If there’s one thing the Total War series gets right, it’s strategic warfare on a near-global scale. Despite changes to the formula over the years and the need to balance the minutiae of running an empire with running across a battlefield, the series has always reliably gotten it mostly right. This sequel continues that same trend.
Rome II still features soldiers on a grand scale, and in its glory offers plenty of variety in unit types (from dogs to elephants). The difficulty is that the glory of your empire won’t be built in a day. To see the best this game has to offer will take a serious commitment of time, where what you’re wading through at the beginning isn’t necessarily the most engaging gameplay.
Whether working through the prologue campaign or starting your own scenario, in spending time getting to know the intricacies of the combat system up close you’ll see plenty of minor frustrations. Things like cavalry refusing to march at the same speed as ground troops, or archers not understanding that global orders to attack a unit doesn’t mean they should be melee fighters, require a level of micromanagement that can keep battles from becoming engaging. It’s a shame because when you pull back, the elements of planning out an assault can be pretty fun.
More often than not though, it’s a struggle to get your men to do exactly what you intended for them to, and battles can quickly devolve into a “let’s just get this over with” lump of your troops and your opponent’s troops butting heads in the middle of a map. Even speeding up the action makes little difference with a significant number of units on the field – a problem in a game where fielding the biggest army possible can be your strategy.
There are some great elements to the combat, like being able to zoom in and see the action in precise detail, to the point where you can manually aim things like catapults. And a line of sight system allows you to take cover and set ambushes behind hills, or spring out from the woods on unsuspecting foes. But again, although those things are the highlight of the experience, it’s difficult not to come away remembering how much of a chore it was to unload your ships during a beach assault, or how random a defeat was just because your general was struck down by a lucky blow (when his regiment is otherwise in near-perfect health). Fortunately, that’s only half of what Rome II has to offer.
As in most other global strategy games, you’ll spend a good portion of your time manipulating politics and positioning armies on an overhead map. Here the experience is excellently streamlined and can initially be the most rewarding aspect of the game. I actually found myself wishing I could auto-resolve all the combat after awhile (not just the ones I had a decisive advantage in), just so I could breeze through turns and see my empire grow.
And once you get further into the political systems of Rome and its houses, the intrigue only deepens. Granted, that system of quelling civil rebellion by deciding to forgo democracy greatly mirrors history, but perhaps it does so a little too closely. Much as in life, it can be difficult to understand the myriad factors that go into a process, where in Rome II how things operate can be just as confusing.
All in all, Rome II is a decent game that excels in what it does above and beyond most competitors. But when you examine it more closely under the microscope, elements like the combat are too grand and threaten to collapse under their own weight. Nowhere is this more obvious than selecting a large army, then trying to place it in formation – holding down the right mouse button and expanding units outwards from the center point brings you so perilously close to the edge of the screen that you’ll end up moving the camera, frustratingly, rather than coordinating your army. It’s a small point, to be sure, but one that perfectly codifies the overall experience: once you rise to a certain level, someone, or something, is eventually going to betray you.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10
A code for Total War: Rome II was provided to Pixel Related for review.