Let me preface this piece on a few factors:
- I never played Rome 2 until this edition. I bought it on an Amazon sale. I have most of the DLC.
- I am judging this based on my time with the Grand Campaign. I have not played the other modes and campaigns aside from the tutorial.
- I have a graphical enhancement mod, G.E.M. That is the most I have modded it.
I loved the Total War games. My first substantive experience with them was Rome Total War and I put hours into that game and the much more satisfying (And authentic) Rome Total Realism mod.
I remember when Rome 2 was first announced. I was excited, though honestly I would have preferred a more modern entry or at the least Medieval 3 (as Medieval 2 is my favorite of the franchise). However, the trailers got me excited. The interviews and gameplay footage shown had a lot of promise in them.
Then the game came out, and boy did the internet have a meltdown. We saw the videos of circling men and sand ships. It was embarrassing. The only people who benefited were the youtubers who made a killing mocking the state of the game.
I decided to hold off on it. I was not about to pay $60 for a product that was obviously not ready for release.
Fast forward a year later and the Emperor Edition comes out. The reviews started to get better. A lot better. So finally, when Amazon had a 75% off sale, I used it to get the game on Steam, and being the completionist I am, all the DLC that was on sale as well. In hindsight, that was not a great idea.
I started the tutorial campaign and it was showing promise. There was A LOT of information. On troops, on terrain, just a lot, and frankly, that should have been my first warning sign, but I will get to that later.
The first few missions of the tutorial helped to ease me in. They were not overbearing and gave me some freedom in terms of movement. Again, the game was showing promise. Then it bugged out on me. I cannot remember exactly what happened, it may have crashed, but regardless, the game had not saved my progress and I was forced back a couple of missions. Yeah, that promise…broke.
But hey, maybe the Grand Campaign can salvage it or at least justify my purchase? So I threw caution to the wind in not learning the rest of the game and started up the Grand Campaign as the Parthians. After nearly 30 hours of conquering the map, I can confidently say that it is still not worth a $60 price tag.
Whatever improvements that may have been made still ring hollow when problems from the PREVIOUS GAMES still crop up. Sieges are still a mess as the unit pathfinding and walls still do not mix, among other movement issues. It is still unbelievably easy to ‘force’ the A.I. to waste its units on your walls. And a surprising thing I have noticed is so many times, ranged units will not attack, at all. They will just stand there, and not just in sieges, even in open battles.
And the battles in general are such a mixed bag. There are so many times that the computer will place you in the wrong direction of where the enemy is facing and you are left scrambling to pick up your formations and move them in time. The A.I. is certainly smarter than in past games, but even then can still fall culprit to tried and true tactics of past games. Units break too fast at times and even the rock paper scissors formula can be suspiciously ineffective. However, when they work, it can be incredibly satisfying to watch your work in action. My most memorable moment was sending my horse archers after a routed enemy and turning on the cinematic camera. It was cinematic, almost movie quality cinematic, to watch my men cut them down.
So why is Rome 2 not clicking with me like previous Total War games? I figured it out when I watched The Co-optional Podcast with Totalbiscuit and friends. The big gripe they brought up with Rome 2 was the micromanagement, and it finally hit me. That is Rome 2’s biggest problem. More than the bugs, more than the annoying sieges, it is the overbearing micromanagement.
Everywhere, from the battles to the strategic map, micromanagement just strangles the joy out of what should be a grand macro experience. Remember when I said that there was a lot of information on display? Well it is useless and frankly just takes up space on my console. There are so many ‘options’ (read:buttons) that I find myself, especially in more frantic battles, pressing the wrong ones. Moreso, the new options on here only add to the micro aspect of the game.
Whereas battles in Total War used to be essentially set it and forget it so you can spend more time enjoying the combat animations, now it has become set it and watch it. The fat just refuses to melt off. Units have now turned from general macro pieces to individual micro pieces in the view of a typical real time strategy game, say like Warcraft 3. Now I loved Warcraft 3, but I came to the Total War series because it gave me grand macro battles and avoided a lot of micro-management. And Total War is the last series you want to add micromanagement too.
It got so tedious I gave up on open battles and switched over to auto resolve, and it did not get any better. Auto-resolve encompasses everything wrong with Rome 2. You now have 3 options: Protective, Balanced, and Aggressive stance, each for a specific situation. Theoretically, it would force a player to look at his forces and his enemy’s and make a tactical judgment. Except that in practice it is useless when it gives me the percentage survival rate for me! Again, it only adds to the tedious micromanagement.
And then we get to the problems with the strategic map from the family and politics tree that do not do anything meaningful aside from occasionally siphoning my treasury to the genuinely overwhelming options for agents, generals and even city management. I understand the ambition to make individual units and cities have specializations as to create more variety, but it ends up just adding to the micro-managing each character or city’s traits and abilities. I cannot see how anyone can keep track of all this, especially once your empire becomes large.
Just one more turn no longer becomes fun anymore, it becomes an obligation. A boring exercise to see how much more time you can waste in one sitting. I am steamrolling my opposition with barely involving myself in these ‘options'; so if they mattered, Creative Assembly did a poor job of making them matter. It is as if they looked at the Crusader Kings series and thought they could take a page from it. Word to the wise, never take a page from Crusader Kings. You either dive into the whole book, or toss it aside.
Broken and unfinished games have become a huge rallying cry among gamers lately, but the trend has been going on a while and no big developer encompassed that trend more than Creative Assembly. Time and again, their games come out with big macro ambitions, but innumerable micro issues from bugs to bad A.I., and the mods have come in time and again and made them shine, if not outright rescued them in the case of Empire.
Rome 2 finally revealed what has been an open secret about Creative Assembly. Their Q&A department is sub-part at best. It was inevitable they were going to release a game broken enough on launch that they would pay the rents of YouTubers the world over. Have they learned their lesson? I do not know. Time will tell.
And the sad fact of it all is that there is a really good game underneath all of the micro-management, bugs and issues. Rome 2 looks good (especially with my graphics mod), it sounds authentic, building an empire can still be satisfying, and the battles can still be awe-inspiring.
But not at $60. Get Rome 2 on sale. A deep sale. And do not bother with the DLC until you are comfortable with the game in hand. Like basically all the Total War games, the mods will eventually make the game shine a lot brighter.
If you are still on the fence about it, go play one of the older Total War games with their well honed mods. The Darthmods are great and the Stainless Steel mod for Medieval 2 is fantastic.
Until then, beware the Idle Archers of March.
(One more note: Where are the cinematics for my agents?)