I’m over 30 hours into my campaign as the Iceni and I’ve only completed around ten percent of the objective I need for a conquest victory. If I was playing any of the prequels, I could conceivably have finished a whole play through by now. One thing is clear, Total War: Rome 2 is a very slow burning strategy game. Unlike previous titles, where owning a province meant owning one central city, provinces are split into multiple settlements, meaning that there is more to conquer and more to manage. Owning full provinces provides bonuses and allows you to issue an edict in that province. This can boost a variety of stats including food production, commerce and happiness. It makes the process of carving out an empire more structured; you are encouraged to complete provinces rather than just grab whatever scraps you can here and there.
Agents have changed too. We are back down to three different types of agent now, from Total War: Shogun 2’s five, but they all start with a random skill that lends them to certain strategies. For example, a champion might start with a skill that makes him more effective at training troops, a spy could start off a little better at sabotaging buildings, and a dignitary might begin more efficient at administrating armies. All agents are capable of bumping off enemy operatives though, which is convenient, if a little too generalized. A riff on the promotion system from Shogun 2 is present here, but because a turn is representative of half a year as opposed to three months, your agents stick around for half as long before they get old and die, which makes it much harder to get them to maximum level and means they won’t be around long to enjoy it when they get there. This is a shame because it detracts from the RPG stat building fun to be had training them up.
As ever, it’s the battles where Total War really shines. Units are more detailed than ever, with multiple different skins and shield designs for each battalion. This makes a refreshing change from the monotonous uniforms of Empire: Total War. Micromanagement is made more important by the return of commander abilities and the commander influence area. More of the troops available now have special abilities of their own. In no other Total War game have I been more thankful of a pause button. However, the hammer and anvil tactic that works so well in every game in this series is as powerful as ever.
It isn’t all smiles though; there are some AI problems, including occasional bugs where troops won’t exit their transport ships and archers won’t retreat from charging units even if they are in skirmish mode. These are fixable bugs, but they are irksome nonetheless and can make the game frustrating. The biggest problem though is the amount of time it takes for the turn cycle to complete on the campaign map. Because of the dozens of minor factions in the game, it takes the AI an excruciating amount of time to complete all of their turns. This means that there are periods of time during the campaign where you could conceivably spend seventy-five percent of your time waiting for your next turn to start, just so your farm upgrade can be three turns to completion rather than four. This is especially bad news for gamers on a time limit.
Total War: Rome 2 feels like a great stride forward for the Total War series, but the epic scale has brought with it some annoying bugs and features. If you can look past those, you will find a massive strategy game with multiple paths to victory and a layer of political intrigue over the battles (though still not one on the level of Crusader Kings). Looking at the finished product, it’s clear that Creative Assembly set their sights far beyond the sun with this outing. They might have hit the moon this time, but they’re still high above the satellites of the rest of the war gaming genre.
Total War: Rome 2 is age rated 16+ and now available on PC