Total War: Rome II Review – PC/Steam
Total War: Rome 2 (Or Rome 2: Total War to the purists) is the latest offering from Creative Assembly’s Total War series, and it’s one that’s been long coming. The original Rome: Total War came out nine years ago in 2004. It was my introduction to the Total War series, and always held a soft spot in my heart. Still, that was a long time ago, and while I’ll draw a few comparisons to the original, I’m going to assume most people are newcomers.
Rome: Total War 2 is a strategy game that puts you in charge of a good chunk of Rome. You must manage Rome’s relationships with its neighbors, wrestle with its internal politics, invest in public works, and manage the empire’s well-being at large. This is all handled in turns, so you can take your time as the decades pass. This mode of play is going to be familiar to fans of historical sims or other historical strategy games, but the defining feature of the Total War series lies in, as the name implies, war.
When your units on the greater turn-based strategic map run into enemy units, they get into a fight. Most strategy games choose to be more abstract with numbers, where a single soldier model represents a unit of soldiers. Not this series. One soldier is one soldier, and that means that battles get absolutely enormous. Expect to see literally thousands of soldiers in brutal clashes. The units you control in this game are entire groups of soldiers. You can order them to march in a particular formation, spreading their ranks in a wider pattern to try to catch more enemies, or marching in file so they’re harder to break through. The game does a fantastic job of carrying across a sense of historical authenticity in its presentation, and the battles do a lot to get you in the right mood.
A major point of the battle system that can take a little to get used to is that soldiers don’t fight to the complete annihilation of one side. If you want to win a fight, you need to break the enemy’s will. The battles feature a morale system, and if a unit of soldiers starts to run low on morale, they’ll make a run for it. You can try to bring superior units to a head to head fight, but to get really good at the combat in this game you’re going to have to fight dirty. Outnumber them. Hit them from a blind spot. Pelt them with ranged attacks from some position they can’t even see. If you’ve played your cards right, the enemy might break completely as soon as the first blow lands.
I could go on and on about the combat system, but that’s just one part of the game. What’s combat without something to fight over? You’re walking in Rome’s sandals (by default, at least), but you’ve got tons and tons of neighbors, and while you’re the biggest muscle in the region, that won’t mean a thing if you somehow manage to anger every single power in the Mediterranean, especially since there are over a hundred of them. A lot of the drama in the game comes from making deals and alliances with some neighbors while striking at others, then getting acquainted with new neighbors as you expand, and, of course, dealing with Rome itself.
You aren’t the only power in Rome, and you have other rivals from inside trying to steal your thunder, as well as trying to keep the citizens happy and dealing with the senate. Oh, and civil wars will likely break out from time to time, just like in real life, so you may find yourself having to cross the Rubicon and conquer Rome itself! This element of massive internal political intrigue adds more to your delicate balancing act as you expand. Sure, you might be on the cusp of putting an end to the Gaul menace, but a situation popping up back home might force you to put your plans on hold.
Rome 2 is a fantastic and engrossing experience that sets the glory of Rome before you. The UI could be a bit cleaner, but that’s a minor complaint compared to everything the game gets right. If you aren’t a history buff, it’s an educational experience and if you are, there are a lot of famous battles that you can engage in that show Creative Assembly cares deeply about the subject at hand. If you care about strategy at all, pick up Total War: Rome 2. It’s a must-have.