable to see much of what was new or appealing about this new Total War game. I knew it was in there, of course, but these things generally only reveal themselves in the busy mess of play. Now, with an inundation of pixels having gone through my eyes, I am excited.

Tiny men are rushing to their deaths.

Bickham played through the entire set-piece battle in front of an audience of mostly bearded men, concluding as intended by getting his troops to a pre-defined objective marker. Of course it was something he had practised beforehand, but despite this, he only got a handful of soldiers out alive, and the entire battle was a nail-biting thriller, even as a spectator. Staged? Well these things tend to be, but it nevertheless plunged us face-first into an unscripted splurge of the real-time part of the game, and I was delighted with what I saw. We watched as Bickham threw the camera about, revealing events and exposing the action in a way that is only ever optional for us playing in the real world. Some of this demoing flamboyance, however, shows the extent to which CA’s forever-iterating approach to this series is etching in new layers of detail and control that we wouldn’t have even known we wanted.

The fidelity of the world is, of course, amped a few degrees up beyond what Shogun 2 was capable of. The camera cruised along the edge of a forest where the vegetation grew thicker out of the shade, and where the sunbeams dappled through the trees. Needless to say, the presentation started with a list of ever-increasing numbers listing polygons and blah blah, but the net result of that continued mining of the depths of our graphics silicon was an extraordinary beautiful forest environment, in which an hugely evocative ambush scene was played out. This, I think, was the main intention of what CA were showing here, because they returned to it several times. The battlefields will not feel like the same few valleys or plains this time. There’s a world down there.

Importantly for the campaign games these ambush scenes are set up with new mechanics. While this was a set-piece historical battle, similar encounters will be possible on the campaign map, with the ambusher gaining advantages from longer preparation for their trap, and the battles kicking off instantly with incredibly close deployment of the armies. Just as the barbarians were able to use their setup and knowledge of the terrain to butcher the real legions of history, so players are going to be playing these advantages in their own campaigns.

Bickham was able to show us exactly what the deployment of such an ambush looked like, thanks to a new overhead tactical map. This looks down on the battle and outlines various units with blocks of colour, further abstracting the busy throng of units. While the full suite of command options are not available in this mode, it is possible to order units to move, and to quickly appraise your overall situation. It should make a good addition to the game’s already extensive set of tools for the real-time battles.

There’s another reason to implement this, as I understand, which is that line of sight will now truly matter on the huge 2km x 2km maps. If your units can’t see the enemy then, while you will know where they have appeared at the start of the battle, you can’t actually peer omnisciently on their deployment. This will mean that scouting and fast-moving horse reconnaissance will be another real option when the terrain is rough and scenery obscures the battlefield’s occupants.

Back in the forest, the camera pings down to behind of the rushing legionary units. This is like a shoulder-sprint cam for an entire unit, and pulls you along like a kite dragged behind the jostling noise of armoured men rushing into combat. The audio in Total War games has stood out for a while now, but I can’t ever remember there being quite this much depth in the battle-din of the other games. I shall have to go back and listen to Shogun 2, because what we were hearing from this presentation was something else.

Perhaps the highlight for me was a point at which, about half way through the gruelling skirmish, the Romans faced off with a huge band of barbarians and their war dogs. This group waded towards the legion through thigh deep water, the dogs splash and bounding through the shallow lake as they made their way towards their target. For a game to be able to pull these sorts of moments off, at this level of detail, remains an extraordinary feat, and it’s something CA are just getting better at.

Later, as the audience of men with beards interrogated the developers, the team talks about the extent to which the enormously detailed and varied environment we’d seen in the forest – which included that lake, complete with a crude jetty, water weeds, and a rock escarpment overhead, on which a scattering Germanic archers intermittently spat flaming down onto the fleeing Romans – would underlie the campaign map. This time, they told us, we should not expect to fight the same siege three hundred times, because the world’s capacity to present these rich and realistically mixed environments was far greater, with a huge palette to draw on.

Inevitably, the questions wandered away from what we’d seen and on to the campaign part of the game that we’ve not yet been shown. There was a lot of talk of diplomacy, and the way that’s going to manifest itself in the new game. The question of how Rome will be handled as a faction – it was split into three factions, or Roman houses in the original – was addressed, with CA’s Mike Simpson saying the issue was far less defined this time. Project lead James Russell backed that up, explaining that the team wanted a more organic diplomatic challenge that the rather artificial decision of simply splitting Rome along hard faction lines.

Oh – what has happened to my Total War fatigue? Surely with this continual regurgitation of the same game I must be getting bored. But all this ancient war stuff is making me tingle. And druidic empires are possible. And so my appetite is whetted for next bit of Rome 2 that we’ll no doubt get to see. And when will that be? June, they said. Not so far away

And I realised I really was falling for Total War hype again. How do they keep doing this to me?

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65 Comments »

  1. xfrog says:

    I have a feeling that this game will be epic!

  2. Steed says:

    Soooooo looking forward to this game, defiantly a pre-purchase – probably some super hardcore edition as well (gotta have that map!), one of the few games I’m now comfortable smacking down the coin early. Any chance you could post us some secret footage of the play through? Pay you a fiver for it? :P

    Has anyone had a chance to see the campaign map yet?

    • Grape says:

      You should totally pre-purchase. Pre-purchasing is always a great idea. Especially when it’s a Total War-game, which we all know is famous for never having bugs, problems or hilariously broken bits at launch. Ever.

  3. Loyal_Viggo says:

    This looks superb, can’t wait to start burning, raping, pillaging, and playing the game.

    If it has full mod support… then Total Warhammer and The Third Age mods using this newer engine would be fan-fucking-tastic.

  4. TillEulenspiegel says:

    the huge 2km x 2km maps

    Er, didn’t we just agree when it came to SimCity that 2km x 2km is the size of a city neighborhood or perhaps a small village? Sure, maybe it’s an appropriate size for a battlefield, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly huge.

    • Jeremy says:

      4km is a pretty large area to have a battle, I think it would constitute as “huge”.

      • Brun says:

        Incoming pedantry:

        It’s huge for a historical infantry + horse cavalry + mechanical artillery battle. The size of your battlefield will be limited by the mobility of troops, which is determined by technology. Modern battles (WWII+) that include mechanized infantry and cavalry, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and long-range weapons can extend for many times that 4km^2 figure.

    • nearly says:

      do you not see how this is an apples to oranges issue?

      imagine an army on either side of the map. how long is it going to take them to meet in the middle? how fast can you run a kilometer to your death?

    • Lanfranc says:

      I would say that 2 x 2 km is probably a reasonable size for most ancient battles, but it’s rather small for the major ones – especially in the case of Teutoburg, where most of the Roman army was spread out over a column over quite a large area.

      • tormos says:

        according to Wikipedia the Roman line was between 15-20 km (9-12 in old money) long and the Germans surrounded them. However, it does pay to remember that this was a serious aberration and mistake that basically cost them the battle.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Or the Battle of Cannae, where one Wiki source estimated “Rome probably had 48,000 troops and 6,000 cavalry against Hannibal’s 35,000 troops and 10,000 cavalry.” That’s a lot of troops and cavalry to squeeze into a 2km by 2km field, any way you slice it.

        The TW games have never tried to do realistic battle scale, especially as they’ve moved in recent games to showing increasing eye candy at the level of the individual soldier. Personally, I’m okay with that, because the control and camera scheme for the TW tactical battles has always been a bit clumsy to operate. It’s hard enough with the current unit sizes and terrain area. Without a complete revamping of the UI (which I doubt they’ll do, at this point), I don’t think it scales well for historically realistic army sizes and battlefields.

        • cjlr says:

          See, that’s why you play 4 v 4 team battles, and if you’re really ambitious each team is on voice chat with a designated commander.

          Then the number of soldiers in the field is closer to 25-30000. Still less than even one side of the largest classical battles, but still way more than enough to choke most computers.

          • Gap Gen says:

            We easily got up to 25k on one side in our Scourge of War battles, but this is with Medieval: Total War graphics. I reckon you could fit that number of men into 2kmx2km, but they’re pretty packed in in the grand scheme of things. Then again, I suppose at Cannae the Romans were just in a big mob.

        • Hikkikomori says:

          In China, battles were fought with 100,000s of soldiers, since the 6th century BCE. They only grew in size later.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_battles

          You become unphased by scale when you are an oriental military history geek. Still CA seems to be growing the size of the battles with Rome 2. I’m excited.

          • belgand says:

            While Shogun was awesome and I’d love to see an updated Medieval III a medieval China setting would be excellent. I mean, Three Kingdoms seems to be the obvious choice, but there are a wealth of interesting options and it’s not as well covered (at least in a strategy game) as it could be.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      2km x 2km is huge when you are walking. Less so for horses, i suppose.

      • colw00t says:

        Horse really should spend most of their time at a slow walk, too.

      • tormos says:

        looking up the speed of Roman cavalry turned into me researching and cleaning up the Wikipedia page on Roman cavalry. I hope you’re happy that you’ve decided how i will spend my evening.

  5. moocow says:

    This was much more interesting than the drip-fed one NEW FACTION/AREA a month PR rehashes the Total War coverage had been devolving into. Hurrah!

  6. Universal Quitter says:

    Damn you, CA! How much more of my money is it going to take to satisfy you?

  7. LoopyBalls says:

    Total War fatigue, and Total War hype. Couldn’t have said either better myself. I always buy the Total War games based on the hype. I get about 10 hours of play in before the fatigue sets in.

  8. Solidstate89 says:

    Give me Seleucia, or give me death.

  9. sonson says:

    For those who are viewing this with jaded eyes after Empire Total War, Total War hype and the like, and who missed out on the series thereafter:

    As a veteran who has been playing the series since the release day of the original Shogun, CA have managed to basically solve all of the issues that held the game back from true greatness in Shogun II and Fall of the Samurai. I bought it at release, didn’t play it for two years and only picked it up to try out the capabilities of my new machine.
    To my delight I found that the series is finally as compelling and fair and real a challenge as it is pretty and epic on the battlefield, and the AI has leapt from being incredibly gamey and rank average into something clever and with a real personality. They are so good that they’re almost a whole new game in terms of what the mechanics such as diplomacy and trade and supply lines actually mean now. They are simply brilliant games, and you should play them if you haven’t.

    Even if Rome II is just a Classical retexture of Shogun II it will be an incredibly special game. In fact, I really hope that’s basically what it is.

    • Bhazor says:

      Shogun 2 is my main problem with this. Shogun 2 had a gorgeous cohesive style filled with traditional Japanese music and a just slightly stylised art style and atmosphere. Like the cherry blossoms blowing across the battlefield and the fully Japanese voice acting. This though just seems kind of generic swords and sandals. Everyone talking in standard “Hollywood Roman”, a soundtrack straight out of Ben Hur and an art style that seems content at just being realistic

      I just find it disappointing.

      • Brun says:

        I’m not sure how you could bring more “traditional Roman” culture and such into the game. In many cases the “Hollywood Roman” portrayal is actually pretty accurate – the opening battle scene in Gladiator, for example, was pretty spot on in terms of its portrayal of Roman tactics. Another point to consider – Rome’s culture was one of assimilation. The Romans were more than happy to work local customs into their own cultural landscape whenever they conquered another society. As a result it became this sort of hodgepodge of Mediterranean cultural elements.

        Keep in mind also that the society being portrayed in this game (Rome) was at its height at least 1000 years prior to the Feudal Japanese one portrayed in Shogun 2. A millenium of separation and at least one societal collapse and subsequent Dark Age have done no favors for the completeness of our present-day understanding of Roman culture.

        • Lanfranc says:

          It’s quite difficult to properly speak of “Roman culture” without more precisely defining the era you’re talking about. Sure, there were certain trends that were generally present, but Rome during the height of the Republic is a quite different place from Rome during the Principate, which is again different from the later Imperial period. So it’ll be a bit of a pastiche no matter what.

          • Brun says:

            I’m considering Roman culture at its generally-accepted “height” – so Imperial (Principate) period during the Pax Romana.

          • cjlr says:

            If the game’s timescale is the same as last time out, it’s maximally set from the mid-republic to the reign of Augustus. And I’m willing to bet nearly every game anyone ever played was over well before the time actually ran down on the campaign clock.

      • cpt_freakout says:

        I get you, but the problem with making an historical game such as this is that the sources are relatively limited in terms of how the culture actually felt like. I’m sure Japanese people now speak completely different from how they spoke five centuries ago, but since we’re not as familiar with that history it’s easier to accept a lesser degree of ‘authenticity’. Since we’ve been bombarded with the Rome theme ever since the first half of the last century, we’re pretty used to a certain aesthetic, and the problem of changing such an aesthetic comes not only from the constraints of our own vision of that history but also from the sources themselves. Japanese folk and classical music, as with everything else, has changed, but since many of the instruments and the styles are rooted in the periods portrayed in Shogun 2, it’s easier to accept that it’s more or less accurate. In turn, we have absolutely no idea how Greek or Roman music sounded like, we have not much of an idea of how their instruments were used, or the way in which those things affected the everyday peasant or patrician. It’s a lot easier to just put in a lot of brass to associate it to a certain “imperial majesty” and do a Ben Hur soundtrack than actually risk an experiment in musical archaeology. So yeah, I agree with your point, but in the end I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with until someone invents a time machine and uses it not to bring back 1995-era Cheetos but for historical research. :)

        • Brun says:

          Since we’ve been bombarded with the Rome theme ever since the first half of the last century

          Try “since the Renaissance.” The idea of Rome has been…er…romanticized in Western Culture for the past 5 or 6 centuries, at least. That’s part of the problem though as a great many non-Roman ideas have been attached to the notion of “Roman culture” by the people doing the romanticizing.

          In turn, we have absolutely no idea how Greek or Roman music sounded like, we have not much of an idea of how their instruments were used

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_roman_music

          I think Bhazor’s point was that because Rome has been such a central figure in Western culture for so long that the typical portrayal of “Roman” culture has been diluted and is not terribly accurate in particular areas (I think warfare is usually pretty accurate though, as I state above). That, in addition to existing much earlier than Feudal Japanese culture, makes it exceptionally difficult to portray accurately.

      • cjlr says:

        And then there’s the issue that, for all the diversity in 1500s Japan, you can go from Sapporo to Satsuma and stay in very much the same cultural sphere.

        Whereas here one can venture from the Ireland to the Indus. Keltoi to the Diadochoi to Qarthadastim to Skythians to the good ol’ SPQR. There IS no unifying aesthetic to adopt! And, there is no way in hell there is going to be all that much UI and minutia to discriminate between factions – it would be way to much work. Hence: blandness.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I enjoyed the cultural atmosphere in Shogun 2, but the downside is that armies and tactics are more similar among factions. Empire had a similar problem, with European factions using essentially the same army composition and tactics, with the only real difference being the color of the uniforms.

        What I enjoyed about Rome TW and Medieval 2 TW was the diversity of opposing armies — the way you’d often get these huge differences in weapons and tactics that made the game interesting. Maybe not always historically accurate (chariots, etc.), but it was still fun to throw Roman legions against phalanx-style armies, or Medieval knights against horse archer armies. Shogun 2 had cultural vibe up the wazoo, but the armies and tactics were very much alike, no matter what faction you played.

  10. Shooop says:

    This looks like all the right kinds of ambitious.

  11. amateurviking says:

    I have now re-written this comment several times because each time I tried to write something constructive it descended into incoherent excitement. So I’ve decided not to bother. I am excited is basically what I’m trying to say here. Wibble.

  12. PleasingFungus says:

    Summary:
    - Pretty graphics
    - Features that were in previous games in the series
    - More pretty graphics
    - More features that were in previous games in the series
    - Very pretty graphics
    - How will core game mechanics work? We haven’t decided yet!

    But of course I’ll probably end up getting it anyway.

    (It’d be nice if they reduced the loading times, after Shogun II, but I’m not holding my breath.)

    • cjlr says:

      You forgot the most important one:
      – Is there an AI yet?

      And of course I will also probably get it anyway. Flawed or not, Total War is very much playing on its own court – I’m hard pressed to think of any other games that play similarly. Except something like King Arthur which was a total clone, and not as good.

      • sonson says:

        The AI in Shogun 2 is genuinely very good, they managed to get it to provide a challenge while following the same laws as the player. Hopefully that will transpose to this version as well, and they haven’t just made another engine for it all.

        • 2helix4u says:

          My main memories of Shogun 2 AI were of forcing them into sieging my cities filled with archers at which point their random blob army would divide into infantry and archers who would walk into my wall of arrows (I always want TW to make my arrows deadly) and die, and cavalry who would circle the fortress until everyone died and then run away or dismount and die.

          There was an awful lot of units running around the map til my time ran out too, at least in sieges.

  13. strangeloup says:

    The key question here is in determining precisely what kind of combat benefit you get from wearing a wolf hat.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I was going to mention that it gives you a boon when stabbing your way through a building full of Scythian thugs, when I remembered that this is basically a scene from the start of the 2nd series of Rome, when the gangster dude comes out of the sauna/bath to find Pullo and Vorenus have killed his entire supply of minions.

      • strangeloup says:

        A fine answer, and also a good reminder for me to actually finish watching Rome. I can’t remember why (or, indeed, where in the series) I stopped.

        It’s a heretical opinion, I know, but the feeling I got about halfway through the first season of Game of Thrones was “this is like Rome, but not as good”. And then forgot to go back to Rome because I am absent-minded.

  14. cjlr says:

    I’m afraid my years of Europa Barbarorum has ruined me for whatever state the vanilla release of R2TW is in. And mod support ain’t what it used to be…

    • Poppis says:

      ^This.

      I am much more interested in the development of Europa Barbarorum II than anything CA is making.

      • Reapy says:

        Thank you Sir’s, I now have something to google!

        • 2helix4u says:

          I’m in the market for Rome Total Realism 2. I don’t think I played Europa or if I did it was very early on. But RTR… that is my favourite of all the total wars, something about it just clicked and all my hours were gone. FLANK FLANK FLANK.

    • TessHM says:

      There is literally nothing Europa Barbarorum did that you can’t do given a Rome map and the current level of modding support.

  15. pertusaria says:

    I’ve never played a Total War game, but this brings back happy memories of Lindsey Davis’ “Iron Hand of Mars”, where I first learned of Teutoburg. It also makes me want to get back into the “History of Rome” podcast series, which I’d been enjoying until my commuting time was needed for other things. Thanks, RPS!

  16. ShowMeTheMonkey says:

    I know I probably don’t have to say this but:

    CA is a fucking awesome company and make fucking awesome games. I’ve enjoyed every Total War game to date and hope I will continue to do so.

    (Also people really seem to dislike Empire, which is odd. As it was bloody great.)

    • Zenicetus says:

      Empire featured naval battles where a square-rigged ship could sail directly into the wind, like a slow motorboat.

      There were other reasons to dislike Empire — the battle AI, the failure of the campaign AI to deal with geography and naval invasions, etc. But for me, as someone who knows how to sail, and who considers the tactics of classic Age of Sail combat to be at least as interesting as land combat, that was a disgrace. The fact that a developer posted on one of the forums that they initially used real sailing mechanics, only to ditch it because they thought “users couldn’t handle it,” was just icing on the shit cake.

      They’re in safer historical territory now with Shogun 2 and Rome 2, because the ships are primarily driven by oars, the naval combat is coastal instead of blue water, and the wind and wave direction can be ignored. So it doesn’t matter if the boats drive around like lumbering motorboats. Wind and wave direction ideally would be a factor even in ancient naval combat, but there’s a limit to how deep you can go in a game. It’s not as glaring as ignoring Age of Sail tactics in a game set in the Age of Sail, and using the naval combat heavily in promoting the game.

      /rant

      • TessHM says:

        Honestly, I’m glad they didn’t make the naval combat in Empire even more challenging. It was a nightmare already.

        Hell, it always makes me laugh when people complain about historical accuracy. They’re making a game, not a history simulator, and a game’s number one goal is to be fun. And besides, we’ve come a long way from the Egyptians of Rome 1.

  17. Vinraith says:

    I sincerely wish I found Total War gameplay compelling, because they can certainly do historical spectacle like no one else.

  18. affenkopf says:

    Quintili Vare, legiones redde!

  19. dmastri says:

    I hated them for Empire with every fiber of my soul. That’s probably not fair; hate is such a strong word. That game was shit though. Complete and utterly devoid of character; so utterly bland. The campaign was ambitious, but pointless with an AI that couldn’t play the game. It was incapable of naval invasions. All the time they spent on creating different theaters and a world map… only to give us an AI that could never utilize it. It became your inevitable overseas steamroll to victory. Coupled with a broken battle AI it’s probably the Total War game I’ve played the least. Maybe 10 hours if you include menu time.

    As awful as Empire was it felt like a turning point. Starting with Napoleon they will brought the focus down. Do less, but better. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it laid the groundwork for Shogun 2 and the brilliant idea to bring character customization in. I’d bet there was a lot of influence from the mod scene; character customization really makes you invested. Suddenly they aren’t disposal generals; they are people, with histories, and victories, and defeats. You start to craft stories about their exploits. It’s the meat and potatoes of what a game should be: interactive! Don’t tell me a story, don’t show me a story, make me the story.

    I’m quite looking forward to this game. Let’s hope they can live up to the hype. My biggest concern with any of these Total War releases I didn’t see any mention of here… HOW IS THE AI?

  20. 4th Dimension says:

    I used to like Total War. Spent a long time playing Rome: Total War. Than Medieval total war came, and combat was suddenly MEH for me. Empire was no better.

    Since I have left TW and sailed for true historical strategic games that are made by Paradox. After those anything made by CA smells of hollywood antics.

    • 2helix4u says:

      Shogun 2 – particularily its standalones manages to un-meh the minute to minute combat but the armies are much more homogenous. Swings and roundabouts but you should maybe check it out in a Steam sale.

  21. xfrog says:

    True , Total War became more accessible to a wider audience , breaking its chains from the hardcore strategy genre (mostly by not focusing much in that direction, like working on the AI), but it did it in a very good way. If someone is a hardcore strategy gamer can look elsewhere but the immersion of the battles is something unmatched.
    That is why I prefer Rome over the most total wars. In those days battles were lead by the Stratigos, the leader of the army, so it feels perfect to play the battle while for a more recent theater of war I prefer Hearts of Iron for instance where armies have commanders in the command room that do not go to battle.

  22. Boosterh says:

    Although I am eagerly anticipating being able to play this, I am a little worried about the direction the company is heading. As much as I love the games, I don’t want the company to just rehash the same four settings. You have a devoted fanbase, willing to buy anything with the TW logo, you have one of the better battle systems on the market, so let’s go somewhere new. I hope we see TW China or TW India after Rome. I don’t want to completely supplant the classic settings (they are classics for a reason), but lets branch out a bit.

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