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Games | Total War Through History | Rome II... or not?

Total War: Rome II by Creative Assembly

The original idea

The plan was to start a play-through of selected titles in the Total War series, jumping forward in time from Rome II to Medieval II, then finishing with Empire. I was going to play with British factions (or as close to it as possible) and try to complete a hat-trick of 'Great British Empires' that I had achieved so much success with in both Medieval games. Unfortunately, it won't quite work out like that...

Some (Total War) history

Before I get on to the problems with Rome II, I think it best to state my experience with the Total War series so as to provide some perspective.

I originally jumped on-board right at the beginning with Shogun and enjoyed it, but found the end-game turned into a game of whack-a-mole for me, constantly moving from flare-up to flare-up and never being able to get beyond that. I had other games to play and felt that I'd got enough out of Shogun anyway so moved on.

Next was Medieval and the first of my Great British Empires. I absolutely loved Medieval and definitely considered it superior to Shogun, but again the end-game stretched on that little bit too long and an even larger backlog of games forced me to move on even if my (eventual) victory was inevitable.

The original Rome was next and, while enjoyable and certainly more technically advanced than the previous two games, was lacking that certain special something for me. Despite this, I actually managed to complete a campaign rather swiftly, but didn't feel any special need to return for a repeat attempt.

Then came my favourite in the series, Medieval II. I loved this game to bits and, after an initial quick and uncompleted campaign to get used to it all again, I then set about creating a second Great British Empire, effectively turning whatever the British faction was called into Rohan from Lord of the Rings and creating a monstrously-large cavalry-based army that swept across Europe to ultimate domination.

Empire was where I fell out of love with the series despite adoring the fantastic naval battles - seriously, playing one naval battle in a demo was enough to convince me to buy the full game.

Despite the adventures at sea and enjoying the setting, it all felt a little detached and devoid of that certain something that the best games have to keep pulling you back. After around eight hours of play, I was bored and moved on and it would be years before I would return to the Total War series.

Rome II - Fatal Flaws

Total War: Rome II by Creative Assembly

The reason I wrote and included that section above was to show that I've got a history with the franchise that has been largely enjoyable. Now this isn't a full review, more like a first impressions summary - and they aren't good.

Rome II is absolutely horrific for new players and I genuinely don't get some of the design decisions taken here.

First off, there's the tutorial. Or, more accurately, the "tutorial". The first two sections appear to be decent enough, but are exposed later. 'Later' as in the third section, in which the AI army you face seems to completely ignore the mechanics of even the previous battle in the second tutorial.

I tried multiple different tactics and formations for my soldiers, yet every single time the enemy would just swamp my forces who simply seemed incapable of fighting back. Wondering if there was a particular tactic needed to win and that I had accidentally skipped some advice from an adviser, I quickly googled for help and instead saw a ludicrously long set of results stating that the tutorial/prologue was way too hard and you would be better off skipping to the main game and learning more by simply playing the full campaign.

Having wasted plenty of time on an apparently badly-designed battle, I decided to follow the advice and get some practice in ready for the start of my planned Total War series and found a whole new set of problems instead. Mainly, a laundry list of gameplay mechanics and interactions that the "tutorial" hadn't even mentioned, never mind explained how to use them.

My first turn took about an hour as I slowly went through each panel and button, listening to my adviser and mousing over the on-screen controls and text to learn as much as I could to make sure I didn't screw things up from the start. Passing that hour mark, I decided to simply get on with it and see if I could pick up necessary stuff immediately and expand my interactions with the other systems once I was more comfortable.

The next few turns were relatively peaceful as I researched new technologies, improved my settlement and raised an army to guard the northern border of my territories. I even made peace quickly with a faction I was at war with from the game's start and declared a pact of non-aggression with another group, trying to avoid conflict so early on while I was picking up how everything worked.

Everything appeared to be proceeding as I'd hoped, having set the difficulty to Easy and having picked the Iceni (aka, the "English" faction), with the game also telling me the initial challenge with them was also Easy. The plan was always to turn up the difficulty later on once I knew what the hell I was doing, but the game had other ideas.

On turn 5, the faction to the north of the Iceni suddenly declared war without warning and marched into my territory with an army larger than my three separate forces combined, utterly destroying my northern army in a single turn and ensuring the money spent on those soldiers was completely wasted.

Remember, this was on Easy with an Easy initial challenge. What would someone coming to the Total War franchise have made of it? The main answers according to the previously-mentioned googling was "have I wasted my money?", or "please help, I have no idea what to do", which does sum it up perfectly.

For me, I don't see the point of the tutorial/prologue. It barely scratches the surface of what the full campaign offers and pits what will be mainly new players against an incredibly difficult opponent without prior warning or providing any rationale for why their skirmishers are better than your cavalry.

What now?

Total War: Rome II by Creative Assembly

The planned Total War series for Fridays is now on hold until I can put a lot more time into learning how the bloody campaign actually works rather than flying blind from the start. I'm not going to quit at the first setback, and am going to figure things out even if I have to start the damn campaign a dozen times over until I get my head around all the systems, mechanics, and how they interact. You know, what the tutorial should have done. Give me a couple of months so I can put in the time required and hopefully everything will be sorted.



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