While Nick was busy actually playing Rome II, I wimped out. I’ve never been one to get stuck in the nitty gritty of the real-time battles in the Total War series and the fear of getting obliterated caused me to sit back and let Nick get involved. Of course, Nick got a bit blown away too. The key difference, rather than being wiped out by the army with a clear strategic advantage, had I played, I would have taken that advantage and squandered it.
So yes, the real-time battles that are ever present, and justly so, in the Total War series aren’t really my cup of tea. However I will give credit where it is due, the battle on show looked frankly amazing. It took The Creative Assembly until Empire to introduce naval warfare, but since then it stood apart from the land battles. Watching Nick play, and then some more in-battle action during the developer session, I have to say I am loving the fusion of naval and land warfare in the same battle.
It looks set to add another dimension to the action and it is a justified inclusion when you see the game in action. It looks gorgeous for one, and the improved physics add a weight to the battles I haven’t seen before in my brief excursions in previous titles. The crunch of wood as a ship rams with the force of hundreds of men on the oars into another is impressive. It is fades away from mind though when you see a troop of Egyptian War Elephants charge through Nick’s legionnaires followed by balls of burning hay and tar sending his archers flying down the hill.
It might be great fun when you get to see those details, but what I am looking forward to most is the main campaign map. This was shown off to great extent during the developer session we attended, and it is looking seriously amazing. The map stretches from Britain to the borders of modern-day Afghanistan along with a slice of North Africa. It is an astonishing amount of land to explore and conquer, but it doesn’t have the extreme expanse as seen in Empire while it certainly offers greater scope than Shogun. I never really clicked with those editions of the series, the two Medieval titles and Rome have always been my favourites. That is in large part down to the map sizes, so I have to say that the size of the map in Rome II feels just right.
I loved the fact that you could see great landmarks such as the Great Pyaramid of Giza and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, locations with great places such as these will gain various bonuses. Furthermore, when the developers were showing off Egypt (a large focus of their session) they highlighted the presence of elephant’s on the map, a clear indicator of the unique units you can recruit in different provinces. Perhaps my favourite feature that was shown off on the campaign map itself was the way a city will actually grow on the map as you expand it. We were shown a city on the Mediterranean coast expanding and developing a shanty town outside the walls and then we saw a smaller city in Germany. When zoomed in you could see the different architectural styles of the cities based on the different cultures with vast swathes of farmland by the German city being shown off.
The campaign map looks absolutely stunning and I can’t wait to get to grips with it. There are more changes beyond the visual map that have me excited though. There will be internal faction politics to deal with, we were shown three Roman families, Julia, Junia, Cornelia and the influence they had on your faction. One particular highlight was the dev team deciding to assassinate Cicero who was causing problems within the Roman Empire.
Changes have been made to how the map has been divided up, each province will now be divided up into separate regions, but there will only be one capitol for a province. I don’t want to pass judgement on these changes just yet until I get to play around with the map, but it might make things easier to manage considering the expanded scope of the map. I like the sound of being able to issue edicts to different provinces to provide buffs. There are also changes to diplomacy as you will now see a detailed breakdown on the various factors which influence on your relationship with different factions.
Some of these changes to the political scene make me think of the Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis games from Paradox, certainly no bad thing as those titles have some very well crafted features. Tweaks made to army management also feel like they have been influenced by the titles from Paradox as you can now change the name of your armies and issue different traditions as the army gains in experience. These might improve how the army fights against cavalry or buff their long-range offense. Even if your army is routed in battle, you will be able to restore it to pride with a mix of old an new units under the original banner.
While I might not have played any of Rome II myself, a mixture of watching Nick play and the developer session have filled me with confidence that this edition might really be something special. I enjoyed bits of Empire and never really got into Shogun II, I am hoping then that Rome II captures my attention, it certainly looks like it will.