Thank you based Listmas for giving me a chance to take something that has been gnawing at me for a while and letting me get it off my chest. I am a huge fan of the Total War franchise. I have logged hundreds of hours playing Medieval and Rome Total Wars. I don’t regret any of it, but there are some things about the newest game that really bug the heck out of me. I hope to write a larger, more coherent, review on this later. Until then…
1) Lack of Unit Variety: This bugs me in two categories. When you break the game down, there really aren’t that many different unit classes. There are melee infantry, spear infantry, spear cavalry, melee cavalry, javelin missile troops, archer missile troops, hoplites and that’s pretty much it. Sure each faction has subtle varieties of this, but that is basically all you will primarily see.
I wouldn’t mind this nearly as much but the units tend to look the same regardless of which faction is playing them. Hoplites look the same wherever you are. Swordsmen in Asian Minor look the same as those in North Africa. I know the Mediterranean world at this time was largely homogenous, but when the units in the original Rome Total War still ended up looking and actually being quite unique to each faction you really start to think that Rome Total War 2 could have done a lot better job at giving us some unit variety.
2) The AI: What can I say. Total War games have always been lengthy endeavors to play. You end up logging many, many hours playing against computer opponents, and if you’re like me, you want a bit of a challenge out of your AI opponents. So far, the Rome Total War 2 bots have been quite lackluster. Their strategies appear to be quite linnear, and any time they control more than one settlement at the start of the game they seem to lose them quite quickly. This is kind of problematic because when you are playing a faction like Rome you are kind of hoping that a few other empires will rise up to challenge you. So far, this rarely seems to happen.
I won’t deny that changes have been made and the bots do seem to be getting smarter, but then you start a siege battle where you bombard the computer defenders with missile troops and you laugh as the AI refuses to attack you and dumbly holds their defensive lines while you cut down all of their troops, unscathed.
Their campaign map strategy also seems to resemble how most people play the board game Risk. Wait for your opponent to let his guard down then try and roll him up with one long attack. Then watch as your neighbor does the same to you next turn. Hopefully some middle ground could be found for the poor bots.
I know Creative Assembly would probably tell me that I should be fighting humans if I want a real challenge. I admit that I could do more of this, but I honestly just don’t have the time to regularly start and play through multiplayer campaigns. Thus, I would like the AI to be just a bit smarter. I know Creative Assembly can do this because they did it in the older Total War games.
3) The Unfinished Feel of the Game: Once again, this is something that Creative Assembly has worked hard to remedy, but when I am paying $60 for a game I kind of expect it to be finished. Factions that should have been playable weren’t done, the AI was silly and game features were bad (having to defend stationary points for no reason in defensive battles). The first couple of months playing Rome Total War 2 were downright painful. Creative Assembly recognized this and apologized to fans for it – even offering free content to fans.
Despite all of the fixes Creative Assembly have thrown out you can still find things in the game that just leave you shaking your head. Just the other day I was trying to fight an enemy army using multiple armies. I moved my armies into position and picked one force to launch the attack, expecting that my other armies would be available as reinforcements. Unfortunately, because the enemy army was in force marched stance, I kept ambushing the enemy force. You would think this would be a good thing, but because I was “ambushing” the enemy the game would not allow me to bring in my other armies as reinforcements.
I understand that armies that are BEING ambushed shouldn’t be able to call for reinforcements. You would think that the armies doing the ambushing should be able to bring in as many troops as they would like. Oh well, maybe my understanding of how things were in 240 BC is lacking. I only have a history degree, what do I know?
4) Unpredictable Allies/Diplomacy: This one is a little weird, but it has come back to bite me a couple of times. No one wants to fight their wars alone, but I am learning that sometimes it is more worthwhile to leave your allies at home in Rome Total War 2. In order to get the maximum economic value from your provinces you must control all of the territories in said province. Thus, when you look to conquer a new province you are looking to take the entire province.
Unfortunately, it seems like any time you invite your allies to take part in your wars they manage to send a small detachment of troops to take one settlement in the province you are attacking – essentially blocking you from benefiting from your new conquest. At this point, you have no way to pick up the missing settlement from your allies except to attack them. To me, this doesn’t seem quite right. In real life you would likely work out some kind of agreement to get the settlement handed over from your ally or simply bullying them into doing it with your superior military strength (if you have it).
This may seem like a fairly minor detail to be unhappy with, but honestly the entire diplomatic system could use some work. If the Civilization games taught me anything it’s that most games of this ilk tend to struggle in this category. No matter how much you’d like the AI to deal with you like another human would it never quite happens. I would never expect perfection in this area, but I would at least like to see a few fixes, like some options to get settlements from your allies without attack them down.
5) Roman Infantry not being able to fire at will/tons of unique abilities: I admit that this is a very specific item, and you will not get this if you don’t play the game. Historically, a lot of Roman infantry units carried spears that they would throw before engaging in melee combat. In Rome Total War, your infantry could throw about three volleys of spears into the enemy, causing quite decent damage, before either charging or simply continuing waiting for the enemy attack.
In Rome Total War Two, Roman infantry (and other javelin carrying melee infantry) will only throw their spears if they are charging in to attack. Now again, I’m no expert in ancient combat, but you would really think that soldiers probably threw their spears at other times then when they were charging. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Roman infantry wasn’t such a huge part of the Rome Total War games. I mean Rome is the namesake faction and they have the biggest variety of infantry of any faction. Leaving them without this ability quickly becomes very noticeable and really takes away an important tool for Roman commanders.
Maybe this was a balance thing that they did to try and make Roman infantry less powerful. But when they give pretty much all sword infantry the ability to do this why not just let all of these units throw their spears from a stationary stance?
My other problem is with the large number of active abilities the game now includes. Your general can have around five or six abilities he can activate to improve everything from your unites morale to their stamina. Honestly, I liked the game better when it was all about how you built and used your army, not about how many special abilities you could spam from your general.
In conclusion, Rome Total War 2 is still a work in progress. I would contend that the new game has introduced more potential than it has introduced negative features, but the lack of unique units and graphics is a very concerning trend. The game does a lot of things well, especially the multiplayer which us Total Wars players have been dreaming of for years, and I really hope they take the time to make it even better before they start releasing all of the expansions.
If you’re itching for a new Total War game this holiday, I think the time is almost right to buy Rome 2. Don’t expect it to feel totally complete, but it is a lot better than where it was at when released.