Rome 2: Total Ownage
Ah, Rome 2 Total War. The prodigal son of Creative Assembly, THE big title that all us Total War fans got into a fanboy ‘squeeeeee’ about back in the day. Released in 2013, R2TW was the next evolution of Total War, following Empire Total War, Napoleon Total War, and even Shogun 2 Total War. After all, whenever Creative Assembly remakes one of their older titles with a new engine (Medieval 2 Total War), it usually turns out well. So, six years later, how did R2TW fare over time? Read on. Quick side note: I’m reviewing the Emperor Edition instead of the base game because R2TWEE was essentially a free upgrade that patched several of the issues present in the vanilla version. Otherwise, everything I have to say about the game stands to either version.
Like the original Rome Total War, R2TW takes players back to antiquity, beginning in the 3rd century BC. As with all TW games, players can choose from a wide variety of historical factions, and essentially play their own alternate version of history. Maybe play as Carthage, and destroy the Romans. Or play as any number of Greek factions, and conquer Asia just as Alexander the Great had done. Play as a German tribe, and conquer Europe, centuries before it really happened. Simply put, the possibilities are endless.
Various DLC came along with the game. Short descriptions to follow:
- Caesar in Gaul: This campaign pack is centered in ancient Gaul (France) in the 50s B.C., and follows the Gallic War between Julius Caesar and the warring Gallic tribes.
- Hannibal at the Gates: Centered around the western Mediterranean, allows players to fight the 2nd Punic War (218-201 B.C.) between Carthage and Rome.
- Imperator Augustus: Based around the entire Mediterranean, this DLC pack focuses on the war of the 2nd Triumvirate (32-30 B.C.) between Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus, which saw the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
- Wrath of Sparta: Based in ancient Greece, follows the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Sparta and Athens.
- Empire Divided: Focused on the latter half of the Roman Empire, this pack focuses on the major civil wars of the 3rd century AD within the Roman world.
- Rise of the Republic: The last major DLC campaign for R2TW, this DLC follows the rise of the Roman state in it’s early years, from the 500s to the 300s B.C.
DLC packs that add factions include the Greek States (Athens, Epirus, Sparta), Nomadic tribes (Massagetae, Roxolani, Royal Scythia), Pirates and Raiders (Ardiaei, Odrysian Kingdom, Tylis), Black Sea colonies (Cimmeria, Colchis, and Pergamon), and Desert Kingdoms (Masaesyli, Kush, Saba, Nabatea). Other small DLC packs include Blood and Gore (more blood animation in battles), Beasts of War (additional battlefield units), and Daughters of Mars (female soldiers for various factions).
As with any TW game, R2TW plays as a turn-based grand strategy game, albeit with a heavy combat focus. For most of the game, the player will be controlling their faction via the world map, while also being able to view the progress of other factions as well. The other half of the game, the real meat and potatoes of the Total War series, is and always has been, the combat. Unlike other grand-strategy games (Crusader Kings II, Civilization, etc) where battles are shoehorned and haphazard, Total War is all about giving players the ability to command vast armies on real-time battlegrounds. So let’s get into it. Turn-based grand-strategy features first, combat second.
City/region management: A big change from the original RTW (and even M2TW as well) is how regions/provinces are built up. In the old games, a single city would be the focal point of a region. Conquer the city and you control the region. In R2TW, provinces are now made up of multiple cities and villages. In order to control the entire province, you must gain control of all the cities, either militarily or diplomatically. A region always has one “main” city, essentially the largest city in the region, which acts as the capital of the region. The villages, meanwhile, are much smaller and less defended.
The other big change here is the internal building chains of said cities and villages. While in RTW and M2TW, you could build every single building allotted, in R2TW, cities and villages are now restricted to just a few slots. Cities can build up to roughly 6 different buildings, while villages can build up to only about 4. This in effect forces the player and the AI to strategically develop a province. One village could be the “bread basket,” another could provide religion, another could provide a dockyard, while the main city could be stocked up with all the military production buildings. In some instances, certain building chains (such as vineyards, quarries, etc) become unique if there are rare resources in the region. A new feature as well are “edicts,” by controlling an entire province, the player can issue edicts which are essentially bonuses (economic growth, public order boosts, etc) for that province.
Factions and diplomacy: Whereas the original RTW had a fair amount of factions, R2TW almost doubles that. As usual the Romans have three distinct branches; additionally, many of the other once singular factions now have multiple sub-factions. For example, in RTW, the Gauls were represented by one singular faction. In R2TW, there are now four, dotted across Europe and even Turkey, representing the various Celtic tribes that were strewn across Europe and Anatolia. The Greeks meanwhile are divided between the main city states of the day, including Massilia, Athens, Sparta, and Epirus. Alternatively, Alexander’s successor states (all Macedonian/Greek) include Macedon, Egypt, Seleucids, and Baktria. DLC packs add additional factions as well.
While in the original RTW and even M2TW, diplomacy was a pain in the neck, dealings with foreign factions in R2TW is much more straightforward. The rating of your faction among others is now measured, giving you an honest appraisal of how other factions view you, based on wars, peace treaties, trade, etc. The options available to players are now more numerous; as barbarians, players (and AI) can form confederations with similar tribes (British Iceni can form confederations with other Celtic tribes in Britain, Gauls can form confederations with other Celtic Gallic tribes, Germans with Germans, etc); other options include making weaker factions satrapies/vassal states, military/defensive allies, etc. War can also be officially declared, whereas in RTW and M2TW, all one had to do was simply attack another faction out of the blue (or be randomly attacked by the AI well). Additionally, a faction’s allies/vassals can join in on wars too, causing for almost World War like armed conflicts across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Armies, generals, agents and admirals: Another major change is how a faction’s military is operated. Whereas in older titles, the player and the AI could produce numerous “stacks” of armies, building armies up into the thousands, R2TW greatly reels in such military production. An army can only be led by a general, there are no more NPC-like “captains.” The number of generals/admirals/armies/agents allotted is determined by a faction’s “imperium,” that is, their “world prestige.” The larger a faction, the more a player or the AI can recruit the aforementioned units. Initially starting out, factions can only have 2 of each.
Another new feature is the ability for individual armies and navies (along with general and admirals) to acquire traits, bonuses and perks, earned from combat. While in older titles, only generals and governors could essentially go through “character development,” now individual armies and navies (which are named as well, and can be edited by the player) can earn perks, traits, and bonuses over time; these include bonuses to movement range, melee damage, missile damage, etc. This in effect allows players to develop armies and give them history and background, much like real world military units that pride themselves on their history. Ask any proud American veteran about their last unit, be it Army paratrooper, Marine infantryman, and they can tell you stories about those units going back decades.
And finally, combat. Battles have remained much the same through most of the Total War series, and there’s little difference here. You have melee infantry (ranging from light to heavy), foot archers, cavalry archers, skirmishers, spearmen, and various cavalry (ranging from shock to melee types). Group units together in various formations, take the hill, survey the terrain to set your units on, engage in battle, defeat your foe then run down the survivors with cavalry. Simple. Sieges on the other hand have been upgraded with some neat new concepts. During a siege, taking control points helps either the defender/attacker with obtaining victory (something akin to Battlefield). What’s really incredible is the ability to assault a city with a naval force, either by itself or combined with a land force. Yes, you read that right. Using your navy, you can assault a city on the battlemap and occupy it with just a navy, and not a land force. A combined force allows a player (and the AI) to land marines inside or outside a city, use naval artillery to destroy defenses, while also assaulting with a land army (which can deploy siege towers, ladders, and catapults). The possibilities for sieging a city are pretty incredible.
That being said, there are some new features that are nice. Clicking on a unit will pop up a sidebar table showing you the unit’s stats. Active fog of war on the mini-map and battle screen (altered by individual unit’s line of sight) can hide both your troops, and the enemy’s. One of the biggest new features is a General’s abilities. Generals now have various morale lifting (for friendly troops) and morale crushing (for enemy troops) abilities (among other types), granted to them through their individual traits and stats (cunning, zeal, authority). The same goes for admirals, as well. Speaking of which, naval combat has been improved and expanded upon as well from older titles (Empire: Total War was the first TW game to implement real naval combat, not just auto-resolve like in older titles). Your navies can now consist of not just artillery ships (armed with catapults, which can shoot fireballs in order to light enemy ships ablaze), but boarding vessels (loaded with marines) and even transports (carrying your regular land units) too.
Such a bold game by developers (owned by Sega) would be incomplete without a laundry list of negatives.
For starters, I honestly can say I don’t like the new building/province system. The original Rome Total War (and its sequel Medieval II Total War) had a very good system. While RTW allowed each city to build every building chain, M2TW modified it by separating building chains (and the units produced) between cities and castles. That was a strategic modification that boosted overall gameplay; the new system however takes control away from the player.
How? Here’s the thing. Players can’t train individual units to boost the garrison, for either small villages or capital cities. Instead, the garrisons are boosted by different buildings present in each city/village. What this leaves players (and AI) with are vastly underpowered garrisons that can’t defend themselves against determined attackers. In that same respect, players can’t retrain units immediately to reboost its numbers, and must instead wait several turns for a unit to come back to full strength. Additionally, like units can’t be stacked together to boost their numbers after battle damage. In a word, everything that made unit rebuilding in the older titles has been overhauled, and not for the better. Additionally, when a faction takes another faction’s village/city, the attacking faction is unable to train new units there! Instead they must convert the older building chains into their own faction’s culturally specific buildings. In older titles, the only problem older buildings gave players/AI was a penalty to public order due to opposing foreign cultures. Now, an army on the move must wait a while before being able to leave their conquered city, in order to reinforce as well as defend
R2TW, like other Sega published titles (Company of Heroes 2 among others), has a surprising lack of…polish in certain respects. Like many other Steam titles, R2TW has access to the steam workshop, allowing players to boost their individual play styles with a whole slew of mods. This really helps, because R2TW, like CoH2, is quite bland in its various gameplay features. Even smaller mods, not overhauls, fix little small issues that Creative Assembly had looked over. Whether it’s Sega continually pushing Creative Assembly to pump out titles (or DLC) or CA’s lack of oversight, the game by itself on release was ridden with bugs, and after numerous patches found some sense of normalcy.
On that note, R2TW suffers from a serious degree of DLC overload. While it’s not the first Total War title to generate DLC, it certainly went overboard. There are a few issues with this…for one, DLC in and of itself is blasphemous. DLC has plagued gaming, turning developers and publishers into lazy greedy hacks. Additionally, DLC, especially for TW, has made its recent games wildly incomplete. It used to be in the old days, that developers/publishers would release expansion packs. These simply added to the game, not filling in holes in the main game. For example, with RTW, the main game was extraordinary. The only thing that made it better was player-made mods. Additionally, ALL the factions were accessible, and not locked by paywalls or expansion packs (the expansion packs, Barbarian Invasion and Alexander were entirely separate campaigns). The same with M2TW…all the factions were accessible, and the Kingdoms expansion pack added four separate campaigns (all with their own factions for vastly different playthroughs). On the contrary, R2TW sported many DLC packs, some of which added factions to the main campaign (which before were non-playable). Heck, talk about milking the cow – while the majority of the DLC was released from 2013-14, years later they released three other DLC packs (Empire Divided, Desert Kingdoms, and Rise of the Republic, respectively) from Nov 2017 to Aug 2018. Mind you, Creative Assembly by that point had already moved on to other projects. 2015 saw the release of Attila: Total War (along with the re-releases of Medieval: Total War and Shogun: Total War), 2016 gave rise to the wildly popular Total War: Warhammer while 2017 saw the release of its sequel Total War: Warhammer II; finally, 2018 gave us Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia.
Point is, Creative Assembly had moved on to bigger and better projects, all of which had their own DLC packs…the only reason to revisit an older title (R2TW was released in 2013) was to milk that cash cow for even more petty cash. What a joke.
There’s also something to be said for playing the campaigns themselves…eventually the game runs dry, and the excitement of finishing a campaign loses momentum. Why though? Here’s the thing. Earlier I had mentioned factions are limited to just a modest amount of armies, and that garrisons were determined by buildings rather than player/AI choice of what specific units to create. So what does that all mean for players going on bloody conquest across the map? First, once a faction’s allotted armies are destroyed, the AI barely rebuilds their forces to withstand a player’s invasion force. So once those armies are destroyed, the player is left with only being able to attack city after city, all of whose garrisons are carbon copies of each other. So while in RTW and M2TW, players fought unique blends of AI armies, both in the field and in garrison, in R2TW players must fight a “rinse and repeat” campaign against seemingly boring enemies with no imagination. This makes for incredibly dull and repetitive gameplay that turns the game sour.
The last big con is a feature that was carried over from the original RTW: civil wars. In RTW, the Roman factions would eventually go to war with each other (only while playing as one, that is…playing as any non-Roman faction, the AI Romans would remain allies and steamroll ahead with no qualms). This was a neat gameplay feature implemented in order to simulate the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, before it transformed into an empire. What was unique about that feature is that it brought a measure of finality to it. Once the player (as any one of the Roman factions) crushed the other Romans mid-late game, it effectively concluded the campaign, besides mopping up any other surviving factions. Gameplay wise, it put the player in the hotseat of playing an ancient style World War. Depending on the breadth of the player’s borders, a player could be facing warfare on multiple continents across vastly different terrain, from Europe, to Asia, to Africa, through snow, woods, arid hills to sandy deserts.
So, what does R2TW offer? There are now opposing political parties within your faction, and when the player has reached too much power, civil war will break out. The other political parties will immediately partition your empire, and it will be up to the player to reconquer them. Naturally, you’d think that after crushing all resistance from the other political parties that your faction would be reunited under one banner – yours, transforming your faction from a broken mess into a stronger version than it was before. But, no. Opposition parties will rise again and yet more civil wars will occur. Rather than making civil wars unique, the developers made civil wars an annoyance. The only way to effectively end them is using player made mods from the steam workshop which would prevent them from even occurring to begin with. And that’s a shame.
Well, what’s there to be said? Simply put, the various Total War titles can be broken down into various stages of the development of the series. Shogun and Medieval were the pioneering titles, from 2000-04. Rome and Medieval II saw the evolution of the series (best titles in my opinion) from 2004-07. The next three titles (Empire, Napoleon, and Shogun II) developed the series more, mostly with naval battles and the move into the post-Renaissance era. In a sense, the release of Rome 2 Total War and Total War: Attila and it’s DLC packs (2013-16) was the beginning of the current era of games (Total War: Warhammer, Total War: Warhammer II, Britannia, Three Kingdoms). Both of those titles were remakes of Rome Total War (2004) and its expansion Barbarian Invasion (2005). Perhaps Creative Assembly wanted to herald the new style of Total War by revisiting older titles, without moving into drastic new territory. Perhaps R2TW and TWA were experimental titles, to give Creative Assembly an opportunity to test new engines and new gameplay features with old titles they knew would sell.
The real question is, is R2TW even worth buying? It by itself lacks polish and uniqueness (helped only by the steam workshop and player mods), the DLC packs are alright, and the campaigns end up boring and repetitive. And, given that many of the mods are now broken (because of recent useless patches) or out of date, what’s the point? Honestly, the game is entertaining for a while but it loses its charm too fast. At the end of the day, I give R2TW a 2/5. Creative Assembly tried, but its gameplay features are insultingly stupid and degrading considering older titles worked just fine…honestly. All that they needed to do was keep the engine, introduce some new gameplay features (I love the unit traits, general’s battlefield abilities, and naval/combined assault force during sieges), use modern graphics, and boom…perfectly good game. What we’re left with though is an overly bold title that was stretched too thin and milked too long by the developers and publishers.
Maybe pick this title up on a sale of 50% or more, but I can’t recommend this game to anyone. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Product Release: Total War: Rome II – Emperor Edition (US, 09/16/14)