Sunday, December 29, 2013

Video Game Chat: Total War: Rome II

I am a big fan of Rome Total War and I would recommend you skipping its sequel.

I could ramble on but I'll stick to a few simple points instead.  You can read my review of the original here.

So, this sequel was 9 years in the making and Creative Assembly has made several games in the series in the mean time.  How did they do?

The Good
The graphics are beautiful and the unit cards are lovely in their stylized designs.  (Although, my top-of-the-line video card can't handle it when it rains on the battle field or when towers tumble in a siege.  I guess they were future proofing by designing for next-gen video cards?)

The ahistoric units are gone.

The Bad
The AI is as stupid as it ever was.  I've had several computer-run generals do suicide runs into me when the rest of their army had not even engaged yet.  (the computer is obviously using them because they are cavalry.  Can CA not flag generals as a special kind of last-use cavalry or something?)  I've had the computer attack a walled city and then sit there without moving until the battle runs out.  Because I had battle time limits set at an hour back then I had to alt-tab out and surf the web while I waited for them to lose the battle they initiated!  I've had an enemy general in a city I was conquering sit at a capture point with a superior force while I won the city at a different capture point. Stooopiiid.

Also, in the original, if you attacked a city without a siege unit (or elephants) that could break down a gate you lost automatically.  Not so in this game where any unit can throw Molotov cocktails and burn down your city gates.  This makes having walls much less useful and means you still have to put big garrisons in walled cities if they are threatened.

Diplomacy seems just as weak.  Everyone hates you and no one wants to engage in money-making, growth-making trade with you because they hate you.  Even though that money and trade now might help them conquer you later.

The Ugly
They took away one of the most fun things of the original -- the families and their hangers-on.  Oh, there are generals but every turn is a year.  It takes 7 years to raise a full army, several years to pacify a newly conquered city.  It takes several years to travel from city to city.  You are not going to have any Hannibals or Alexander the Greats in this game unless you balls out blitzkrieg.  Your generals will more likely die of old age.  And it doesn't really matter in the end, because there is no family tree.  The generals feel like random dudes that share your family name.  You don't see them grow up, you have no way of anticipating when one will be available.  Hell, I've gone a decade with no one from my family available as a general.  So, if I want to raise an army all the successes and glory of that army will accrue to some other rival family.

(There is still a household, but it is usually just one retainer, they take a year to change and they are very similar with many different retainers offering the same benefit, like,for instance, +5% to morale.)

The way cities work has been completely overhauled.  Now cities matter less than regions.  A region is made up of a capital and one or more minor cities.  The capital can't have agriculture but can hold 6 buildings while the minor cities can have agriculture but only hold 4 buildings.  You need food to build certain buildings but most buildings make everyone unhappy because of squalor.  So the game pretty much is about juggling these buildings.

I can understand this in theory being fun.  But I just have not enjoyed it.  Buildings are expensive and take years to build so destroying them and changing buildings is not an efficient strategy, yet you will often find yourself with either plenty of food but no advancements or with advancements but starving to death with a rebelling populace.  You have to realize that the buildings that fight squalor are far down the tech tree, so for decades of game time everything you build pisses people off, even building up your agriculture causes squalor.  I have taken to leaving all buildings at the last level they don't cause squalor.  So I have a lot of semi-developed cities.

It could be that I just haven't figured out how to play this game the way it is intended to be played.  But for someone who has hundreds of hours in the original (and 140 in this one) that right there is proof that the game is a very different game.  And not much of an argument that fans of the first will like it. 

I'm not opposed to a more dynamic and complicated system of city building, I quite liked the way prosperous cities in Empire Total War would lead to the development of small towns.  But somehow this game makes it painful.  I feel penalized for every change I make and those changes take so long.  I keep going back and trying to play.  But in the end it feels tedious.  I don't understand how in 9 years this is all they managed. 

I think I am going to look to Crusader Kings II (I've played the first one) or Europa Universalis 4 for my strategy fix.  Or, heck, just play the original which I find still holds up pretty well.


  1. Well, so much for that as a Christmas gift. You confirmed my fears of it not improving the worse parts (I, for one, didn't need better graphics at all). Thanks for sharing!

  2. No families? I was actually pondering buying a new computer in order to be able to play Rome II but thanks to your review I won't.

  3. @Enzo: Your welcome, but, yeah, I do it with a heavy heart. There is a running joke with one of my co-workers that I talk to about the game: "Why do you keep playing it if you don't like it!?" I guess I kept hoping something would click. But things like the old general suicide charge are unforgivable.

    @widugauja: Well, there are families, in a more abstract sense, but it seems like you can ignore them entirely. I'm not sure of that, but I've never seen an advantage from high family approval, nor noticed much disadvantage from low.

    I would highly recommend Mount & Blade: Warband and Crusader Kings II (which I bought last night and seems a polished version of the first one), both scratch different strategic itches but feel like they are made by people who care. The total war series feels more and more like they are phoning it in, like a sports franchise where they just expect you to buy them.

  4. This makes me very sad. I've never played a Total War game, but as a huge fan of Roman history & RTS/Strategy games, I've really had my eye on this one.