I have now, literally, played the game for 50h.
In that time I've played barbarian factions, Hellenistic factions and Eastern factions in both Single Player and Multiplayer. And now I would like to give my honest opinion on everything I think is right and wrong with this game, and why.
Let's first get it clear that I will avoid the issue that many have with graphical errors, crashes and low FPS. I've managed to run the game for 50 hours without a single crash, without a single desync in Co-op and pretty standard FPS. I will also refrain from mentioning small glitches and bugs. So this review will completely focus on the gameplay aspects of the game, and while I acknowledge that those mentioned problems exist and are very much real, I believe that they are secondary to core-game issues.(Since the small stuff hopefully can be fixed)
And do keep in mind that this will be a loooong review.
So, let us begin with what I think they have done right;
- The Map! The Campaign Map is simply gorgeous, detailed and extensive. It's probably the single greatest thing about this game. The way borders form and how your faction is represented on the map in colour is simply astonishing. It's beautiful. And this included everything on the map, your units and the look of cities included. I definitely have the most fun here.
- Provinces. Having Provinces is a great idea. Now I've read a lot of different opinions on this but I believe it to be an overall improvement to the game. It does not dumb down the gameplay, in fact, it expands on it. How hard was it to really manage unruly settlements in previous Total War games? "Lower taxes" or "Exempt region from taxes" and done. If it wasn't enough, just build a few units and you're fine.
In Rome II it is not as simple as that since all settlements in a Province share happiness and outrage alike. If you have a happy settlement in a Province and decide to expand and take the other(let's say there is four) three settlements in quick succession, even the people in your happy settlement will became unruly and angry. So you have to plan ahead when it comes to both attacking and building. You can't just build whatever you want in whatever settlement. You must now look at all the settlements in a Province and decide what you need in each settlement to both get what you want and what the populace want.
It also gives you this feeling of accomplishment every time you manage to completely conquer a Provine!
- The Garrison The [B][COLOR="#008000"] It's big and requires you to have a dedicated army in order to capture a settlement. No more small armies running around capturing cities.
- The Diplomacy. Yes, yes, I know many have expressed less than positive experiences with the new Diplomacy system, and I personally agree that it has some issues. But overall I think it's great. It makes it very easy to understand how the A.I thinks and for once doesn't give you a negative status simply for conquering territories. (Remember Medieval II anyone? As Egypt I was known as Devious, Untrusthworthy, Warmongering etc.etc without ever breaking an agreement, without ever starting a war.) And while some claim the A.I is impossible to negotiate with, that it is greedy and selfish, I have not found that to be the case. As Athens I wanted to invade Sparta, but since they were allies of Macedon I decided to try and break them up first. So I opened diplomacy with Macedon and expected to be turned down or have to pay a hefty sum to get them to abandon Sparta. But no no, Macedon so badly hated Sparta that the only thing I had to do was ask and without any payment or agreements from my part, they just said "Bye bye Sparta" and gave up on their alliance. I could now happily march my army towards the Spartan capital.(A story which will be featured later on in this review)
Later on when I was playing as Arverni in a Co-op campaign the Diplomacy of this game once again positively surprised me. I had been very kind and nurturing towards the other Gallic tribes in the hopes of forming a Confederation. I had only destroyed 2 very annoying tribes, one of which you start the game as enemy with. Around 30 turns in, one of the tribes was under attack by some Punic *******s, so I went into Diplomacy with that tribe. I promised to join the war, if they joined my confederation. With no military power left and annihilation awaiting them, they joined me. And just like that I had acquired 3 new settlements. After that I swiftly proceeded to wipe out the intruders and take their lands. I now proceeded to make deals with all the other Gallic factions and after a few turns and some thousand of denarii spent the rest of the tribes joined me in the Gallic Confederation!
(My brother, whom was playing Suebi, didn't have it as fortunate though, he experienced, quite literally, total war! So when I had around 15 settlements, he was still stuck at 4 with enemies all around.(I went to conquer south into Spain, not towards Suebi. But it's his first Total War game, so it's natural.)
All in all, I really like the new Diplomacy system.
- A plethora of Factions! Says itself, I really like how they've made so many factions. It's really a step-up from having rebell settlements everywhere.
Fighting on the Campaign map. When you've won(or lost) a battle and get to watch your army general vs the other army general fight eachother it just makes you happy. The animations are awesome and the kill moves are epic!
With that said, I think we've(sadly) already reached the end of what I enjoy with this game. Let's move on the less positive features.(and unfortunately way more common features)
So, what have they done wrong;
- Turn loading times. I regret to say but this is the first Total War game that I don't feel the urge to go "Just another turn!" Sadly, it feels more like "Not another turn!". The time between turns is simply abhorrent! In Single Player it's slow, but still somewhat sufferable.(I still find myself tabbing out of the game between every turn though.) In Multiplayer it's simply unacceptable. Who in heavens name tried the Co-op campaign and decided that it was OK with turn loading times that takes anywhere between 180 to 300 seconds? It took me and my brother 16 hours to play 34 turns. Granted we wasted a lot of time looking at videos and reading the forum between turns. But it's still two turns per hour! An hour in this case may look like this; My turn(5m), My brothers turn(10m), Turn loading(5m) My turn(15m), My brothers turn(5m) Turn loading(5m), Add an extra 5m because some A.I went into diplomacy with either of us and we missed it because we were tabbed out. Turn starts loading again(5m), Still tabbed out(5m). BAM, hour gone!
This problem have to be fixed in order for this game to feel playable. Because right now it feels like I'm playing something like Wordfeud on my phone;
*Wasting time on the internet*
"Oh, they finished, my turn again!"
*Finish my word*
*Back to internet*
Rinse and repeat. This fact totally ruins immersion.
- 1 year per turn. We all knew this was the case, and we all expressed our negative opinions on it. I don't really care that much that the map doesn't change to reflect seasons. But what I do care about is that your generals and agents usually die before you're even close to having reached their full potential.But I guess this is one thing that can be fixed with a mod, although it won't feel the same as it would have had it been implemented from the start.
- Agents. As previously mentioned, they die too fast! But that's not the only problem I have with them... One of the things I loved the most about agents in Shogun 2 was that they changed appearance when they gained levels. I looked forward to seeing this again immensely! But in Rome II they stay the same all the way from level 1 through 10. And I know that with certainty because I've leveled an agent to 10.
I think I might be the first one in the world to do it. Only 0.1% have the achievement. He was 67 years old when he reached level 10. He died of age the next turn... I stood outside a city poisoning their water for roughly 50 years. Which once again proves that having the highest level of agent is almost impossible. And if you reach level 10, he/she will die soon anyway.
- Uprisings The army generated when a settlement rebels is ridiculously small and insignificant. They will simply throw themselves on the city next turn and the garrison will take care of them. They are no threat at all.
* Edit for Uprisings. Apparently they grow in strenght if left alone, something I had never experienced since the cities that rebelled was always a city I had newly captured with my army which I promtly used to crush them. So my bad. The more you know!
- The battles! Oh yes, The battles... I honestly have tried to avoid doing battles as much as possible. Auto-resolving is much more enjoyable.
Since this is a pretty big topic and part of the game, I will divide all the things I find unacceptable with the battles of Rome II into a subcathegory;
Battle speed. The battle speed is way, waaaay to fast paced. When the battle has begun you rarely have any time to act. Coupled with the fact that the units rout way to fast without even being flanked.
Then comes the unit coherency. They don't stick together even if their lifes depended on it(which they do by the way) and just mush into this multicoloured "blob" of people with buggy animations sliding back and forth.
Cheering. I'm all for being happy after having won a victory, but cheering because you rout a unit mid-battle instead of chasing after them is stupid. Who came up with that?
Chasing down routing units. I actually havn't seen anyone mention this before, but I can't be the only one that has this problem. But the units are completely horrible at chasing down routing units! If you send a full horse unit after a full routing unit, chances are they will get off the map before you've even chased down half of them. The horses just run around and through the shattered unit and only occasionally gets a kill in.
Flags in open battles. Oh my God, what kind of devious trickster devil in development managed to spew forth this horrible idea of death and destruction? And then get a clear go to implement it?! It completely kills any chance you have to defeat a vastly superior force by utilising all the amazing features you bragged about. Like fighting from the top of a hill, attacking from inside a forest etc. Now you must place your units in the middle of the map and just wait for the opponent to get all his reinforcements together and then just overwhelm you. It completely kills any chance of winning against a larger force, i.e it completely alienates the use of tactics during a battle.
Abilites. I won't use the name "Magic buttons" that some call it, but I will acknowlege that I want them to magically disappear forever. (at least some of them). In Shogun 2 we had a few abilities, easy to access and use. If you timed them right they could give you an edge and most of them(note; not all) made sense and felt like they should be there. In Rome II we get a huge bunch of unnecessary abilities that are hard to use and dubiously placed. Why would you have to hover over an ability and then press the new one showing above it in order to activate flaming spears/arrows? Wasn't it enough just having a "Activate Flaming Whatever" button?
Battle A.I Any one remember that video where a guy talked about how amazing the Rome II battle A.I would be? I do, I even saw it yesterday, filled with contempt. It's a big, blatant lie. The battle A.I is so the worst I've seen in any Total War game to date! This, coupled with the fact that we were promised, PROMISED, epic siege battles, makes me very depressed.
Someone linked me a video of a guy playing as Sparta and the A.I, which was almost twice the size of his army, would just run around the gates until the towers reduced them into nothingness. Another siege in which I myself played the A.I would simply run up to the gates, burn it down, and then mass rush and lose. Even in previous Total War games the A.I would at least try to use ladders and siege towers coupled with siege weapons... And although pretty stupid back then, one would assume the A.I at least would improve with the years, not the other way around!
Here's the video if anyone is interested in watching; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0ZdBZ2Q8H0
I also recall a post by CA on how difficult and and epic it would be to try and conquer Sparta. As previously mentioned, I attacked Sparta when I played Athens. The battle went as following;
I put my heaviest and most experienced Hoplite unit inside a tight street while I went around with half of my army. The Spartans literally zerg rushed my hoplite unit while I just went around and charged them all in the back. Mass rout ensued and I won, taking only minimal casualties.
The word "epic" would not be in my description of the battle.
Naval Transports. Having a free and always avaible Naval Transport fleet is ridiculous. I disagree with the people who exclaim "Magic boats!" because I find that equally ridiculous. We do actually spend 25% of our movement when disembarking, which is a quarter of a year, i.e 3 months. 3 months which could be spent building boats. What I don't like however is that they are completely avaible to everyone, costs nothing and in a naval battle they are way to powerful. In auto-resolve a real fleet beats them to a pulp, but heavens forbid you play that battle on the map because then you'll more than likely lose big time!
- Torches. I mean, come one! Is there actually anyone who enjoys the biggest cities in the world being breached by torches? The A.I doesn't even use siege equpment, they just jump in and torch the gate and zerg rush. No fun at all.
- Siege items. While not a bad thing in itself, it becomes bad because you never have to use them(See above). They also have way to long building time, it should logically not take 2 years to build two sets of ladders. I like the way it was in Medieval II, where the size of your army decided how many siege items you could build in one turn.
- Melee units not throwing their spears when charged. What's up with that? I sincerely hope that it is a bug, and not a design choice. Disrupting a charge by throwing a bunch of spears in the attackers face should be possible.
I think I've included all my thoughts on battles, but I could've missed a few points(I'm a bit tired), in which case you are free to remind me.
Anywah, time to list some major stuff that is missing from this game;
- The Multiplayer system. Compared to Shogun 2 it is extremely boring. Just a simple menu where you can host and join games a long with a quick battle function. I must admit I wasn't that avid a multiplayer battle guy in Shogun 2. I started with that only some weeks before Rome II release so I didn't really bother since I figured it would come for Rome II aswell. The avatar and the map was a brilliant idea! Although the battles were imbalanced I had fun. In my second online game I even managed to defeat a rank 8 guy who only used expensive FotS units vs my Shogun 2 standard army.
The new system is just... disappointing and cheap.
- No Family Tree! This has been mentioned before, as it should! The complete removal of any sort resemblance to a family tree is utterly atrocious! The family tree in Shogun 2 was lacking, but at least it was there! Now instead we have this extremely bland and generic menu full of people we don't give a hoot about. And even if they die they will be replaced with some distant cousing Nobody. It's also extremely complicated to enter a marriage for your generals. All mine died bachelors. But seeing as having a wife only gives you a few statbonuses and is otherwise (I think) useless I guess it doesn't matter.
Removing the Family Tree meant removing one of the most heartwarming things Total War had going. Towards the end of campaigns I used to look back on my Family Tree and from the beginning go through everyone of them. Remembering how they died and what they did during my campaign always made me nostalgic. The generals and people in this game are boring and doesn't make you connect in any way.
- Worse graphics than Shogun 2. In all honestly, this game looks worse than Shogun 2 in every aspect except for the Campaign map. I feel that the units in Shogun 2 are much more refined than the ones in Rome II. The samurai marching in full armour were magnificent to look at, in Rome II the units looks way too colourful and cartoonish. Which once again leads me to another issue of mine;
- Bland and boring units. The unit rooster of Rome II sure is extensive, not as big as we were promised though(what with 700 units) as it's closer to somewhere around 500 as I read someone had counted them too. But all the units are basically the same and I don't feel any exitement in upgrading buildings and such to get new ones, since they are boring aswell. Not to mention that most of them are ugly. Royal Spartans for example have these really ugly helmets. I hate to mention 300 but couldn't you have made them more like that? For all it's short comings and historical inaccuracies at least that movie had awesome helmets!
The Parthian cataphracts(one of the teams I personally looked forward to the most) looks pretty horrible. Sad to say but they looked a lot cooler in Rome I...
- No recruitment videos. They were a nice touch in Shogun 2, and would've helped a great deal in making units seem more interesting in Rome II. Sure, they had a bigger unit rooster than Shogun 2, but with the removal of agent videos one could've hoped that the extra time and resources saved by doing that could've gone into this!
I think that for the better part concludes what I feel this game has done wrong. There are some things I want to add though, topics on which I'm pretty neutral;
- Unit cards I personally think the unit cards are a neat touch, I think it suits the era and I like the clean, lean look it has. That said, I do think they could've done it better. But I'm still happy with how they present themselves.
- Building cards. These are OK, they could've done them a lot more interesting but I can deal with them, buildings arn't that fun anyway.
- Technologies These are boring, not at all like the Shogun 2 ones. And the different branches of the technology tree just seems excessive and uneccessary complicated to navigate. But yet again I don't really mind, this is also a grey area in terms of how I enjoy the game.
- Agent videos. This might get me a lot of hate, but I don't think they are necessary for the game. I usually watch them once, then never again. But I had hoped that the removal of these videos at least would've let them focus on more important aspects of the game, sadly, that was not the case...
Oh, there is one last thing before the end that I must add that really makes me boil inside.
- Building Hype based on False Facts. The building of hype for this game was enormous and CA wasted no time in helping in the construction. We had rally point and daily updates to really keep us interested and spread the word. They really made us believe that this game would be the greatest game in the world. They showed us the Siege of Carthage video from "Pre-alpha" and said that the final product would look "way better". But that was all a hoax, although the current Siege of Carthage battle is pretty big, it's not even half the size of what had been shown and the gritty feel is completely removed. Even the panorama we recently got shows a different siege than what we got.
Looking back on the rally point videos is a sad endeavour, seeing them all so enthusiastic makes them really believable but it's all just an act. The absolute worst one is Rally Point - Episode 14. He's basically just sitting there spewing forth lies about A.I for 8 minutes. Painful to watch to say the least.
All in all, if they hadn't hyped this game up and made us believe it would be the single greatest game of all time, I personally believe the backlash from the community wouldn't have been this severe.
Phew, I think I'm done. Done with this post, done with staying awake for this long, and sadly, done with Rome II for the time being.
And please note that these are problems I personally experienced, I have likely missed stuff that has bothered others. Feel free to add your own issues with the game!
All in all, my overall impression and experience of this game is one of disappointment. I've been an avid Total War fan since Shogun 1 and this release just breakes my heart. Reading rumors of Rome II being made this simplistic in order to port it for consoles and seeing that much of what CA said about the game is a lie doesn't make it easier. I'm just glad that most of my friends that I tried to recruit for this game said they would wait. And I feel sorry and guilty for the ones who bought it. I seriously preached that it would be the best game of the century... I feel so stupid and betrayed.
This might be the last CA game I buy, and definitely the last I pre-order. I can't believe I've spent a year waiting for this and weeks before release just shaking in my chair out of excitement. Only to see myself re-install Shogun II after only 50 hours of playing it.
It's a bloody shame, and it breaks my heart. It had such potential, and I pictured myself being able to play this game forever.
If you've come this far, I thank you for taking time from your life in order to read my thoughts put into words.