22 Sep 2014

Total War: Rome II: Emperor Edition - Review

Greetings fellow hobbyists and gamers and welcome to my latest video game review! I am excited to finally articulate my thoughts on even just one game from a strategy battle series that has captivated millions of gamers across the world for almost two decades now, the highly acclaimed Total War series from Creative Assembly. Their latest offering in Rome II had a very rocky beginning when it was released all the way back in late 2013 with an endless supply of glitches or bugs, a wealth of features stripped out from the previous game - Shogun II - and several in-game systems (such as politics) that were either unexplained or had no depth whatsoever. With almost a year having passed since Rome II's initial release, Creative Assembly have completed what many would call a story of redemption; constant patches and bug-fixing have finally culminated into a huge content update and re-branding of the game aptly titled the "Emperor Edition". This is a free update for all Rome II owners and despite merely testing the waters of its scope and size - having invested well over 30 hours into it since the games' re-release as the Emperor Edition, and spending 120 hours on the native version - there is still much for me to articulate about and even more for you to enjoy. I hope you find this an entertaining and useful review!


Total War: Rome II: Emperor Edition (PC)


Gameplay

While a game like Supreme Commander may represent warfare on a massive scale with more clarity and accuracy, or a title in the vein of Galactic Civilizations II offers far more options in regards to diplomatic and economic strategy, no franchise combines these two wildly opposed elements together like Total War. The in-game battles necessitate quick thinking, careful maneuvering and positioning as well as the apt control of thousands of soldiers at a time through the convenient regimental controls. All information that a general could possibly require is available and presented to you with a fluid and responsive in-game user interface (UI), with a mini-map, fully workable camera controls and intuitive tool-tips to explain every necessary in-game function of the controls. You can freely manipulate your units to move, change formation or attack on the fly, while various minor abilities are easily manageable by selecting on each individual unit or multiple regiments that share various abilities. The game also allows you to pause, slow down or speed up the action to your liking at any time during a battle, giving you all the means to conquer your opponents and plan your actions out without worrying about being pressed for time. The campaign map offers a wildly different experience but one that ties intricately into the battle system, providing you with the politics of running a nation rather than conquest by military might.

The interface notifies you of all important updates and events that either do or are capable of directly affecting your chosen faction, while there are various tools and tabs that allow you to easily micro-manage dozens of cities, armies and fleets at a time provided you are willing to invest some time into doing so. There are dozens of different unit types native to each faction for you to employ as you see fit, while you can choose to research new and diverse technologies in any order of your choice to benefit your empire most at any given time. Additionally, there is a robust and now finally explained politics system that serves as a backdrop to all the other factors of managing your empire such as food supply, financial longevity and defending or taking territory - each of these works in tandem with one another and can be managed either manually or automatically as you desire. While victory by conquest is generally the most direct and easy way to accomplish your goals, diplomacy and economic supremacy are nonetheless important aspects of expanding your empire and both are - again - very simple to manage. The gameplay of the two different sides of Rome II - battles and faction management - are diverse enough but each intuitive and in-depth, so much so that one can feasibly spend most of their time on one and still get lots of value and enjoyment out of the game. I still don't think Rome II gets either the tactical or strategy elements of its diverse gameplay perfectly right, the formula is still fully functional and fantastic even today and Rome II expands on many elements of both to combine for one of the more fleshed out entries in the series. While some features have been stripped out seemingly for no reason other than to be arbitrarily introduced in a later title to entice players to the latest entry in the series, Rome II is still a fantastic example of mixing combat and management together without unnecessarily hollowing out either in the process.
9/10


Visuals

While the visuals for Rome II that were teased in early gameplay "demos" almost two years ago have proven to be utterly intangible with the current game, Rome II is nonetheless one of the best looking real-time strategy games around - and possibly one of the best looking overall PC games on the planet. In the battles themselves, soldiers move and fight with a fluidity of animation and detail that seems almost incomprehensible given that every individual does so despite battles featuring potentially over ten thousand or more warriors clashing against each other. The Total War games have always been a reminder of what a powerful gaming computer can be capable of, and Rome II is certainly no exception with wonderful detail in anywhere from hundreds to thousands of character models, expressive animations, gorgeous backgrounds and terrain and much more besides. The naval battles introduced in Empire: Total War back in 2009 remain a visual tour de force for the Total War series, even if the extensive wind and water physics of that earlier entry are noticeably toned down for an era where transport ships would literally ram each other to prove their superiority.

The UI is nice and intuitive - a far-cry from the original Rome II release - while the loading screens bemuse you with their scintillating art-pieces depicting war or order in equally impressive measure. The majority of your time will be spent on the campaign map as befits the Total War experience, and while it comes nowhere close to the graphical show-case of battles it is nonetheless a beautiful sight to behold. Cities expand or wither based on your culture and construction choices, the avatars representing your forces are fully animated and look the part of the ancient warriors they owe homage to, while the deft touches such as passing eagles and fleshed out terrain provide one of the most realistic depictions of circa 200 AD Europe to date. Unfortunately, Rome II is an incredibly taxing game even on relatively new hardware despite not being as visually immersive as something like Metro: Last Light, and this can be reasonably construed as poor optimization that - while improved since Rome II's initial release - has plagued the game for over a year now. If you are capable of reproducing the visuals in the latest trailers for the game with the unit size and consistent 60fps frame-rate any enthusiast gamer requires for their optimal gaming experience, you most certainly are one of the luckier ones. From the campaign map to the battles, Rome II is a feast for the eyes and is easily one of the best looking strategy games ever made, though poor optimization and graphical glitches can still plague this expansive video game.
9/10


Audio

Of all the things that Total War games get absolutely spot on - from the visuals to the gameplay - the audio is most certainly among each entries' defining attributes, and Rome II is no different. The music is a nice and varied collection of tracks that perfectly suit the grandeur of Rome, the epic clashes of thousands of warriors, and even the various opposed cultures - whether they be barbaric or of a more civilized nature. The campaign map provides a lush sense of livelihood with the sounds of ports and the crashing of waves as you mouse over sea regions, while you can hear the faint cries of birds and other animals while viewing the forested areas of Gaul or the desert expanse of northern Africa. Units respond with a multitude of well voiced dialogue and the game ensures that all important information is provided with fully voiced in-game cues, ensuring that you can always react and respond to new threats and situations.

The voice-acting is suitably diverse and sounds mostly realistic to the various nations represented with few exceptions, with the various intonations and inflections remaining suitably subtle. While the general's speeches are noticeably and sadly lacking from this entry unless you zoom to them during deployment and listen to a poor imitation of previous Total War games' efforts, the actual battle music and sound gives you all of the heart-thumping emotion you could want as entire armies smash together or dance around one another in a constant battle for supremacy. Zooming in on your soldiers will subject you to lots of sometimes humorous but mostly impressive background dialogue, ranging from anything to inspiring mini-speeches to reminiscing of home or fortune. The ground trembles and your speakers will as well when infantry formations or cavalry regiments rush across the battlefield, and the sounds of men screaming in their death throes or shields clanging against each other on a massive scale is nothing short of wondrous. While some audio cues such as when an event message pops up can get repetitive - especially the advisory dialogue - the game nonetheless wins big in terms of sound and this proves to be one of the biggest steps towards immersing players into the epic wars of early European civilizations.
9/10


Functionality

If this was a review of the original Rome II release, this particular scoring bracket would likely have received a three or four out of ten - and I wish I was joking here. At launch, Rome II was possibly the most unstable of any recent Total War release, and that is saying a lot considering that Empire II would not launch at all for me when I got it for my birthday, or how Medieval II would not work properly on my old computer at the time. Constant crashes, graphical glitches, random and unwarranted slow-down, horrendous optimization, incorrect audio cues or event messages for the situation at present, a messy and unexplained politics system that didn't work, broken combat AI and seemingly even more insipid and glitched campaign AI, freezes on start-up and wonky physics leading to impossible animations or movements - all were present in the first few months of my Rome II purchase. Thankfully, Creative Assembly listened to its fans and likely its own wounded pride by releasing bug-fixing and even content-adding patches almost every week or month at least, gradually improving the game to a state where it was both playable and could be considered stable.

While certain issues do remain even now, the Emperor Edition is certainly a far more balanced and functional package than what Rome II originally released as - the past year could very well be considered the "beta" or "early access" phase for the game, even though it was sold at full price in retailers over that period of time. In my thirty or more hours of gameplay with the Emperor Edition itself so far, I have experienced only a single crash, almost no unwarranted slow-down, few if any graphical glitches and really what could be defined as a mostly "clean" experience. Still, this does not match the definition of perfection for functionality; the game still has numerous small glitches, though few if any are truly game-breaking other than the occasional crash. For a game of this size and scale it might be seemingly understandable that the game has (or had) so many issues, but this is not the 20th century - programmers are paid tens of thousands of dollars a year to actively reproduce and resolve issues such as these on a daily basis. As massive as these games are, Creative Assembly cannot hide behind such an excuse for releasing a horribly unstable mess of a game as Rome II originally released as. The Emperor Edition is mostly fine in this category but I feel a handful of patches at the very least are warranted for further improvement, especially as the multiplayer segments still have noticeable errors and connection issues. 
8/10


Value

While many enjoy the Total War games because of their unique blend of real-time strategy combat and standard-setting visuals or their incredibly high production values, what makes them truly fantastic is that one can easily invest hundreds of hours into just one entry of the series and likely never grow tired of its addicting mix of fighting and management. On record I have one hundred and fifty one hours with Rome II - thirty of which have been spent on the Emperor Edition alone - and yet I still keep coming back to it to try a new faction, a different early game strategy, change up my research priorities, focus more on naval prowess rather than raw manpower, empower trade over combat as a continent-spanning empire or mix up my tactics in the battles themselves. The Total War games are packed to the rafters (sorry) with content, from multiple unique scenario battles that represent a key conflict in history, narrative campaigns and tutorial campaigns that each require a few hours or more of your time at the very least while presenting a mostly distinct experience, over a dozen entirely separate factions each with their own various traits at both a regional and cultural level, and the creme de la creme of strategy action - the grand campaigns.

Each of these is a massive undertaking and has almost endless permutations for the path to total victory, dependent on any number of the factors mentioned above. You can even use the skirmish battle system to try out all different tactics and unit combinations from any of the numerous factions present in the game against a battle AI that you can freely adapt to your tastes in terms of difficulty. Lastly, Rome II offers an expansive suite of multi-player options to back up its gargantuan single-player offerings, allowing you to play challenging battles against your friends or compete for global domination through the usual turn-based campaign system - even if the multiplayer isn't as functional as I would like! I have spent at least one hundred hours in every single Total War game and each new entry is both fresh enough and packed with quality to easily justify that kind of investment time and again - truly, this is a franchise that knows how to eat up the small hours of the day. If ever you needed a game to kill time in while trying out multiple different approaches to victory, allowing you to succeed either through making friends or destroying enemies in equal measure, then Rome II has been tailor made to match your desires. Additionally, for those veteran Rome II players that have not touched the game in numerous weeks or months, the Emperor Edition provides even more content for you to explore with an all-new story campaign, more units, allowing you to control a previously unplayable faction and greatly changing up the dynamics of early game economy, construction paths and even the politics system.
10/10


Final Score

The final score for Total War: Rome II: Emperor Edition is a 45/50, or an 90/100, or an 9/10. This is a fantastic game that started out as a massive disappointment based on lacking features and extensive issues related to functionality, but the release of the Emperor Edition and numerous patches over the past year has served to fix the vast majority of my and other gamers' complaints about Rome II. The numerous changes and additions offered by the Emperor Edition serve to make it not only a colossal improvement over the standard Rome II game, but as it is a free update it also increases the value of the overall package ten-fold. Anyone with even a remote interest in Rome, tactical battles or strategy gaming will find something to love from this entry in the Total War franchise, with newcomers and veterans alike all surely able to derive dozens of hours of entertainment from watching nations crumble and empires form.

The scoring system explained earlier is divided into 10 rating based on a game's score out of 100 (or 10). This is the key used for each of these 10 ratings.

1 - Horrible, do not purchase.
2 - Pathetic, nothing to really recommend it.
3 - Awful, one or two good things.
4 - Sub-par, a few redeeming qualities.
5 - Mediocre, not terrible but not good.
6 - Average, thoroughly ok and nothing else.
7 - Good, some issues but mostly recommendable.
8 - Great, a high quality purchase.
9 - Fantastic, recommended for all.
10 - Perfect, does everything right.


Thank you all for reading my latest video game review; I certainly hope it was either enjoyable or useful - or even perhaps both! What are your thoughts on Rome II, whether through the experience of playing a broken early-game or the sheer progress Creative Assembly has made leading up to the huge Emperor Edition update? Please leave any and all feedback in the comments section below - we appreciate all criticism and discussion! Thanks again!

6 comments:

  1. For clarity, the original release day build of the game would have received a 6/10 had I reviewed it back in late 2013. The game is so much better than what it used to be!

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  2. Thanks for doing this. I held off originally getting this game. (been holding out for a new medieval). It's nice to know they've fixed so many of the issues. Might be time to pick this up next steam sale!

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  3. I bought the game back in 2013 on pre-order.. and what a massive disappointment that was. I know they've been constantly updating the game with balance patches and graphic improvements, but outside of that, what does this new copy offer?

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    1. There's a new playable faction in the campaign (Getae), there are at least two or three new building "trees" that have multiple mini-development paths in them for each faction, they actually expanded and made the politics system make sense, they added an entirely new playable story campaign (the Imperator Augustus Campaign), plus any of the free DLC they've added to the game previously. Thankfully the Imperator Augustus campaign has 10 playable factions, uses the entire campaign map and focuses on the Roman civil war - yay for diversity!

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  4. I am very glad they made this free, would not have been a happy bunny after committing to it and staying faithful to the total war franchise.

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  5. I think youre being very generous I would give this 7 out of 10 at most and that's being generous however much they try and patch over the cracks this game is fundamentally broken no matter how polished a turd it has become its still a turd. all they needed to do was give us rome 1 with better graphics and a new campaign they failed utterly

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