By – John Williamson

Total War II Rome Review

The Total War franchise has always catered to strategy aficionados because of its grandiose scale.  Back in 2004, Rome: Total War received widespread critical acclaim and is often perceived as one of the greatest tactical games ever produced.   After a prolonged 9 year wait, the highly anticipated sequel has finally arrived.  The early sales figures are nothing short of exceptional.  On 23rd August 2013, Total War: Rome II sold 7 times more pre-orders than Total War: Shogun 2 surpassing all expectations and making it the most pre-ordered game in Total War history.  Considering its budget was 40% larger than any other game in the series, I expected a certain level of polish.  This was not the case as Rome II is plagued by primitive AI, sub-par optimization and a lack of expected features.

For those new players, Creative Assembly have included a prologue campaign to introduce the fundamental mechanics in a digestible way.  Instead of managing your empire against a wealth of rival factions, you are only in contest against the anemic Samnite tribes.  Throughout this mode, an advisor will discuss how to expand your military might and outline key objectives.  The information is presented at specific intervals with visual prompts and fairly impressive voice acting.  This simplified and directed explanation is a helpful tool for newcomers but isn’t without problems.  The whole process drags on for too long and can become laborious.

It’s not even possible to complete the prologue because of a bug which disputes your victory during The Battle of Bovianum.  On no less than 3 separate occasions,  I defeated my opposition which quickly reverted to the main menu with no recollection of my success.  As such, this mode runs in a endless loop and deters you from attempting the base game.  Once you begin to tackle the campaign, it becomes obvious how unnecessary this tutorial is. During each turn, your advisor reiterates most of the information you have already been told.  This almost makes the prologue redundant.  I would personally refer to the in-game encyclopedia instead of this tutorial which aids your appreciation for Rome’s background and its core concepts.

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The main campaign is based on a number of provinces from individual houses in Rome to  Suebi which all have set attributes.  Playing as a weaker state with an underdeveloped military will enhance the initial difficulty curve. This results in higher unit production cost where armies are costlier to the public purse.  For example, Athens contains the Military Decline perk which increases non-mercenary recruitment costs by 10%.  Each nation has set priorities in regard to technological advancements, economic stability and acceptance of cultural diversity.  This means the core gameplay is exceptionally different depending on your choice.  In addition to selecting individual provinces, you can alter the difficulty from Easy to Legendary.  The higher setting, in theory heightens AI proficiency.

Playing via Legendary disables the option to quickly save before a major engagement.  After each turn is completed, the game automatically saves your progress to one file.  This can cause a number of problems in regards to breaking your existing campaign.  You may rashly move into an enemy’s territory whilst being outnumbered.  None of us can predict the future, and mistakes are bound to happen.  If you have played for a substantial amount of time and this occurs, your empire may suddenly unravel.  Thankfully, you can manually save to a number of slots at the end of each turn.  I strongly advise saving at regular intervals over 3 saves to avoid any problems.

Rome II features an all new campaign map that looks exquisite.  You can witness the construction of major buildings, fleets along trade routes and visual representations of battles.  The scale is nothing short of spectacular which spans across Europe and beyond  This interface should be a joy to use, but at present is counter-intuitive due to monumental frame drops when zooming in and out of provinces.  The performance can become so sluggish that you mistake poor performance for intermittent freezing.

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If you’re lucky, you may achieve 40 FPS for brief moment until the engine gives in and spikes to 15.  What you will notice most is the minimum frame rate which can drop below 10.  This level of performance is laughable considering my rig contains an overclocked hexacore (1090T) and GTX 670 with a beefy core clock boost.  Another horrific oversight which will quickly bring you to tears is the absurdly long wait time between AI turns.  This is due to the number of regions, 173 in total.  You have to sit there until each faction completes their specific actions and finalizes their turn.  Often you can be left waiting for 1 minute or more which at the time seems like an eternity.  This dramatically slows the game down and reduces your enjoyment level.

A strategy game’s artificial intelligence is usually the determining factor when considering its rating.  In Rome II, the AI can only be labelled as atrocious.  Your opposition is passive and rarely declares war on you even if one acts like an overzealous despot.  As a result, you rapidly become overpowered even on the harder difficulties.  The AI bizarrely fails to retreat when you vastly outnumber them. During one ludicrous move, 35 weary soldiers in the Etruscan League idiotically engaged a fortified garrison of 1890 Roman troops.

These suicidal moments diminishes your immersion and makes each contest seem less realistic.  During ground battles there are an unquantifiable amount of problems.  On a number of occasions, when you engage a fleet of 1200 soldiers, the enemy will send approximately 200 to approach you whilst all others remain stationary.  These units idly stand by and watch their fellow comrades get slaughtered instead of flanking you on both sides.  Often they do this when attempting to overthrow your base, and unless you attack them, nothing happens.  The AI fails to recognise environmental hazards.  On one occasion, I positioned a modest quantity of archers behind an old stone house.  I managed to pepper the enemy with arrows without being hit or even seen.  If you hide behind walls or other fortifications, they become baffled and cannot decipher what is occurring.

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I encountered a number of contests where my squad decimated the enemy with similar unit numbers.  When I fought against the Etruscan League deploying 1440 troops VS 1400, I somehow only lost 108 soldiers whilst my opposition fell by 808.  Sometimes the AI just acts irrationally with cavalry units marching through a group of archers. Other moments they are indecisive and repeatedly tread over the same ground.  Naval battles don’t fare much better with each craft unable to steer properly without bumping into an allied boat.  When a huge fleet of ships transcends the waters, they end up tripping over each other.  This is a crying shame because the graphical fidelity of these conflicts is ridiculously high.  There is the potential to be involved in sea engagements featuring 40 vs 34 ships on an unimaginable scale.  This is understandably taxing on your system’s resources which runs barely at all due to lacklustre optimization.

There is a major game-breaking bug which prevents soldiers in these vessels from disembarking onto land.  I instigated a battle with 220 land troops aided by 1000 soldiers at sea, which ended in a quick defeat as they were stranded and couldn’t come to my assistance.  Instead of assisting the ground troops, they simply stood there in each craft motionless.  I kept clicking on these units to bring them ashore, but they remained completely unresponsive.    The AI in general needs a serious amount of patching before it is suitable for extended periods of playtime.

The issues with Rome II’s AI are compounded further by unresponsive controls.  During a number of imperative battles, there was a delay when attempting to move certain squads.  In some instances, they flat out refused to follow my commands.  This delay did cost me greatly and diminished my tactical advantage against robust opponents.   Another colossal problem with Rome II is the duration of combat which is far too short.  Sieges, encampment battles and naval engagements can be completed in under 5 minutes.  When you factor in the outlandishly long loading times it becomes increasingly tempting to Auto-Resolve any minor skirmishes.

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Other AI issues persist during the lacklustre Diplomacy system.  It is commonplace for weak and frail countries to have outrageous demands when forming an alliance with a global powerhouse.  They will seek a substantial financial payment during negotiations for peace.  This is peculiar as non-combat agreements benefit them a lot more than you.

Alongside the campaign mode, there are a number of alternatives to whet your appetite.  You can try Historical, Custom and Multiplayer Battles.  The historical events are executed superbly with premium and enthralling cutscenes.  Learning an individual’s background makes you care about the outcome and become invested in their situation.  I particularly enjoyed The Battle of Teutoburg Forest which is an infamously deceitful moment in Roman history.   You play as Publius Quinctilius Varus who is betrayed by his loyal Germanic born lieutenant, Arminius. He defies his Roman upbringing to join German forces and assault your troops in an ambush.  As someone who appreciates ancient history, I found reenacting historically accurate conflicts exhilarating.  This fight starts with an impressive cinematic which dramatically shows the eradication of a unit in seconds.   The amount of variables during a Custom Battle is extraordinary.  You have the option to select the battle type, Map location, composition of troops and other factors.  I wrongly presumed that the multiplayer would have a sudden influx of players due to AI problems.

Going back to more frustration, finding or even connecting to a multiplayer game is an achievement by itself.  After attempting to join 20 matches, only 2 materialized which ran so poorly they were basically slideshows.  Supposedly, these sparse servers are due to a bug which is currently being worked on.  My favourite element from Shogun II, the co-op campaign is available.  You can form an alliance with a friend or pit your wits against them in battle for global domination. Currently, the co-op feature doesn’t work very well due to painfully slow AI turns and Cooperative desync.  Overall, the multiplayer has been horrifically dumbed-down and is a pale imitation of Shogun II.

Rome II Review

From a technical perspective, Rome II’s release has been nothing short of disastrous.  There is a widespread lack of optimization which results in severe frame drops and system instability.  On the Ultra preset, I attained an average of 45 FPS,  but this felt horrible due to steep dips between 70 FPS and 18 FPS.  Even players using a 4770K and GTX Titan have reported problems.  The latest patch (2) has increased the minimum frame rate.  This does give me hope that these issues should be rectified in the coming months.

These shortcomings are somewhat surprisingly when you take into account how competent the graphical options are which include: AA, AF, SSAO, Texture Quality and an integrated benchmark tool.  During the non-patched original release, there were problems with screen tearing, blurred textures and laughably poor lip sync.  Fortunately, the majority of these graphical abnormalities were fixed in second patch.  To make matters worse, I’ve encountered regular crashes where the screen freezes randomly.  Creative Assembly have recently released a statement apologizing for any launch issues, and describing them as “totally unacceptable”.  Nevertheless, Rome II feels like an unfinished Beta which under no circumstances should have been released in this state.

Controversially, the Greek State including Sparta, Epirus and Athens were restricted to those who pre-ordered.  Since that time has now passed, this day 1 DLC will set you back an extortionate £5.99/$7.99.  It is a snub to devoted Total War fans considering the Greek States were an unlockable extra in Rome: Total War.  There was even a mishap with the Amazon UK retail release where pre-orders failed to include this additional content. Amazon have since tried to rectify this and sent a £2 reimbursement alongside the DLC to qualifying customers.   This does little to entice anyone to purchase Rome II and encourages even the most loyal consumer to wait for a sale.

Rome II Review

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Total War : Rome II is a sequel which has the potential to shine but is completely overawed by technical problems.  The AI is nonsensical and inhibits your enjoyment throughout.  Technically, the game is a calamity and wholly unoptimized.  It does appear that Creative Assembly have focussed their efforts on widening its user base through overly-simplified gameplay.  I still vehemently believe the experience can be totally addictive.  However, I would strongly recommend avoiding this title until all the hotfixes have been released.  Total War: Rome II is currently available with a 33% discount in the UK at £29.99 or $59.95 in America.

Total War: Rome II – Technical Summary:

Total War II Rome Review

  • Time Played – 34 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Windowed Mode – Yes, no borderless support
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
  • 5.1 Audio – Yes
  • System Specs – AMD X6 II 1090T @ 4.01GHz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GTX 670 OC 2GB
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • Demo – No
  • Availability – Steam
  • Bugs/Crashes – Numerous technical and AI issues.
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