Rome: Total War
Casius is an unusually skilled spy, but thatâ€™s not what makes him memorable. He has a pet monkey in his personal retinue that follows him wherever he goes. Supposedly, it helps him with his subterfugeâ€¦ that sounds a bit unlikely on the face of it, but given some of the daring missions he has pulled off, maybe itâ€™s true. Once I sent the man into a heavily fortified city. He managed to climb the walls, and was kind enough to leave the front gates open when my armies attacked the city.
Little details like these are a large part of what makes Rome: Total War an amazing game. Itâ€™s not just the incredible real-time battle engine. Itâ€™s not just the new campaign system, which is by far the best in the Total War series. Itâ€™s not just the immaculate presentation and attention to detail. Itâ€™s that the game has all of those things, and so much personality besides; if thereâ€™s a magic formula for how to make a great strategy game, Creative Assembly has figured it out.
The battles in Rome: Total war are amazing. Creative Assembly has tightened the pacing, streamlined the control, and given the interface a more intuitive design. Particularly impressive is how well the battles hold upâ€”visually and functionallyâ€”at any scale. With the camera pulled back to a birdâ€™s eye view high above the landscape, itâ€™s easy to keep tabs on the battle, set your lines, and direct your troops on open terrain. But you can also zoom in, and even see individual soldiers marching, fighting or dying en masse like good lemmings.
That’s a bit unfair – the close-up view really does lend the game a tense, visceral feel. When you form a line of spearmen, and cavalry is foolish enough to charge right into it, the song of screaming horses, clashing metal and dying men is unbelievable, almost as entertaining as watching Braveheart. Besides having more cinematic battles, the new engine brings with it a large assortment of tactical abilities to its virtual battlefield.
The units are incredibly diverse within each civilization, ranging from the expected Roman, Gaulish and Germanic hordes to more exotic Greeks and Egyptians. The disciplined Roman factions have some of the most organized units at their disposal, like the Triarii (they can place their shields together in a Testudo formation, essentially becoming impervious to arrows). More interesting units include dogs that rip and shred once their handlers release them, and flammable ‘war pigs’. Drill through the complex tech three and you, as the Romans, will be able to build lumbering Onagers – large catapults that hurl rocks at town walls or troops, and are essentially the super-weapons of the game.
Many units, regardless of civilization, have at least one special ability you can use. Archers can light their arrows on fire, charging cavalry can form a wedge formation, druids can chant to increase morale, and all generals can turn routing men back into the fray. Sieges are of particular interest – you can try to starve an enemy into submission, attack, or (if the besieged town is protected by walls) build siege equipment that can take several turns.
The battles are good fun, but as slick as they are, the real star of this show is the new campaign engine. The grand strategy portion of Rome has less clutter and more strategic depth than Medieval and Shogun. The map is still divided into provinces, but armies can now travel around within them, adding a novel element of operational-level strategy to the game. It also gives you time to respond to an army that has encroached on your territory.
In order to conquer a province you have to take its capital, but itâ€™s not enough to place defending armies in your settlements and leave them there. There is a strong incentive to send troops out into the countryside to secure choke points and defensible terrain. The battle map that you fight on is based on the local terrain that your armies occupy on the strategic mapâ€¦ there are a lot of different battle maps in this game. More importantly, this new movement system places a strong emphasis on one of the key accomplishments of the Roman Empire: roads. With more places to go, your armies need a way of getting around more effectively. Building a network of roads is the key to being able to respond quickly.
The best part is how effectively the campaign system makes use of its setting. You play as one of four Roman factions, placing you in a novel role as one cog in a larger machine, all fighting for the glory of Rome. The Senate provides you with missions that add flavor to the game and give you a never-ending stream of short-term goals to accomplish. Eventually youâ€™ll turn on all of them, and try to take Rome for yourselfâ€”a clever contrivance that replaces the late-game drag so common to sprawling strategy games with a tense and climactic endgame battle of huge proportions.
Rome’s huge campaign, large number of civilizations and diversity of tactics are enough to keep any gamer occupied for weeks on end. Hats off to The Creative Assembly for creating one of, if not the best, Total War game in the series.
System Requirements: Pentium 233 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Win95
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