I've played Total War for over 10 years now and I can honestly say that this release is just as bad as Empire, if not worse. They have slowly taken the winning formula for Total War and dumbed it down for the masses. 'Casual gamers'; the console and phone game generation, have been the downfall of many a great PC game series. From top to bottom this game is purely sacrilegious to any Total War fan who values depth and tactical battles. They have taken away all of our control and implemented gimmicks to please the casual gamer.
I will provide some insight into the fundamental flaws at the core of the games design rather than elaborate on the myriad of optimization problems and graphical bugs the game suffers from at this time. Just to clarify, I want the game to be a success! I am a rabid fan. I built a $3,000 Xfire machine just for the game early this year.
A huge number of features that were available even in Total War: Rome are missing or broken both conceptually and mechanically. I will try and break down the problems point by point as they relate to gameplay. Some outrage is expressed here but I'll try to keep things objective.
-No family tree. CA told us that they wanted us to connect with the human side of Total War. They then removed the family tree. Characters appear at random and you have no idea where they've come from. There isn't even a clear indicator as to who your faction leader is! You have to FIND that information. Politics don't seem to have any real tangible effect on your empire and seem arbitrary as a result. Exacerbating that problem is the fact that you can't really be bothered about 'Joe General #26' from the Mysterious Void gaining influence within your empire.
-No 'Loose' or 'Tight' generic formation commands. Can't spread to avoid enemy fire?!
-No 'Guard' command, your units cannot be instructed to maintain their position and formation at all costs. Even the most disciplined melee troops devolve into a blob during melee combat.
-Testudo and Phalanx do not currently function properly. Testudo does not properly protect against missile fire(A bug, I know). Hoplites will not maintain their phalanx formation and advance when instructed to attack an enemy. You must charge and then try and reform into a blobalanx. Why do we have to work around broken mechanics and inefficient control schemes?
-You cannot toggle fire at will on infantry with javelins, they only fire when they charge. Some unfortunate tactical consequences are that they cannot throw javelins to break an enemy charge and then receive the broken charge, they cannot fire on skirmishers and cavalry harassing them, and if you move reserves to reinforce a battle line they will AUTOMATICALLY throw their javelins into the backs of your own men who are already engaged. WTF CA?
-Troops have inappropriate context based behavior or a complete lack thereof. IE. They will stand in position and take arrows to the face from archers ten feet away (as if instructed to guard, but still lose unit cohesion in melee) and will not chase routing enemies. During a melee blob if a unit of men destroy their immediate foe (target) they will not engage nearby enemies. They will stand there watching their comrades get hacked apart five feet away.
-Auto run breaks unit cohesion.
-You can rush gates and burn them. Why be bothered with clunky and useless siege equipment? Rush in and torch those gates! Apparently walled cities are so rare in Rome because walls are useless. Who knew?
-BATTLES ARE WAY TOO FAST! The battles last a few minutes generally. You spend three minutes walking to the enemy force. Your lines meet and devolve into a chaotic blob and the melee is typically over in about 30-50 seconds as one side routes. If you were inclined to flank the blob you typically don't even have time to move a single flanking unit around into position before the melee is decided. You're far better served simply committing the unit into the blob of doom right away and spamming the 'magic' combat buffs/abilities your men have. Speaking of...
-MAGIC COMBAT ABILITIES! You can hit a button and suddenly your men charge with more force than usual or you can magically remove all fatigue? Get your voodoo out of my Total War. Abilities should have a justifiable function that makes sense.
-Units run entirely too fast, especially with tactical map speed buffs on roads for certain units and while charging. I would seriously estimate that your men can charge at nearly 30mph.. Again, wtf?
-Victory Flags. What is strategic or tactical about standing next to a flag in a location that is strategically irrelevant? Nothing. Artificial victory devices and logical strategy are mutually exclusive. Are we aiming for an arcade style console port or a deep, tactical, and engaging strategy game that rewards intelligent play?
-Diplomacy has improved so far as the campaign AI actually interacting with you in ways beyond declaring war but it is almost always on their terms. If you prefer passive diplomacy you wont notice the problem but if you want to proactively cultivate an environment of success with your neighbors, you will fail. The AI refuses to accept logical treaties of any kind without bribes, very unfortunate.
-Magic boats appear when you move an army into the ocean... Magic.... Boats.... The ability for armies to simply walk across portions of the sea in a single turn completely quashes the intricacy of the Mediterranean theatre. These transport ships are free and can be used to great effect in naval battles. Building and maintaining an incredibly expensive navy is rendered void of strategic value and ineffective. You can recruit a bunch of militia then march them into the sea and ram your enemies navy to death without much difficulty. Horrid.
-The campaign AI is atrocious even on the highest difficulty setting. The AI nations will maintain small armies and play passively. If they do field large armies the majority of the time they will consist of almost all slingers or other skirmishers. This causes the large field battles to involve a 10 second melee blob of doom then 10 minutes of you chasing down skirmishers at random. Epic, disciplined, and mechanized meat grinding battles? I bought the wrong game.
-Unit multiplier is locked. Why am I limited to smaller unit sizes than the original decade old game?
-One turn per year. Good luck utilizing the fresh and interesting general progression ideas. All of your generals will die of old age very quickly, assuming they survive even one blob of doom. (Not likely, thanks to the extremely high kill rates.)
-Army Limits. This is actually one of the few new features/restrictions that I find myself on the fence on. The army cap has some great benefits, if implemented properly.
If the AI can't be made to cope with building unlimited armies from cities then maybe it could be made to at least properly muster a few large armies with a cap. This may only be by virtue of the fact that if the AI is prompted to increase its military power then it has no venue for that beyond the generals on the field.
With fewer armies spamming the map then battles should become more decisive.
So far however, the benefits aren't manifesting very clearly. One major drawback is that moving troops (not armies), patrolling, and maintaining extra garrison forces are all tedious logistical nightmares. Another drawback is that you can wind up with a bloated and useless economy and no way to continue to grow once you've maxed out your military and civil caps.
The removal of freedom of choice in a game of this scope is a very delicate thing and can lead to unnecessarily frustrating methods of control. I think the army cap should be more fluid and potentially unlimited, relative to how much you invest into it. A logistics system that borrows its basic premise from Europa Universalis may be the solution. You could potentially have as many armies as you like, but it is going to cost you exponentially more to maintain all those supply lines and training camps..
-The UI is beyond inconvenient. It is a mess of sub menus and obscure iconography. You play the game through a figurative maze, not a streamlined UI for 2013.
This post by Siven80 covers the UI extensively, check it out:
-The awesome in game encyclopedia of information that the legacy Total War games featured? Still gone. Sure, a cohesive encyclopedia is a great idea, if it is navigable and intuitive enough to provide information in a timely manner.
Edit: I expand on this as I discover more about the game, both good and bad.