Wot I Think: Total War – Rome II

By Adam Smith on September 2nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

I’ve been waiting for Total War: Rome II for a long time. My fondest memories of the series are still tied up in the original Rome, despite all that has happened since, and now that the sequel is finally here, I’ve immersed myself in its world. Was it love at second sight or the end of an era? Here’s wot I think. It’s complicated.

To understand Rome II’s place in the tiers of Total War, it’s useful to look at three previous titles: the original Rome, Shogun 2 and Empire. Aside from the occasional bout of voice acting that sounds more suited to a Master of Orion sequel than the classical era, Rome II captures the essence of its period as well as any of the Total War games ever have. It is, as ever, an idea of history, as opposed to a recreation. As Creative Assembly studio director Michael Simpson told us last month on the topic of historical accuracy, “we tend toward the Hollywood end of the scale…hopefully we’re somewhere between the two though.”

The Hollywood tendency is clear, but it’s one of the game’s strengths. Roman generals lead their men into battle raging against the otherness of their enemies, their words as savage as swords. They are the clear model of the later imperial forces that they inspired – the boulevard of inspiration and allusion weaves long, and in both directions. I was simultaneously battle-hyped and repulsed when my oldest general, a grizzled stack of scar tissue wrapped in his lorica squamata, merrily ordered his men to slaughter their Celtic opponents, describing them as upright pigs rather than men. They’re a terrifying prospect, the Romans, and are the natural starting point for a first campaign, being centrally positioned and easy to handle.

All of that is to say that Rome II does good Romans, which is a fine starting point. Aesthetically, it’s as pleasing as a pitcher of punch. The music reaches out from an imagined past, tranquil at times and with a melancholy centre that is in keeping with both the toll of war and the knowledge that whatever empire is forged will inevitably decline and fall. The individual narratives, of legions and of leaders, are the fine stitching that finishes the tapestry, but it’s here that the imperfections start to appear.

Viewed from afar, Rome II is delightful. Its individual parts appear to form a cohesive, beautiful and rewarding whole. It’s a formula we know – Total War’s usual mix of advanced Risk-like strategic shuffling twinned with large scale real-time combat – and Shogun 2 was, in many ways, the best example of that formula. To an extent, the choice of era and place informed the structure. A streamlined approach for a more secluded setting.

For the return to Japan, the scale of Empire was abandoned, but much of the scrappiness was jettisoned along with it. Shogun did less but almost every aspect that carried over was improved. Where Empire scattered its shot far and wide, creating something of a mess, Shogun 2 was focused, which made for a stronger game and conveniently left space for Fall of the Samurai, which was an excellent expansion. Sadly, Rome II has taken on board some of Empire’s vices and, while it is in many ways an exceptionally well-crafted game, it is a misstep of sorts. Engage the Irony Alarm – Rome II is a game that reaches too far and wide, creaking under its own weight.

It’s an enormous game and a far more open experience than the original Rome, with several factions to choose from even without magical preorder DLC. Starting in different parts of the world does offer much changed experiences. The most obvious challenge is understanding the ways that diplomacy and the power rankings of neighbours, and their neighbours in turn, influences the geography of your particular faction’s surroundings. Rome is capable of bullying most other factions and begins the game at war with its northern neighbour. It’s a war that is extremely difficult to lose, allowing immediate consolidation of territory.

Expansion is handled elegantly. A faction’s overall strength, fame and influence in the world determines how many armies, armadas and agents it can field at any one time. Rather than being solely tied to the number of regions owned, power is now concentrated in provinces, which are made up of a bundle of regions. They’re a little like continents in Risk, the grouping effect creating new strategic decisions. It can be worth chipping one region from an enemy’s province and to then defend the settlement there rather than advancing, knowing that breaking up the provincial claim weakens and frustrates.

The province system also allows for more interesting decision-making in regards to construction. Each region contains a settlement, which can support a number of buildings or developmental areas, such as farms or training grounds. I develop Rome as a military centre of excellence, always sending my legions there to recruit new members and maintaining it as a sort of Death Fortress par excellence. This does mean that the province’s food and cash reserves mostly come from elsewhere, so the coastal cities are essentially fish factories. They’re great scaly unpleasantries where everybody is unhappy because of the stench and the high probability of slipping on fish guts while walking down the street.

I find it useful to have a centralised military production centre but, playing as the Iceni, I experimented with different strategies, making each settlement a more balanced model rather than a specialised unit. It’s a viable tactic and means that any loss has a lesser impact. The risk with my Roman model is that any invaders knocking out a single region could cause a ripple effect, severely disrupting the capital by cutting off its supply of food or labour. Cities can essentially be respecced, by demolishing the contents of an area and replacing them, but it’s an expensive and time-consuming habit.

There’s also the possibility of slums appearing if a province is mismanaged. They occupy a slot, preventing the construction of anything more useful, and there’s a penalty for demolishing them. On the whole, the regional management aspect of the game has probably seen the most improvement since Shogun 2. It effectively asks the player to think intelligently, to plan long-term and to provide their growing empire with character and guile. It’s also fairly easy to grasp, although the game does have a tendency to present features without explaining them. There are the usual guides, nattering away and tutoring as screens are opened for the first time, but at several points I realised I understood what the information on the screen represented, but not the intricacies of each individual number or icon. The tool tips are your friend in these situations.

That’s the best of Rome then. Oh, and the spectacle of the battles, I suppose. But it’s the military side, the Total Wars as it were, that disappoints. I’ll stress again here – in many ways, Rome II is a splendid piece of work and I’ll spend many more hours with it. Perhaps it never could live up to the expectation: it’s the perfect period for this game and it really is an incredibly attractive, occasionally awe-inspiring, take on that period. The battles though, and the management of armies and generals, don’t quite live up to their own sense of scale, and of time and place.

Part of that is the AI. It’s a rod that the series has been poked and prodded with since Rodney Rogers invention of the rod. It rarely offers a challenge and most of my losses were due to my own errors or a futile assault on an easily defensible position. The main problem is that the computer’s armies generally react to the player’s decisions rather than acting on their own. Eventually, those reactions become predictable and even though there’s a fantastically generous offering of unit types, their presence on the field rarely causes a surprise or innovation. There are exceptions – chiefly the elephants which are every bit as rage-filled and entertaining as I’d hoped – but my tactics haven’t changed much since the original Rome, which may well suggest that the AI hasn’t either.

Combined land and naval assaults are the best use for ships, with ordinary naval combat a glorious spectacle that requires no real intellectual investment. At first, my fleets always seemed to lose, even when I was fighting weaker opposition, but as soon as I recognised the importance of boarding actions and the actual unit types ON the ships, I turned the tide in my favour. Even though watching ships break into bits is excellent entertainment, I tend to autoresolve ship-to-ship combat now.

When there are ships approaching the harbour of a besieged town just as the final assault begins, their lack of versatility is less of a problem. Crushing enemies between two attacking forces is extremely satisfying, although it’s telling that the actual cleverness of such a movement occurs on the strategic map rather than during the combat itself.

It’s unfortunate that the chances to carry out such movements is rare. The map is huge but limited, presented as a series of corridors between forests and mountains rather than an open place. There’s an obvious benefit – it’s much easier for the developers, and indeed players, to control the flow of armies, making blockades, ambushes and tactical retreats far more common than they might be otherwise. The world does feel more cramped than I would have liked though. All roads may eventually lead to Rome, but there are only a couple leading out of it.

There is a clever innovation regarding army movement. The addition of stances allows troops to gain extra speed, or set themselves up for a Teutoburg-type ambush-massacre. There are pros and cons to each stance, of course, and the way that they alter the opening of combat on the tactical map is impressive.

Sadly, the development of armies and generals, as characters and historic fighting units, isn’t as deep as early signs had promised. The choices of upgrade, as both the unit and its leader level up independently, are simple, a choice between better swords or better armour for example. They don’t make a great deal of sense as period flavour, which the game otherwise handles superbly, nor do they significantly add to the complexity of player strategy. The general’s retinue is also problematic. It manifests as an accompanying character or item, adding bonuses, but after a few turns there are often so many spares to select from that they feel like a hassle rather than a rare reward.

I loaded up the game just now and toyed with a saved game. Currently, I’m trying to build a Celtic empire, preparing to take on the rapidly expanding AI Rome. The AI is effective and exciting to engage with on the strategic level, creating odd and unlikely scenarios as factions often do the unexpected, leading to strange alliances. The world is wonderfully changeable, although in the later game the wait between turns increases as the complexity of the political situation develops.

When I’m playing, provided no bugs are on show (a large patch over the weekend fixed the two major issues I’d personally encountered but I’ve heard talk of more, including crashes), I find myself falling back in love very quickly. It’s afterwards, when I’m no longer gazing into its eyes, that I question that love. The battles are exquisite, with enough flash to inspire a panegyric, and there’s enough variety in the mid- and late-game to make the repetitive opening moves worth enduring. But the opening stages are repetitive and the battles are, despite the pleasure of them, eventually lacking in variety and substance.

If Rome II were a gladiator, it would enter the arena as pyrotechnics flared and trumpets blared. Clad in the most beautiful armour in creation, it is the promised one, destined for greatness. Later in the day, having overcome many opponents, it would finally fall, its final opponent holding a sword to its throat. Watching on, only a very cruel emperor would point his thumb murder-wards. It deserves its victories but it’s hard not to think that if the armour it wore were less ornate, lighter and more flexible, then it may never have fallen at all.

Total War: Rome II is out tomorrow. Multiplayer was functional during the review period but if we do test it fully, it’ll be when the game is released so as to see how it works in the wild.

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195 Comments »

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Top comments

  1. Natdaprat says:

    It has sudden but inevitable hard truths. Predictable AI being the chief concern.
  1. John Connor says:

    What are the loadtimes like? Shogun 2 was unplayable without endless autoresolves later on, even with an SSD.

    • casshern09 says:

      I can tell you they are much quicker than Shogun 2. (I reviewed the game also)

      • John Connor says:

        What was the average loadtime for the battles?

        • Jockie says:

          Load times are alright, but it’s ponderous between turns when calculating AI moves (over a minute late campaign). I moved it to an SSD to see if it helped and it didn’t really.

          • UncleLou says:

            A minute? Seriously? :-(

            I often find Civ V beyond my tolerance, but that’s, what, 20 seconds maybe.

          • Jockie says:

            Well, a minute if you turn off ‘Show AI moves’. Waaaaay longer if you don’t.

          • Brad B says:

            I have to agree 10 turns in with AI moves turned off (which means I failed a mission since I didnt see where an army I was supposed to destroy went.) and I want to end it all. How they launched with the current setup is beyond me.

            I was “wishfully” thinking this review was too harsh, but it almost doesn’t do justice to the fact that this is a huge step backward. The interface is highly frustrating, management of things like edicts are hard to figure out. It won’t let you end a turn unless you upgrade XYZ person, but it doesn’t link you to that person you have to memorize their names and remember their location or go hunting to find the correct general to upgrade.

            Sadly this was just a huge miss by CA. :(

          • Odessa14 says:

            I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it.
            Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,

            W­W­W.C­N­N­1­3.C­O­M

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      wengart says:

      If you ditch all the graphics settings load times, even in the late game, are only 10 seconds or so at most. I’m talking about Shogun 2 btw.

  2. Craphex says:

    Stopped reading at ‘Here’s wot I think.’
    Then noticed ‘Wot I think:’ in the title.
    Then ‘Wot you want to say:’ above this comment box.

    The hell’s that all about?

  3. Natdaprat says:

    Posted exactly 2pm, the precise moment the review embargo ended. I love you, RPS.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      And wot a wonderful read ! Mr. Adam Smith, I congratulate you and name you Master Adam Wordsmith.

      Too bad the likes of you don’t write WH40K novels. Please do. I plea.

    • Hunchback says:

      My bet is, the post was written long ago and scheduled to publish at 2pm…

  4. sonson says:

    So improved Strategic map but battles a bit simplistic then. If so then I’m happy, this is the way I want the series to move and seemed to be on the cards after Shogun 2.

    The excitement, drama and hope for challenge always came from the map for me, they were the origins of a narrative not the battles, which were just beautiful icing on the cake and haven’t really changed much, or in my opinion, needed to. It’s all about the fusion of the two, and from the sound of it the battles remain engaging and beautiful if simplistic, and the element which has long been the Achilles heel (lol) continues to improve.

    As much as it would be nice to play a better battle AI I feel TW still holds most of the cards here. 4x Strategy games offer next to nothing in terms of combat simulation, and when they do it’s rarely a masterful lesson in military brilliance; and then of course you have solid wargames, which have none of the strategic map element and which are entirely about battle AI, and nothing more, usually conducted on a turn by turn rather than real time basis. The battles have always been about watching the result of your mobilisation and conquest play out, something which no game offered at the release of Shogun and very few have attempted since, and while it’s nice to encounter a challenge when it happens that is very much a secondary purpose.

    It’s easy to suggest TW is poor (which Adam doesn’t, just to clarify, am talking to detractors that usually pop up here) because it’s not brilliant on both counts of what it does, but the amount of games which can offer a credible realisation of that hope/demand are conspicuous by their absence. The TW series is unique, and in doing what it does it has no challengers whatsoever.

    That’s also what lots of people have been asking for now for some time, from the community. Better campaign experience, just tinker with the battles.

    • zachforrest says:

      Achilles’ Heel. lol

    • surethingbud says:

      Just look at the Teutoberg Forest clip. That’s better than an action movie, for special effects. The over the shoulder camera view of the troops racing for the exit at the end is awesome.

      • 2helix4u says:

        ATTENTION PROSPECTIVE BUYER:

        For me and seemingly plenty of other people this game does not work at all.

        Some people have no problems but it seems to be luck of the draw.
        Their fancy superfluous new launcher does not work for some people, meaning none of us can play the game since it does not have an independent exe for a workaround.

        Also CTD at the opening logos for some people.

        Also CTD while ending turn/declaring war for some people.

        There are also huge amounts of graphical bugs for other people but frankly I envy them at the moment.

        Don’t buy for at least a week, its not worth downloading 19GB only to have no functionality and terrible support.

        Apparently for one person the game CTD’d then formatted their hard-drive, if true then that is an oldschool proper bug CA managed to slip in there.

    • MasterDex says:

      For me, vanilla Total War has become something of a scaffold. I’ll play it as CA intended for a while but once the mods and conversions start coming out, I start checking them out. I think that’s how quite a few people in CA think as well – Give gamers the best we can do with the time and money we have, leave it somewhat open to modification then sit back as the community tweaks it to their preferences.

      Granted the AI isn’t going to change dramatically but the community does have the ability to improve the NPC’s behaviour in battle somewhat or better highlight the strengths and weaknesses of particular units by modifying stats.

      The sad fact of the matter, I think, is that Total War has always tried to be two games in one – a 4x strategy and a real-time battle simulator. You have to find a good balance between making the best grand strategy game you can and the best battle simulator you can so on either end of the scale, especially if shiny graphics are another priority, you’re going to have to make concessions. And honestly, I think the battle AI is an obvious choice for such a concession. After all, how many of us play each battle while we conquer the world? Most of us play the first few, maybe a few here and there mid-game and maybe a couple at the end-game that look like they could be extra interesting. The rest get auto-resolved and those resolutions are based on stats rather than battle AI.

      Personally, it’s the diplomacy AI I’ve always had a problem with.
      ‘What did you say, you meagre destitute nation?’ Do you not see those legions flying my flag surrounding your one city? Become a protectorate or I will crush you under heel’.
      ‘It is a shame we cannot agree on the terms. My lord wishes you good day.’
      BAM – Nation Destroyed. -_- Diplomacy rocks! I better keep using it despite it not being of any real use!

      • gunny1993 says:

        It’s certainly a “jack of all trades, master of none type game” and I’m definitely worried about the battles being repetitive (Although I shall have to see for myself). Because for me, the best part about all TW games is the balance between battles and campaign map, for instance some days I feel like playing every single battle to maximize my victories or minimize my losses, some days i don’t. What I love is that I can do both things inside one game and I’m certainly willing to give up hope of getting magic AI that are better than me to have that.

      • Reefpirate says:

        To be fair, that diplomacy you described does seem somewhat realistic depending on which historical event you’re looking at…

        I’m almost done listening to Dan Carlin’s Wrath of the Khans, and according to him that is exactly how a lot of Ghengis Khan’s, and his successors, diplomatic talks went:

        GK: Surrender or die, we already own the whole world you just live in it for now.

        Russian city: Fuck off!

        GK: *sigh* Ok fine…

        And then his 1000 siege engines and 100,00 troops storm the tiny little city that never really had a chance.

  5. gunny1993 says:

    Well wasn’t really expecting them to have mastered the art of hyper complex AI. Time to jack the difficulty up and have fun.

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      Gap Gen says:

      I think for me there’s a difference between fighting a smart AI and fighting an artificially advantaged one. I prefer losing to an AI that has read the balance of power better than me rather than an idiot who was given a bigger stick than me.

      • gunny1993 says:

        The only time I really notice (in shogun 2) that the AI was being artificially advantaged was in the campaign map, where AI just pulled armies out of their ass, that pissed me off a lot.

        In the battle map I never really notice it (i play on hard), so even if they are being artificially advantaged it doesn’t matter as i don’t notice.

        Quite frankly if I want to play a game with really good campaign map AI, I play a Paradox game, if i want to play a game that has good battle AI I play …… well i don’t really know any other games with this kind of battle map….. Point being, TW is a jack of all trades and master of none, but this doesn’t preclude it from being really fun.

        • nimrod123 says:

          the guys on the paradox forum would LOL at the suggestion the AI is good.

          its all they bitch about

          • gunny1993 says:

            People on the internet bitching about bad AI?

            NOOOOO FUCKING WAY

            [end sarcasm]

            AI is bad because computers are fucking shitty compared to human brains, AI will continue to be bad for a long ass time.

          • nimrod123 says:

            as i have repeatdly tried to expain.

            then again it think about 90% if people that bitch in the comments have no idea how coding, QA or project managment work

          • gunny1993 says:

            You’d think people would at least try to comprehend the difficulties behind it, i know jack all about coding but it seems fairly logical to me that AI in these types of games is always going to be hard.

            I mean it took a supercomputer and years of programming to beat the best human chess player, and chess is far simpler in mathematical terms that a strategy game.

          • mike2R says:

            Although Johan (big cheese of Paradox) seems to think he can do it better:

            Post 4 in this thread is from him:

            Sorry, I don’t have time to talk about our AI atm, but I was not aware of there being an AI in Empire Total War.

            Edit: post 40 is from a less than pleased Creative Assembly guy, then getting the following from Johan in post 41.

            Sorry.

            Just was irritated after paying for the game at releasedate and basically winning every single battle first try.

            Then having the AI being unable to build armies that were challenging (even if you had no clue about the gamemechanics, which the manual did not explain.)

            Basically I was able to knock out denmark in 1 year as Sweden by just marching the troops i had at start to christiania and kobenhavn.

            It felt like “build something random, and move armies randomly at weak positions”. The AI in eu1 was a bigger challenge and that one could not handle more than 2 targets per country.

            We’ve been slaughtered for bad ai in games as well, but I’d expect that if you got a budget over 1M USD you’d be able to have at least 1 guy at AI for a year

          • nimrod123 says:

            that was a fair critique, ETW didn’t have anyone on AI after the original guy quit, that was almost 6 months apparently. when they spend more on a trailer then PDS does on a game, the piss deserves to be taken.

            of course then PDS released HOI3, which was… not so good.

            they seem to have learned though, as CK2 and EU4 are completely playable on release, with only some balance issues that don’t show up until you have 100,000 test games going

            EDIT: also that thread is from 2009

          • gunny1993 says:

            Empire had some terrible AI, this is known. But tbf it was a totally new venue for those guy (guns change tactics a hell of a lot) as can be seen from the dramatic improvements in AI with napoleon and the “fall of the samurai”

            And when you split your budget between campaign AI, Battle AI and fancy graphics (Something i wish they would cut down on) you’re going to end up with sup par in all corners.

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            Zephro says:

            Huh? Napoleon and Fall of the Samurai do not have dramatically better AI, they just have bug fixed AI which is mediocre. It’s still entirely happy to send cavalry on a headlong charge, unsupported by anything into cannon fire. Still perfectly happy to sit around getting mangled by artillery (the thing the AI really can’t cope with).

            The lining up and firing muskets the AI in Empire was basically fine at.

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            gunny1993 says:
            i know jack all about coding but it seems fairly logical to me that AI in these types of games is always going to be hard.

            Pretty much. I’m not a big coding guru, by any means, but I’ve tinkered with some minimal AI routines in Unity in a 3/4 overhead shooter, and even mundane AI tasking is difficult. Although I did feel pretty smart when I was able to cut an AI routine’s overhead down drastically by altering its movement path with a geometric curve rather than pinging location to stay away from a target.

            (the AI is meant to move from one location from a player’s perimeter to random location in the player’s perimeter. the geometric curve means that I don’t have to poll the enemy object’s location to ensure that it is a distance away from the player object, I just need to tell it to go to a new location, alter its straight path into a curved one using a formula, and now the enemy will move in a circular arc around the player to his new location with a lot less overhead!)

            nimrod123 says:
            then again it think about 90% if people that bitch in the comments have no idea how coding, QA or project managment work.

            I’ve tried to explain to people before, in games like L4D2, that the AI doesn’t really decide where it wants to go in the map. There is hidden pathing that shows the bots “hey, you can go here, or here, etc.” They basically just follow, within distance, of the players and move about on the map in designated locations where they are told that they can walk.

            One of the biggest complaints I see regarding the L4D2 AI is that they don’t throw molotovs, pipes, etc. The reason for this is quite simple once you begin to think about it. How is the AI gong to know when to throw a molotov and not throw it somewhere that will mess up the game, teamkill anyone, etc? The simple act of throwing a molotov rapidly escalates into a very complex series of logic gates that need a wide array of inputs. There’s ways around it, some easier (and less AI-oriented), but none are ever going to be all that good and you have to wonder if it’s worth going through a ton of effort just to get the AI to be able to very poorly throw molotovs and potentially ruin people’s games?

            And this is just for the AI in a rather simple-controls FPS game. When you start throwing in grand strategy elements, you’re talking about some rather complex AI routines. Which isn’t to say that the quoted Paradox head doesn’t have a valid point (he certainly does and it would greatly benefit CA to focus on their AI dept. for their next release, rather than upscaling their GFX), nor that I’m trying to say, “if you can’t do it then you can’t criticize.” Pitiful AI should be criticized, especially when it is game-breaking, such as the British invincibility in Empire due to the AI not being able to siege land via navy. However, I think people do need to realize how much effort goes into making even mediocre AI and how complex AI needs to be for even the most basic elements of the various gameplay elements in a Total War game.

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            Zephro says:

            Pathing algorithms are fiddly but basically well understood, they’re still normally a variant of A* which dates back to the 60s, Dilkstra’s which it is based on is from the 50s. They’re graph traversal algorithms so pretty general purpose. They’re not what you’d be using for strategy AI of course. But it’s surprising how often games go out with flaws in the pathfinding that cause agents to run around in circles.

            Still I find it easier to understand than shaders and what most graphics programmers say.

            You’ll find though that the graphics teams on your average game outnumber the AI programmers by a significant factor. If they even have an AI programmer, they often just get “gameplay” programmers to do it as an extra job (probably less on a strategy game, never worked on one).

            Anyway you’d think the criticism is that every iteration of TW the graphics get several times better and the AI seems to stay the same. I think most TW fans would be happy with a game that looks like the last iteration but plays much better AI wise. Which is a fair criticism and not really related to the difficulty of the algorithms themselves.

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          Gap Gen says:

          Oh yeah, I accept this, and that there were reasons why Empire’s AI was flawed (personnel left, etc). I was also fairly happy with Shogun 2’s AI, although I didn’t get a great sense of what the AI was thinking at a given time. I also accept that patches often improve matters (or at least fix obviously broken things, like sea invasions). But yes, good AI is hard to do, especially in a complex grand strategy game. One thing I would like that I feel is missing from most TW games is a better alliance system – it’s often very hard in a lot of 4X games to make genuine alliances and play the realpolitik game properly, since the AI will often refuse your advances up-front either because you’re too weak or too powerful.

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            Zephro says:

            Scourge of War? Considering the lack of resources that AI handles pitched battles pretty well. I suspect that’s down to the game mechanics of fog of war and chain of command being supported very fundamentally.

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            Gap Gen says:

            Scourge of War’s AI is a bit spotty once you play it a lot – for example, it can’t handle moving its units in sync very well, resulting in regiments milling about as they move into combat. If you play as a division or corps, you spot the AI being a bit useless with its regiments a lot. But yeah, it’s pretty decent given the size of the company that made it.

            In any case, I don’t particularly mind the Total War battle AI – my main problem is with the campaign AI seeming to make poor decisions a lot of the time and failing to understand how to tip the balance of power in its own favour.

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            Zephro says:

            Yeah it gets out of formation a bit. But it seems to understand probes and scouting etc. Also withdrawing instead of collapsing completely. So I’d still say it’s a bit more intelligent than Total Wars.

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            Gap Gen says:

            Agreed. I think I also prefer the layout of the game, with the battles giving you time to think and plan, rather than being over in a matter of minutes or seconds once your regiments close, and with more space and scope for tactics. (Not to say TW is a significantly worse game – it just has a different scope, and is more lightweight by design. That said, I wouldn’t mind if Empire had a tenth of the battles if they were all like Scourge of War.)

            Incidentally, we should play again sometime. Maybe this weekend?

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            Zephro says:

            Possibly! Maybe on Sunday I know I’m busy Friday and Saturday though.

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            Gap Gen says:

            Sunday should be ok. Ping me/Monty/whoever else on steam I guess.

        • sonson says:

          Both CA and Paradox have a lot to learn from each other. TW is too easy but Paradox seem to confuse challenge with impenetrability. Once you get round the frankly appalling UI theres little challenge when you’re on an equal footing, just as with TW.

          Up to CK2 I never played a Paradox game which didn’t play like a terraformed spreadsheet. No personality or Identity to speak of. You play machines and calculations in Paradox games. You don’t get out thought, they just process elements better. I wouldn’t call that good AI.

          • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

            I agree, Paradox games have a whole other set of faults which ultimately lead me to the opinion TW games are simply more fun to play.

            They could certainly do with pinching a few ideas from eachother.

    • dagudman says:

      But the problem is what the difficulty changes. If it just gives the AI more armour and damage, then that is cheap, and that is probably what it does, like in many other games, rather than making the AI more smarterer.

  6. Awesumo says:

    I’m not going to read this – instead I’ll opt to stare once more at the time till release counter on Steam.

    • Natdaprat says:

      It has sudden but inevitable hard truths. Predictable AI being the chief concern.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Smash his excitement to pieces!

      • Premium User Badge

        drewski says:

        I dunno, I kinda feel like if you’re expecting good AI from a CA game, you’ve got the wrong end of the horse. I mean, they’re up to what, their 9th or 10th “fooled you”* time now?

        CA games have crappy AI, it’s almost a feature now.

        *not necessarily you specifically

  7. Aibrys says:

    I feel the problems that you have stated with the actual battle aspects have, in reality, always been apart of the TW series. And although the AI has never been great, the multiplayer experience has always made up for it.

  8. Bostec says:

    Same old same old I think. Going to wait 6 months for the price decrease and the waves of patches before I take another look at it. Good review.

    • MrWolf says:

      Indeed. This plus a handful of inevitable DLC will make an excellent Steam Holiday Sale purchase, methinks.

  9. SaintElmo says:

    How does it compare to EUIV on the ‘grand-strategy’ scale?

    • gunny1993 says:

      Probably not at all, given that paradox games focus on grand strategy.

      • SaintElmo says:

        You could argue that the mapmode in TW: Rome 2 also focuses on grand strategy. And from what I am reading here, this was the part that had the major overhauls and seemed like the ‘most fun’. Hence, the question :)

        • gunny1993 says:

          Well yeah, but there’s still a lot of resources that will have gone into battles. It’s not really fair to compare a jack of all trades to a master of the art.

          But i guess you could still get a reasonable measure of the game from that, fair enough.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      One thing that would make or break this game for me is if the diplomacy AI is good. Shogun 2 was promising, but earlier TW games had frustratingly random AI – they’d declare war on you for no discernible reason, then refuse to make peace when they were clearly being kerb-stomped. It’s more the idiot cousin of Wilhelm II than a hard-nosed realpolitiker after Bismarck. The only time I really felt like I was losing slowly was when I played as the Ottomans and was beset on all sides while I was fighting line infantry with skirmishers* and my economy was in the toilet.

      *I incidentally never figured out how to trigger the Ottoman military reform.

      • SaintElmo says:

        That is exactly what I was thinking… how transparent are diplomatic relations? This is one of the major elements in Paradox games, so I wonder if Rome 2 took some of those ideas for the mapmode?

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          Gap Gen says:

          I think a big thing that’s often missing is telegraphing why certain actions are made. So maybe it made sense that your long-time ally suddenly backstabbed you even though it meant they lost most of their empire in the ensuing war, but it would be nice to have a sense of why they did it. I remember reading an article about FPS AI, and how making the enemies say “I’m flanking!” before they break cover and get shot means that the enemies look more tactical and less stupid.

          • gunny1993 says:

            You mean like if they put something in where if a clan betrayed you and was later destroyed, some kind of text would tell you the betrayed you for another clan, which subsequently left them out on their ass?

            Or told you some reason (even if it was false) for their disaffection?

            That would probably be a good idea.

          • nimrod123 says:

            so like the EUIV AI, where it tells you the weightings on its actions in a range of -200 – +200

          • Premium User Badge

            Gap Gen says:

            Or if for example in the diplomacy screen you proposed an alliance and they said more than the stock “we don’t like you” text to reject you, instead citing conflicts of interest or existing grievances that can be worked on. Alternatively, you could hire advisers that help you read the enemy AI’s actions, with the better ones (combined with better spy networks) revealing more of the AI’s thoughts in text.

            I wonder if a lot of strategy game AI assumes that international diplomacy is based along the lines of different countries pissing each other off, rather than it being a game of trying to improve your own security by tipping the balance of power in your favour. After all, Lord Palmerston said “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests,” which I think is the cornerstone of how diplomacy in games should work. Nations read how powerful you are and how powerful you are likely to be, and try to figure out whether you have conflicting interests, then ally with you against states that are a threat to their interests, or vice versa. Geography is also important – if you’re Switzerland you’re never going to be a great power, but you can rely on difficult terrain and guerilla warfare opportunities dissuading armies from invading you. Meanwhile, sometimes violent, risky and ultimately failed attacks can be read as a state reading the writing on the wall and trying to take out a rising power before they paint the world their colour (see Germany in the 20th century or Japan in WWII, although both of those were also partly down to hot-headed militaristic types co-opting government).

            Another thing (and yes I realise this is a huge text dump, sorry) is that wars should be more limited (and yes, this is Total War but eh). States should try to gain certain objectives or slap you down to size, suing for reasonable peace terms rather than uselessly fighting until you inevitably crush them.

          • gunny1993 says:

            Really need to have a proper play of some Paradox titles so i can compare them with more clarity, recently bought CK2, unfortunately i’m 600 miles from my gaming PC and wont be back to it for a month, so i’m gona have to wait for both CK2 and Rome 2

            Then i can decide whether to get EU4 or not

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            Zephro says:

            I think Paradox have learnt that the most important thing is actually explaining the AI to you. Their strategy UIs these days are wonders. An exact breakdown of all the reasons the AI may think this or that about you. So you can actually plan and form strategy about how to shape things. Rather than everything just being apparently random.

          • MasterDex says:

            Agreed, Zephro. Total War might give a small indication of why an AI dislikes you or won’t sign that trade agreement (religious differences, allied with an enemy, etc) but Paradox really go a step further with their systems and it’s clear that there are more factors at work when conducting diplomacy.

            Another factor of diplomacy that I think both Paradox (excluding EU4 as I’ve yet to play it) and Creative Assembly fail to properly acknowledge is the importance of mercantile interests in diplomatic endeavours, especially in the Old World. If the stocks of iron, lead or tin, etc available to a nation start drying up because of protracted wars and an ever increasing demand for weapons then that nation is going to want to seek out more stock. If they can’t get it through trade then they’ll have to go to war for it, further increasing their need for the mineral thus further compounding the problem.

            In TW games, commodities rarely mean more than more cash and the only difference between one commodity and another is value.

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            drewski says:

            I think CA generally want to avoid as much as possible the obviously gamey things like a rating out of 400 for how much someone likes you.

            There could be a mechanic where you get a spy report on why someone has declared war on you or some other feedback as to how the AI is feeling about you.

      • sonson says:

        Civ V and Shogun 2 have been displaying that info for the past three years, I think before any Paradox game. Empire TW displayed it on fact.

  10. Premium User Badge

    DarkLiberator says:

    Seems like what I expected. It’ll be another time killer.

  11. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    But, are you entertained?

  12. Premium User Badge

    Fiyenyaa says:

    Ohmanohmanohman.
    This review seems pretty on the money; and it also means I’m so, *so* excited. Frankly, as a tactical dunce I don’t care about having amazing AI in the battles and I always loved the strategic elements of total war more. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

  13. Vinraith says:

    Pretty much exactly what I expected, another TW game in every sense. I bet the campaign co-op is even broken in the same way it is in Shogun 2 and Nappy.

    For once, I’m learning my lesson and not getting sucked in by spectacle, I’ve bought the same mediocre game in a different pretty wrapper from CA one too many times.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Co-op campaign in shogun was fine in all the games of it i’ve played, literally never had a problem that wasn’t easily solved in game.

      • Vinraith says:

        You’ve been very fortunate, then. The desyncs and savegame corruption bugs are fairly infamous.

        • gunny1993 says:

          I do recall that happening when the game was released, but last couple of times I played with my buddy we had a good 100 turns of no problems whatsoever in that regard.

          They probably fixed it.

          And it was never as bad as say, Civ 5.

          • Vinraith says:

            That would be excellent news, if true. I’ve always wondered if these things would hold my attention better in co-op. They’re very “beer and pretzels” strategy titles, and those tend to work better with friends.

          • gunny1993 says:

            It is funny to try and screw over the AI by waging a proxy war.

            Me and my buddy had a campaign on rise of the samurai where we were “at war” … essentially what that meant was he got all the trade routes and alliances, giving him massive amounts of money with no army to sap his funds.

            With all this money he funded all my massive armies which i used to take over Japan …. was very amusing.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Hey Vin, they definitely do. I had the same desync problems with shogun but they’ve been totally fixed now. Me and my friends have been playing happily for very very many hours and it is truly the most wonderful MP experience I think I’ve had.

        • Veeskers says:

          I did a bit of campaign co-op in Shogun 2, and did encounter what appeared to be a desynch/save issue that was basically ruining the game. It was solved rather easily by sending my save file to the other fellow, so presumably we were synched again.
          The necessary save data for both players is contained in an individual player’s personal savefiles, it seems to me. At least in shogun.

    • sonson says:

      Even though he’s said the strengths are in the campaign map, not the battles?

      Edit: Fuck it, that’s none of my business, you’re entitled to read it as you see, apologies

      • Vinraith says:

        Let me put it simply: I’ve never found the strategic layer of any TW game compelling. In general, I think of it as an excuse and context for the battles and little else. If the battles themselves aren’t compelling, then, the whole game isn’t going to work for me. Unfortunately, for all their flash, the battles get repetitive quite quickly. And that, in a nut shell, is why I usually get no more than a handful of hours out of any given TW game, and why I need to stop buying them. They’re just clearly not what I want in a strategy game, despite always looking like what I want in a strategy game, hence my frustration.

        Edited for excessive harshness and for clarity.

        • brgillespie says:

          Agreed, unfortunately. Even on the hardest gameplay settings, the Total War games have always been a long series of tiresome, boring village/castle/city sieges interspersed with very, very rare battles in the field.

          Of the battles in the field, once or twice in a campaign game (encompassing many centuries of simulated time) you’ll get a true battle against an AI controlled army. The rest of the time you’ll a ridiculous throw-away skirmish between your Epic Army of Doom versus Capt. Kangaroo and His Merry Band of 50 Mercenaries.

          Gameplay quickly becomes boring, in short.

          • sonson says:

            This was improved to an extent in Shogun 2, simply because

            A) Armies become more expensive
            B) AI got far less buffs meaning it was similarly restrained by this expense
            c) Thus, far fewer armies, but battles became of more consequence

            If I recall this system was going to be even more intense in Rome II, with their being even more limits on number of armies available. I hope so because it was one of the biggest factors in making Shogun 2 enjoyable. I hated the half stacks that littered the maps in every game prior to it. Like you say, the combat pales after a while.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            Or worse, your modern rifle armed japanese army against 15 units of wooden cannons for god knows what reason. The Strategy game has always just had these shonky aspects.

            I do miss the gorgeous Age of Sail naval battles though, they were my highlight.

          • Zenicetus says:

            @Zephro: You mean those Glorious Age of Sail battles in Empire, where square-rigged ships sailed directly into the wind, making actual sail tactics meaningless? :p

            Every sailing ship in Empire and Napoleon had an invisible internal combustion engine, because the devs decided that real-world sailing tactics were too hard for gamers to understand (this was an actual forum post by a CA dev, as I recall)..

            At least in Shogun 2 and Rome, the invisible engines don’t break immersion too badly with oar-driven ships.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            This is true but I enjoyed them none the less. There’s nothing like watching 20 3rd rates grab the weather gauge and crush a leading squadron as it gets becalmed. DarthMod helped that a bit to be fair as they never really used to get becalmed.

            Also the captain AI is atrocious as telling a unit to focus fire on one enemy ship just means it tries to sail in totally the wrong direction.

            Still. BROADSIDES! Fuck roman ships or Samurai ships, they are boring.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            Actually there’s probably traction for TW to license their engine for the pretties out to good strategy developers like Paradox to make a cool naval game out of.

          • Vinraith says:

            @Zephro

            Now that’s a genuinely great idea.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Morlock says:

    This is a beautiful text and a great review. Man, I have so many games and so little time. I had a lot of time with Medieval 2, but never really managed to explore all it’s corners. Empire just didn’t grab me, and I didn’t play Shogun 2. Rome 2 is tempting, but I will probably wait for a prize drop, buy it and never touch it.

    • Reapy says:

      Hello to my parrallel tw self. Same history basically and have reached the same conclusion for this one, will wait it out and see if I still want it when Xmas sales hit.

  15. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    The battles have only ever been window-shopping for me in TW games, so I’m really not that concerned about repetitive battles. It was always thus.

    It’s the campaign empire-building where the good stuff is at.

    • Disillusion3D says:

      Well.. that’s where it should have been at… but never quite was … at least for me.

      I have played all of the TW games and the reason I always stop playing them is the lack of strategic depth.

      All the games (perhaps not the original Shogun) end up being slow, bloated, dragged out empire building affairs without much economic/strategic depth nor a competent AI to compete with. All you do is watch the AI aimlessly shuffle stacks around and do crazy diplomatic things (like having all factions jump on the player at scripted events as in Shogun 2). The problem is that without a meaningful strategic layer the battles are pointless since with proper strategic play you already won before the battle even begins.

      After reading another Rome II review (http://www.pcgamesn.com/totalwar/total-war-rome-ii-pc-review) it seems that this TW game still has the same problem (although with some new, arbitrary, player restrictions injected).

      I had really high hopes for this one as the series has been steadily improving since the Empire fiasco, but it seems that Rome II is still not there yet. Maybe with a few expansions and/or mods it will get there.

      I’ll check it out again at the next Steam sale.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    This is one criticism that I had for Rome 1 – it took too long to just do mundane stuff once your empire reached a given size. I loved Caesar II when I was younger because it had all the elements of Rome – economic development, zoom-in battles (as well as city building), but the scope was always limited, so the game never got too bloated. It was perhaps a bit too limited – once you subjugated the tribes in your province there wasn’t usually much fighting (one time some jealous governors of other provinces attacked me, which was fun to deal with), and it would have been nice to have a sense of the world around you, but I liked the idea that the game got harder and more interesting while staying at the same level, just moving you around to more challenging places.

  17. gunny1993 says:

    OHHHH

    Did they bring back squalor … nothing I like more than fucking squalor, causing me to routinely execute entire populations because of….. whatever squalor fucking equates to.

    • Premium User Badge

      DarkLiberator says:

      Yup they did. Go ahead and execute, enslave, whatever.

    • brgillespie says:

      Annoying it may be, it’s a nice gameplay element for a problem the Roman Empire dealt with often. Placating the unwashed masses who live in filth.

      • gunny1993 says:

        It’s existence wasn’t the problem, the problem was in that no matter how good the cities were (full sewers and all that jive) squalor still built up really fast and was uncontrollable without regular culls. Totally ruined the end game of Rome 1 for me.

        • brgillespie says:

          I understand. All I’m saying is that the problem was never-ending for the Roman Empire. They placated the populace with games and candy. The festering sore was never actually healed.

          I don’t recall the Empire killing off half of Rome’s populace every so often to “solve” the problem. Maybe you’re on to something those toga-wearers never considered… lol.

          • gunny1993 says:

            lol maybe, or it could have just been an accurate representation of the late empire. (my preferred strategy was to place an army outside of cities that regularly went crazy on squalor, waiting for them to revolt, sacking the city and then building it up to max again.)

          • Premium User Badge

            drewski says:

            If your empire was otherwise stable enough, you could game it by fiddling the tax rates and province improvements (ie avoiding anything that increased population growth) but yeah, frustrating to deal with. But I guess that’s pretty realistic too.

  18. Maxheadroom says:

    I’m going to hold off on this one till there’s a sale purely because every other total war game Ive bought gets played for 30 minutes upon installation then put on a shelf (figuratively speaking in the case of Steam) until I have more time.

    Then before I know it there’s a new one out and it happens all over again.

    This time I’m resisting.

  19. SuicideKing says:

    Well, have pre-ordered, so…let’s see how i like it. My main motivation was spectacle and multiplayer, my friend’s got it too…hopefully it’ll be good.

    How well optimised is it (CPU/GPU)?

  20. XhomeB says:

    Please tell me that the “corridor-like” layout of the campaign map isn’t as bad as it sounds.
    What a disappointment, you’re basically stuck on specific paths? I don’t remember previous Total War games – from Rome onwards, naturally – suffering from that problem. I have yet to play Shogun 2, but I’ve heard similar complaints.

    • L3TUC3 says:

      There were locations you could not cross on the strategic map such as the alps except in certain spots in previous TW, but now they’ve added more natural obstacles to generate more field battles.

      This is to offset against the often tedious siege battles which got pretty lame in E:TW and TW:S2.

      Though I suspect it will just place the enemy army on the highly defensible mesa/mountain slope with only one access where my units get scattered due to environment blockage so I lose. This is a recurring theme in the TW games. I attack an army, it retreats, I attack again and they get agincourt.

    • Zenicetus says:

      From the review, it sounds like they’re repeating what they did in Shogun 2, which was showing you a strategic map that looks like it has a lot of possibilities for movement around terrain, but there are actually only a few legit pathways between towns and provinces. Hard-coded invisible roads, as it were.

      There were a few places in Shogun 2 like the upper spine of the islands where it felt like it was too much of an artificial restriction on strategy. But overall, it worked okay and the strategic AI did feel a bit smarter in Shogun 2 than in previous titles. Empire had a huge problem with the AI not being able to deal with the large, open-movement world map.

      If they’re careful with how they disguise the pathways in Rome 2, and only have bottlenecks where they would be in reality (like mountain passes or coastline routes), then it could work okay. Anything that helps the AI is a good thing, as long as it isn’t too obvious to the player.

    • BletchleyGeek says:

      Not trying to sound just like one of those random contrarian people that are so abundant on the Internets these days, but I do really think that these ‘corridor’ complaints don’t make any sense. I am not sure what kind of ‘corridors’ can be in place somewhere like Syria, Egypt, Carthage, Gaul or certains parts of Hispania. Another entirely different thing is the Italian peninsula, or Greece, where the geography has had a massive impact in shaping war in those lands even in World War 2.

      I’d suggest people interested in understanding how major wars have been fought to check where and why their favourite major battles in history have been fought – with the notable exceptions of both WW1, WW2, Korea or Vietnam. You’ll be maybe surprised to see that 99% of the major battles in history have been fought along the fastest/easiest routes between cities, and usually in or around chokepoints such as valleys, river fords, etc. in order to deny a route to the enemy or how maneuver usually consisted in sort of a ping-pong between defensible chokepoints with hard-fought encounters between a retreating army rear guard and the advancing army advance guard, until one of the commanders makes a mistake and is forced to do battle.

      To be honest, I do think that such a “simplification” makes a lot of sense both for the AI and in terms of gameplay.

  21. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m still disappointed that the “War Dog” trait in Shogun 2 didn’t actually give me a dog in the tactical battles. You lied to me, Creative Assembly! YOU LIED! [tears shirt as he falls to knees, screaming into the sky in rage]

  22. TsunamiWombat says:

    Total War is one of those games I always wind up buying, thinking WOW THIS SOUNDS NEAT and then I putter with it a bit and then put it away. Medieval: Total War 2 Was the only entry I spent any amount of time in.

    My understanding of the strategic map is basic at most. I enjoy the tactical combat but gearing up for war can be a chore, I cannot into cavalry (a pattern in any game I play), but just playing skirmish battles without the context of the strategic map lacks narrative which I find to be a compelling and vital element. I like to experience the self-composed narrative of raising a nation up, but my slow-and-steady gameplay style means many turns will be spent waiting for city upgrades to finish constructing rather than advancing.

    Also the diplomacy AI is retarded.

  23. Bweahns says:

    I’ve been waiting for this for awhile. I bought Shogun II but never really got into it as I really wanted to be playing Rome instead. I think I’ll wait for a price drop and a realism mod to pop up and dive in.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Is there any good history of the Total War series for those of us who haven’t really been paying attention to it since its inception? I’m not huge into RTS, but did greatly enjoy the 30 minutes I had with Total War 2 at PAX.

    • Premium User Badge

      Fiyenyaa says:

      Shogun: Total War came out in 2000, and was set in the Sengoku era of Japan (1400s to 1600s) It had pretty simple graphics (sprites on a 3d battleground for battles, risk-style stylised 2d map for strategy). It was quite well-recieved, although apparently a bit glitchy. It’s the only Total War game I’ve never played. It had an expansion about the Mongol invasions a year after release.

      Medieval: Total War came out in 2002, set in Europe and the Middle East during the (surprise surprise) medieval era (1087 to 1453 in game). It was pretty similar in terms of mechanics to Shogun, but it’s scope (at least in terms of geography and unit variety) was much bigger. I actually played this one after I played Rome, but I loved it nonetheless, and I believe Medieval was critically acclaimed more than Shogun was. It had an expansion about the Vikings and the British Isles a year later.

      Rome: Total War came out in 2004, and this was the big transition from the engine used in Shogun to a new, fully 3d engine. Now units could move on the campaign map (instead of just being risk-style counters in a province) and all the men in your battles were 3d models instead of 2d sprites. The setting was the post-Alexandrian world of 270 BC, featuring the young Roman Republic, Carthage, and the Alexandrian successor states of the east (plus everyone else in that geographic area). I think Rome was the big hit for the Total War series; it was really well reviewed and I think lots more people actually heard about it – especially because I remember a TV show called “Time Commanders” where they got a team of people to fight historical battles using Rome as the way of fighting it out. Weird. Anyway, Rome was an amazing game, although if I were to criticise it, it did have some badly realised factions (such as Egyptians who were about 1000 years out of date). Still, an important milestone. Rome had two expansion packs, one detailing the fall of Rome during the 4th and 5th centuries CE and one detailing Alexander the Great’s conquests. Rome also had one of the best modding scenes I’ve ever seen, with gems like Rome Total Realism and Europa Barbarorum.

      Medieval II: Total War came next in 2006, revisiting an era for the first time in a TW game. It was basically the same setting as the original Medieval, but done with the engine of Rome. Again, it reviewed well, again I enjoyed it. Had an expansion pack called Kingdoms which had 4 mini-campaigns in it, about the Crusades in the Levant, the religious wars of the Baltic, the early conquest of the Americas, and the wars within the British Isles. Again, there was a big big modding scene with some more amazing mods coming out (shout to to Third Age Total War), but it didn’t do all that much new.

      Empire: Total War was released in 2009, and was set in Europe, America and India in the 18th century. It was the first time the map wasn’t just Europe and parts nearby (other than Shogun, natch), and also the first TW game with naval combat in it. This game was a bit of a turning point for the series; it still reviewed pretty well, but there was a fair amount of disquiet about it from old fans of the series. Some found the naval combat fiddly and unengaging, and many bugs and AI quirks were found (most infamous probably being that the AI didn’t know how to mount an invasion by sea, and thus meant places like the UK were essentially immune from attack). Also distressing was the very limited mod support available compared to previous titles.
      Napoleon Total War is technically a standalone game, but it’s very much routed in Empire’s engine and time period, and I also didn’t play it very much. It was set during Napoleon’s conquests, and was basically a more focused version of Empire. It reviewed fairly well, but got criticised for being too similar to Empire.

      Total War: Shogun 2 came out in 2011 and revisited the Sengoku era of the first ever TW game. It was more simplified than Empire, and some think that this meant it was able to focus on it’s strengths and not get so muddled up in itself because of it. It was certainly a more narrowly scoped game than Empire, focused on Japan only, and with most factions having very similar units. Shogun 2 reviewed extremely well, and I certainly enjoyed it. It had a DLC-type expansion called Fall of the Samurai set in the late 19th century against the struggle between Shogunate and Imperial forces about the fate of Japan. This meant the most modern time period yet in a TW game, and the most modern weapons. I really like that, it was cool.

      And next, Total War: Rome II. Should be good!

      • Commander Gun says:

        Nice history mate, very accurate too imho. Also, it was actually “Time Commanders” that got me into the TW series too :)

  25. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Aw man, this is out already? But not even close to being done (for the moment) with EUIV! Maybe I can play them in parallel, or something…

  26. Shadow says:

    There’s something I’d like clarified. Rome II’s been said to have improved on Shogun 2’s strategic aspect, but there was not much of a comparison as far as the military aspect is concerned. Opening battles seem repetitive, yes, and naval combat seems quite straightforward (when wasn’t Shogun 2’s), but how does it compare to its Japanese cousin?

    Is it improved, like the strategic layer? Maybe the same? Worse? Because the complaints are vague enough to plausibly apply to any Total War game ever. The improvement of officers in Shogun 2 wasn’t all that deep either, with level-ups merely letting you choose between doing job A or job B better, and the usual retinue options. I think the latter were random in Rome 1, which was better for challenge, I suppose.

    As for the lacking AI, well, that’s a fact of life for Total War at this point. Empire had a lot of AI issues early on, so it’d seem Rome II is at least off to a better start, with properly reactive opponents (even if they aren’t all that active on their own).

    • Adam Smith says:

      There is more variety in unit types and maps, which will keep me from auto-resolving for a while longer. And part of the vagueness is because most of the complaints do apply to the other Total War games. I’d argue that it’s slightly improved, simply because there are more units that can change a battle in unusual ways, but it’s very much more of the same.

      Hope that helps!

      • Premium User Badge

        Hanban says:

        That helped for me! Thanks!

        I was kind of hoping for “more of the same but with hoplites” and would be satisfied with just that!

      • Shadow says:

        That did help, thank you. I was slightly worried it’d be somewhat worse than its other TW cousins, but I can definitely work with a modestly improved more-of-the-same game. I never expected anything revolutionary.

        Despite their traditional flaws, I love the Total War series, and being an avid strategy gamer, I’d take this one over any other contemporary AAA game.

    • Zenicetus says:

      If it’s “more of the same” like Adam says, then it sounds like they haven’t improved the fundamental flaw of the battle AI, which is that there isn’t really any over-arching, single battle AI. Instead, each separate unit in an army has its own AI module, and a battle formation never holds up very long after first contact with the player’s army.

      It’s way too easy to just tease apart the AI’s infantry battle line with skirmisher feints, or cavalry feints. And once that battle line falls apart, you just pick off the individual units. In every Total War game since Rome, I’ve had to just use a house rule and avoid feints like that, because it’s more fun to fight a cohesive enemy battle formation. What the series has always needed, is a real AI general that can watch how a battle develops and stop units running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I know there is an element of realism there (“no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” etc.), but the Total War series has always gone too far in that chaotic direction.

      Anyway, I pre-ordered so I’m looking forward to seeing what, if anything, has improved in this respect. If it’s the same as Shogun 2, I’ll still play the game and enjoy it for a while, if only for the variety in different units. That was always the strength of the original Rome — you’d have battles with vastly different types of armies, and it was fun to see how that played out. The similar army compositions and tactics in Empire and Shogun 2 weren’t as interesting.

  27. Hunchback says:

    A slightly disappointing Wot I Think, and it has nothing to do with the actual text of it…
    I was hoping for more of this game, it was supposed to be… EPIC. Judging by the review, it’s “OK” or so.

    Apparently COH2 sucks badly in MP at the moment, and the devs are not fixing it at all. There go my top contenders for a competitive RTS for a year or maybe two. And no, i can’t play SC2.

    *sigh*

    • Endecroix says:

      Well there is Wargame: Airland Battle a very good game that none of the press seem to give much of a toss about including RPS.

      • Hunchback says:

        True… haven’t tried it, mostly because of the absurd name – Airland? Wtf is airland? Also, wargame: … battle. Erm, come on :D

        • Premium User Badge

          Zephro says:

          It’s the actual name of US military doctrine in the 80s sadly. The game is OK, if you’re into base building RTS rather than pitched battle RTS.

          • Kohlrabi says:

            Wargame: ALB has no base building at all. R.U.S.E. had that to some light extent, but Wargame: EE did away with that already.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            You still have to spend points to get units to use on things, organise spawn points etc. I just want to fight a sodding battle with a set force.

          • Endecroix says:

            I think you haven’t actually played the game from what you say there.

          • Premium User Badge

            Zephro says:

            I think you haven’t… Huh?

            Of course you’re always spending resource points to call in units during the singleplayer.

  28. Arlix says:

    First, I’d like to thank Adam for his work reviewing the game. Also, I’ve recently discovered RPS, and I’m really enjoying the reviews and attitudes of the people surrounding RPS.

    However, I really wish Adam would list in all his reviews:
    1. The difficulty level at which he is playing (reviewing) the game.
    2. The available difficulty options in the game.

    It’s hard for me to take this review seriously. You seem to be a Total War veteran, and yet, without being provided alternative information, I have to assume you are playing on “normal” difficulty.

    • Fiatil says:

      The problem with that is anything above normal is just “Normal AI with 50% more morale and 25% more damage!”. A lot of people aren’t fans of playing against a handicapped AI with superhero troops to balance it out.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        reading around other reviews, the impression I have is that the AI does behave differently/more intelligently at higher levels

        • Fiatil says:

          That would be great! I’m going to need to wait until someone digs out the files to see what each difficulty actually does because reviewers seem to love to think the AI is “smarter” on higher difficulties despite it not being, but I will say that from past iterations he wouldn’t be too presumptive by assuming normal is the intelligence cap.

          • Zenicetus says:

            @ Fiatil: I agree, what some of those reviewers are seeing might just be what CA has always done with the difficulty settings — apply economic/diplomatic modifiers at the strategic level, and stat modifiers for the battle AI. That can make the AI look “smarter” when it really is just one AI capped at Normal.

            I don’t know if that’s what they’re doing again for Rome 2, but it makes sense from a game development perspective. Much easier to play-test and balance a single AI with modified stats at different settings, than play-test different AI modules.

  29. fish99 says:

    This does make me wonder about why companies spend far more money on assets (textures, models, animation, SFX, music, movies) than on AI and gameplay programming, which frankly never seem to advance in gaming. Obviously shiny graphics = sales, but wouldn’t good reviews from great AI also = sales?

    • Disillusion3D says:

      Word of mouth and post release coverage does play a role (as seen in the DA2 sales) but shiny graphics seems to be more important (at least short term).

      Having pretty pictures/videos seems to generate more pre-release coverage and bring in those, oh so coveted, pre-orders. The pre-orders and first week sales of a pretty and well marketed game will quite likely bring in all the money the game needs to turn a profit.

      It would seem like it’s more of a gamble to release a game with strong AI and mediocre graphics as it will have to sell well over a long period of time to break even.

      Disclaimer: I’m not in marketing nor do I have access to lots of secret company data. The reasoning above is based on information I could google and what I could find from the press coverage and various dev interviews/blogs.

    • Werthead says:

      Making good AI is unbelievably difficult, expensive and time-consuming. What we call AI in games is actually a cleverly-masked metric buttload of flow-chart decisions, and the number of those decisions in a massive strategy game, especially one with two layers like the TOTAL WAR games, is extraordinarily huge. Thrown in that all of that has to happen at the same time they are making vast numbers of units, art assets and so on, and you see the problem in manpower and budget (and whilst the TOTAL WAR games sell well and have decent budgets, they’re probably not as funded as much as they need to be given their ambition and scope).

      If we look at Paradox, their AI is very impressive but even that can be upset by really odd decisions (in the GAME OF THRONES mod for CK2, for example, they had to take ships away from the North because otherwise it goes utterly bonkers). Paradox are just pretty good at identifying how to make the AI work, and also only have the one layer (albeit a complex one) to concentrate on. So it’s a very difficult process to make work.

      All of that said, the AI in the TOTAL WAR gams is often radically improved by mods, which does raise the question of why they can’t just better on launch. THAT question is one we’ve been asking for just under ten years.

      • fish99 says:

        Yes it may be hard, but I read in this thread that CA had one AI programmer on Empire and he left half way through development and wasn’t replaced until after the game shipped. To me that suggests CA don’t consider AI a really important part of the game, and maybe it explains why it feels like the AI hasn’t improved throughout the life of the TW series. As others have pointed out it’s just as easy to outwit the battle AI as it’s always been. Just through better strategy my units always perform about double what the AI can achieve, often more.

        What I’m saying is – couldn’t they lose a few artists and modellers, and get 5 AI programmers, including say one industry AI guru?

        • Premium User Badge

          drewski says:

          Perhaps all the industry AI gurus already have jobs.

          • fish99 says:

            I’m sure they do and I’m equally sure there’s a way around that*.

            (*possibly involving lots of money)

          • MadTinkerer says:

            The real problem is:

            In a meeting room somewhere: “Bettur Gafix Am Good. Therfor; we neid mor peepz doin grafix. MOAR MONEY FOAR GRAFIX!!!! AL PORGAMMURZ DO GRAFIX!!!!!”

            Meanwhile, Nigel Cleverman is signing up for college classes: “Well, hmmmm, there’s no demand for AI in pure research for over a decade now, no demand for AI in web development now the Google won the search engine war, and no demand for AI in games because everything is metric-driven or otherwise has no AI requirements. On the other hand, there’s a huge demand for graphics programmers, even in projects that use third party engines. So while I would prefer to focus on AI, I’m definitely going to focus on studying graphics programming.”

            Back in the meeting room: “HIUR DAT COLLIJ STOODENT!!!!!”

  30. 2helix4u says:

    Sounds like it has a lot of promise for modding. A wide-reaching game with faulty AI and stuff is pretty much what I was hoping for cause Darthmod or Realism will fix that. The problem with Shogun 2 is even patched it only had swordman, bowman, spearman and gunman.

    • lordcooper says:

      Darthmod won’t be happening, I’m afraid.

      • 2helix4u says:

        How come? Is that just Darthmod or is there some kind of anti-modding stuff in place? Cause I’m not hugely loyal to Darth just they seem to bring mods to all the Total Wars very quick.

        In my wildest dreams there would be a Rome Total Realism 2, that was my favourite although I’m not even sure what it does, all I know is that Rome 1 with the realism mod was fun as hell to play.

  31. YoYoFoSho says:

    The AI is the least of my worries. The developers made the AI pretty decent in later patches for empire or shogun.

    The modders though have a field day and always create the best and challenging AI for the game that are less predictable. The mods created that feature better AI in Empires and Shogun 2 are some of the best so far in the series.

    The total war series always have an appeal in that way, since they have produced incredible mods. So if you’re on the edge about this game, don’t worry, the modders and CA have got your back.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I’m not sure using modders as an excuse for an incomplete/underdeveloped game is a good idea, after all devs get the money not the modders.

  32. Freud says:

    VIII out of X?

  33. sinister agent says:

    Every game in this series seems to add more fussy shit to micromanage on the world map, while the battles remain pointlessly easy and predictable. When the hell are they going to hire some quality AI coders instead of more texture polishers?

  34. Solanaceae says:

    Shame about the AI, that’s a deal breaker for me.

    • YoYoFoSho says:

      Then download the mods. The modders always fix and enhance the AI in every series.

      • Minigrinch says:

        The AI has been hardcoded in every game since Empire. The devs outright said that Darth could not have modded any AI decision making in Empire, just added modifiers on the strategy and tactical maps.

        • Greg Wild says:

          *more hardcoded.

          Modder’s have never been able to do more than superficial changes to the AI. Making changes in Rome was bad enough in Rome, alone the later games.

  35. ShowMeTheMonkey says:

    I really can’t believe the amount of hostility this game is getting in the comments on multiple websites! It even extends to the rest of the Total War series in general!

    The Total War games are without a doubt some of the best and most lovingly crafted PC games you can buy in my view.

    I’ve loved every single Total War that has come out and sank a minimum of 100 hours into every one. I know of no other strategy/grand strategy that blends the action/turn-based so well together in such a fantastic way.

    • YoYoFoSho says:

      They are hostile to it because grand strategy games don’t apply to them, games where you have to think, or are too complex. And games that are very open to a modding community people don’t always understand. I guarantee Rome 2 will be home to a brand new Middle Earth total war mod, the last one was very well made.

      • sinister agent says:

        No, we’re critical because they have serious flaws that were not addressed (and in the case of Empire, pre-patching, GOT WORSE) over several sequels, and apparently still haven’t been. I wouldn’t call a game where the AI regularly takes up a “defensive” position by coming down OFF a hill, abandoning its guns and splitting its forces up to be easily slaughtered one where you “have to think” or “too complex”.

      • Werthead says:

        No, it won’t. No TOTAL WAR game since MEDIEVAL II has allowed total conversions. You can tweak unit stats and things and I believe SHOGUN II allowed you to fiddle with the campaign map a bit, but total conversion mods like THIRD AGE and WESTEROS: TOTAL WAR will be impossible unless CA release considerably more open and comprehensive modding tools than they have for the last three games in a row.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Some of the comments aren’t exactly “hostile,” but more a result of a love-hate relationship that’s been going on for years, because it’s the only game of its type out there.

  36. BletchleyGeek says:

    The complaints about AI Diplomacy are indeed troublesome, but if I look at how many games took Paradox to deliver a sensible Diplomatic AI (EU 1, 2, 3, HoI 1, 2, 3, CK 1, Vicky 1 & 2) in CK 2 and – to some extent, in EU 4 – I’d say I can handle that as long as the AI isn’t so retarded as to be able to break the game for you – as was the case in most Civ installments but Civ IV’s Broken Sword.

  37. Kubrick Stare Nun says:

    Now we need a Total War game set in the future. Think of all the orbital strikes and shit.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I don’t tend to play Total War games because I’m utterly incompetent at them, but I’d buy the hell out of Total War – Foundation

  38. stkaye says:

    About to start playing. Does anyone (Adam?) have some advice for difficulty levels on the grand campaign? Will this thing be boringly easy on normal, like Medieval 2, or punishingly tough on difficult?

  39. Greg Wild says:

    Initial reactions:

    Yes. The AI really is that bad.

    Why the flying fuck did they remove half the multiplayer features of Shogun 2?

  40. Asrahn says:

    AI problems are almost to be expected these days from a TW game, sadly. However, it was adequate in Shogun 2, and if it’s been improved in any way it will be adequate for Rome 2 as well. Seeing how much flak Empire keeps getting both in comments and in reviews, a game that I loved to absolute bits, I am not in the least worried that whatever aspects of the game that are subjectively criticised from personal taste will have a negative impact on my enjoyment of the game.

    I can only hope there’s been… -some- improvements to the battle AI. Otherwise I’ll just be back at Very Hard right from the get-go.

    “The general’s retinue is also problematic. It manifests as an accompanying character or item, adding bonuses, but after a few turns there are often so many spares to select from that they feel like a hassle rather than a rare reward.”

    … a hassle? Surely, Mr Smith, you are aware of the roleplaying possibilities this pose? As a man who loves to immerse myself and who named -every single unit- I could name something in Napoleon/Empire, I can’t wait to personalize the everliving shite out of everything in Rome 2 and meticulously manage absolutely everything that goes on.

    So pumped, waiting eagerly for my collector’s to hit my mailbox today! Whiny Europa Universalis and CK2 fanboys be damned!

  41. Jimbo says:

    Performance is fucked for a lot of people. Again. I’d avoid for now until they finish making the game.

    • greg_ritter says:

      I’ve played from the first hour of release and everything is top-notch. There are no problems whatsoever, at least for me

  42. Hug_dealer_rides_again says:

    So This game has been enhanced for Intel core series processors.

    Has RPS reached out and found out why???????????????

    This is a huge issue, How could Sega do that?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

  43. Premium User Badge

    Mister_Inveigler says:

    As a long time fan of Total War, I was crazy enthused about this. Bought the collectors edition and everything. I’ve played the Prologue and while there were some things I enjoyed, it felt a little disappointing. Creative Assembly are capable of SO much more. I’m going to hang off for a little until some patches come out.

    That said, I would really like to read a conversation with the design team about why they went the way they did, what shortcomings they experienced and what their opinion is. I know it will never happen, but I’d really like to learn about their perspective. I mean, it’s easy to judge, but I really want to hear from the people behind it. To devote so much of your time and effort to something…it becomes a massive commitment.

  44. Mario112 says:

    I love the Total War series, I will be picking this one up soon. Be nice to see a WW1 Total War game, maybe in time…when the hardware is available to support 100 mile maps, and 10’s of thousands of units on the ground. Be a cool concept though.

    http://www.gmretro.com

  45. AncientAcid says:

    Here’s the deal….. It’s Empire Total War reskinned. The graphics can be/are stunning.. but at first take.. they are nothing special. The camera is to zoomed out like empire total war to enjoy the breadth of close combat action.

    The unit AI doesn’t interact as well as they do fighting each-other man to man in Shogun2 or even Medieval Total War 2 for that matter. Its just a mass of blobs running into blobs. The special unit abilities are not very noticeably detailed on the field other than just shuffling their fighting stance that is hardly noticeable due to this disjointed blobbing effect. Had a really bad feeling they were gonna try to reuse that engine from that flop of a title Empire Total War. I don’t care how much people loved it either.. it was barebones.. they just didn’t put enough love into it to make it interesting. The same glitches from that game are in this game. Such as enemy armies glitching on the field and being unable to siege properly.

    The main diss or beef I’ve always had with this series of game was the enemy armies being unable to siege properly. As in when in the combat on the field. The army simply doesn’t move at all. Or RUNS its army ALL OVER THE BATTLEFIELD sapping it of all its stamina and morale before even engaging. They never fixed the AI and refuse to fix those minor problems… Another problem is the siege mechanics for them taking your city…. you can’t hold out like you used to having a huge army in a settlement getting sieged .. at the end of those turns.. theirs no grand assault and last man standing defense.. it just flips into their hands. Don’t like it. Other than those HUGE glaring bugs.. the games.. mediocre. I played the old rome.. and all the other total wars from shogun to medieval 1… the first rome was OK . but the hype on it was baloney.. medieval 2 was far superior . better engine better graphics.. better UI .. better units that don’t get all confused when being ordered about. Same with Shogun 2 That’s my 2 cent.

  46. PhilLThomson says:

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    ——>>>> http://www.Rush60.com

  47. Loyal_Viggo says:

    People should go back back to Medieval 2 Kingdoms and install Call of Warhammer total conversion.

    Job done.

  48. JoannJKeenan says:

    my roomate’s mother makes $76 every hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for 6 months but last month her pay was $17788 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Extra resources………

    w­w­w.J­o­b­s­5­3.c­o­m