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Total War: Rome 2 Review

13 Sep 2013  by   Peter Parrish
Game Details
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: SEGA
Reviewed on: PC
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Like one of the multitude of tiny factions spread across its vast campaign map, Total War: Rome 2 has found itself assailed on all sides by rampaging technical problems, militant tribes of AI issues and the bewitching obscurity of mysterious and ill-explained new features. If you’re one of the people who pre-ordered or purchased the game, you’ll be well aware that Creative Assembly’s latest series entry has the feeling of a game that launched itself onto the world stage too soon.

That probably sounds familiar, because (to greater or lesser degrees,) this process has been repeating since the release of the original Shogun: Total War in 1999. Troubles peaked with Empire: Total War, a game issued in such an untested state that AI opponents were literally unable to attack the human player across any expanse of sea. This, despite the much-hyped addition of exciting ocean warfare.

total war rome 2 (3)

Here, the AI allows me to pelt its general with stones until he dies.

It’s pretty clear why this keeps occurring. Creative director Mike Simpson practically spelled it out in a post-Empire blog entry from November 2009, in which he wrote:

We do however also have another customer who we make the game for, and in one particular way they are the most important of all. It’s our publisher [SEGA], who is driven by the grim necessity of commercial reality. Those necessities tend to be short term compared with the dev time of a game or the lifetime of a series. They are also necessities that we cannot ignore – if we do it’s Game Over. Empire: Total War happened the only way it could – it had to be in a box in Feb 09.

Judging by the current condition of Total War: Rome 2, you could switch the name in that last sentence and change the box (Steam) date to September 2013. I have some sympathy for Simpson and his studio, because the words have a weary truth to them. Looming large over Rome 2‘s list of problems is SEGA; a medium-sized publisher eager to maintain a recent upturn in financial fortunes. It appears the publisher spotted a relatively quiet, pre-GTA V September and decreed that the title must launch in this window.

total war rome 2 (5)

In this image, the AI attempts to siege a major city with five units. Four of which are archers.

Perhaps as a result of that pressure, technical issues that seem to have little care for a player’s particular PC parts are rampant. From the mightiest processor and double Nvidia Titans setup to the barest minimum of required specs, people have reported serious FPS problems at both campaign and battle map levels. This, along with overblown load times, tortuous AI turn times and weird graphical glitches galore. I’ve fallen foul of a fair few of these myself, including a horrendously sluggish campaign map that a pair of hopeful patches have so far done nothing to fix (the only thing that’s had any positive effect to date is this bizarre DirectX-based solution.)

Of all Total War: Rome 2‘s issues though, I’m most optimistic about the technical ones being fixed. When I previewed an early build of the game back in August the situation was actually even worse, with regular crashes during battles and some lighting models that were apparently completely unfinished. In the time between versions, Creative Assembly has at least managed to slightly improve on that situation.

total war rome 2 (8)

Another sad day for the AI as it forgets how to use its legs after disembarking from some boats.

AI troubles, a long-standing thorn in the Total War side, may be somewhat harder to address. As I noted in the preview, some of this stuff dates back from the earliest titles in the series. Pathfinding around large obstacles like city walls is still a problem, but it’s some newer additions that are causing the AI bother too. Siege battles give it particular trouble, as it tends to either send one unit at a time up towards the gates (for you to pick off systematically with missile weapons,) or simply attempt to beeline for the main siege capture point, and get cut down as it ignores everything in its way.

Disembarking from boats in combined sea/land clashes charges also causes the AI a lot of stress, often resulting in its units milling around on beaches with no clear plan of action. Maybe they just love sandcastles? It seems to like charging soldiers at player units and then turning away at the last second, too. This is less a clever ploy to draw out your men and more a demonstration of total confusion.

A word on the stand-alone naval battles: these are frankly bizarre, quickly devolving into a sort of ocean-going version of bumper cars where (supposedly) weaker troop transports seem to wield as much, if not more, power than purpose built seafaring vessels.

total war rome 2 (4)

Still, elephants eh? They’re pretty great.

On the campaign map, the AI doesn’t fare much better. The new economic system (more on this later) seems to baffle the AI so much that it’ll either build massive stacks of cheap spearmen and slingers or a decent mixture of just five or six units. Occasionally, it gets itself in such a mess that its armies are literally starving due to attrition. Those smaller stacks I just mentioned? The AI loves sending those on suicide missions, repeatedly breaking them against the player’s heavily defended cities to no discernable effect. Nobody is expecting the AI to be a regular match for a human player in an even-numbered fight, but the current level of incompetence is a little ridiculous.

These problems persist no matter what the difficulty level. “Legendary” allows the AI to cheat a little more and seems to make it more aggressive (perhaps by modifying what resources it has access to,) but it otherwise suffers from the exact same flaws.

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  1. DavidTheSlayer
    +2

    Great review! Dogs vs Elephants? How could the dogs win lol?

    I know how you feel on the lack of mini-cinematics for the spies etc, the interface on the generals skill-tree etc is annoying as well, I also don’t like the co-op dysnc issue. The slums and new land feature is also quite annoying, its like you got to guess what you can build on it.

    I also dislike the fact that armies can’t be made without a general like previous total war series or led by a champion that worked their way up the ranks etc but I might get used to that in time. The Zeal stuff is confusing as is having to hover over everything for a second to expand stuff for more info.

    On the plus side, my red skies have been fixed in the latest patch as far as I tested in one quick custom battle. Co-op dysnc remains to be tested.

    September 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm
    1. Avatar of
      Peter Parrish
      +5

      It should probably be stated for the record that Tim did have a LOT of dogs.

      September 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm
      1. Avatar of
        Tim McDonald
        +2

        Yeah, it was (I think) 16 elephants against about 200 dogs. I wanted incendiary pigs, but apparently they aren’t in this one :( Still, the dogs did me proud as a GIANT MURDER SWARM.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:04 am

  2. Kodes
    +1

    I still have zero idea how the roman family thing works, especially when you can just ‘adopt’ any high whatever that number it is general into your family, and even then it actually doesn’t do anything of value.

    Autoresolve is quite broke – it assigns too much value to archers, which are notoriously cack.

    So yeah, if it’s patched, it’d be good, but it’s just a dog atm.

    September 14, 2013 at 1:29 am

  3. Gouka
    +10

    You really nailed it with this review. I think comparisons with the Empire release in the Total War series is particularly spot on, and is exactly what I’ve been thinking after reading the large number of forum posts from people with issues of all kinds. As you said, each game in this series has felt like it was rushed out the door to a greater or lesser degree, with Rome II being near the limit of the greater end of that along with Empire. Now once again, the fans of this series have to wait for a series of patches to fix the tech issues, and likely modders to fix as best they can the AI issues. Talk about deja vu.

    Still can’t figure out why they dropped the Avatar system from Shogun 2 for MP, other than the reason you suggest. I had thought there was a lot of positive feedback from players on that. Worse, I have this bad feeling that if they do bring it back, it’ll be in the form of some DLC we’ll have to pay for. Won’t that be special? I mean, maybe they won’t and it will be included in some patch further down the road, but considering we’re talking about SEGA here, not to mention the fact that they are now ‘partnered’ with EA, my hopes for things being added to the game for free are rather faint to say the least.

    Anyway, thanks much for the honest review. It really makes one wonder at all the review sites that gave this game such high scores without deducting points properly as you have for giving the gaming community, once again, an unfinished product.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:35 am
    1. Avatar of
      Tim McDonald
      +4

      We actually discussed a lot of this stuff while testing out the co-op multiplayer, during the incredibly lengthy AI turns – specifically, why stuff like the Avatar system and the agent cinematics and the family trees and so on were gone. Best guess was that the game was rushed out the door, and there just wasn’t time to implement a lot of the “extra” bits and bobs like that, because there were clearly problems enough just finishing the base game.

      I dunno if something like Avatar Mode will be stand-alone DLC (as that, honestly, seems like a good way to massively fragment the userbase and doom the mode to rarely being played – although that’s with the expectation that whoever makes that decision has common sense) but I’d maybe be slightly surprised if it didn’t turn up as an extra mode in the inevitable expansion. Shogun 2 admittedly had gore as paid DLC, but I get the feeling that was more a way to dodge a higher rating with a bit of money-grubbing thrown in on top…

      September 14, 2013 at 5:22 am

  4. Aaron
    +5

    Great review. Hit the nail on the head with just about every point. The more bloated, network-owned publications like Gamespot and IGN gave this game glowing reviews. It’s really hard not to think they were bought out.

    I was absolutely floored when I saw the Metacritic score.

    The internet needs more honest reviewers like you to tell CA and SEGA that they can’t keep shelling out this bulls**t and getting rewarded for it. It’s becoming almost criminal.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm
    1. Avatar of
      Widukind
      +5

      I agree, the average critic score on metacritic is highly dubious, especially if compared to the average user score: 8.0 vs. 3.7 respectively at the time of writing

      September 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

  5. Dekko
    +4

    Outstanding review, well informed and insightful

    September 16, 2013 at 10:57 am

  6. Dekko
    +2

    Simply have to wait a good 3-6 months post release for any Total War game to be fixed. Sad, but true. Will purchase at Christmas, will be worth the wait. I’m playing Empire with Darthmod Empire 8.1 now and it’s my favourite PC game of all time

    September 16, 2013 at 11:04 am

  7. Gregg

    It looks like SEGA is going the way of Acclaim Entertainment – pushing out titles long before they’re ready in a quest to make more money.

    You remember Acclaim, right? No? That’s ok. Not many people do. Because they screwed up just like SEGA is doing right now.

    Oh SEGA, how far you have fallen.

    WELCO
    METOT
    HENEX
    TLEVEL
    ???

    Methinks not.

    September 16, 2013 at 8:38 pm

  8. Slapshot
    +1

    This is one of the few honest reviews for this game.

    September 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm
  9. Avatar of
    Asteria

    So why the inflated scores elsewhere?

    Is it because they didn’t play the game for more than an hour or they did but have been encouraged financially to score it favorably or they don’t know how to review a game or the objective of a review.

    How can a reviewer score the game ‘perfect’ when it’s clearly far from it, more importantly, and get away with it?

    September 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm
    1. Avatar of
      Peter Parrish
      +1

      Difficult to know for sure, but I’m guessing a combination of: reviewer inexperienced with strategy games, the rush to publish a review on embargo date (review code was being offered AT BEST one week before release – barely enough time to review Rome 2 properly,) and the subconscious pressure that this is a “major release” type game which always translates to more favourable scores.

      I don’t know of a single instance, nor have I even heard credible rumours of, a reviewer getting direct financial compensation in return for a good review. The whole “well I work for a huge network and they have a load of SEGA ads and I’m just a freelancer” angle is murkier, however. Again though, very few instances of that actually happening.

      Incompetence or a lack of critical thinking is always more likely, honestly.

      September 17, 2013 at 6:09 pm
      1. Avatar of
        Peter Parrish

        And it’s always possible that a reviewer just really, really liked the game and justified that in the text! I’ll always defend differing opinions (Tom Chick not liking Journey, etc.) Reviews shouldn’t have to reach a consensus.

        But for this game, coming out in the state it did, it should’ve been the positive reviews that were the outliers, not the other way around.

        September 17, 2013 at 6:12 pm
  10. Avatar of
    Redleg
    +1

    A most thoughtful and intelligent review. Your speculation that Sega forced a deadline on Creative that did not allow them to release a more finished game may have substance.

    One of the moderators at the “Org” fan site posted that he had a conversation over Skype with a friend who works for CA. The gist of what the unnamed employee said was that the forced September release date was a big source of contention and conflict between project development team and their Sega overlords. Basically CA knew the game wasn’t ready, but they had no choice but to ship it.

    Obviously this is only second hand gossip and this is also a common excuse heard when games ship with excessive problems, so take it for what it’s worth.

    Sega has always had a reputation for mis-steps in the gaming industry, but for the last few years Creative Assembly has been their shining star. It will be a shame if the franchise comes to an end because of Sega’s corporate stupidity.

    September 21, 2013 at 1:17 am

  11. David Chandlee
    0

    Reading this review is disappointing. I may be naive, but I thought AI would always improve with general computer calculation speeds and hence ability to examine the machine’s opponent. I only play Total War games over the years and I always eventually get to the point where the AI can’t win the campaign, taking the interest away from me. I thought it would get ‘smarter.’

    September 21, 2013 at 7:46 am

  12. GregJ
    +5

    Thank God for an honest review! After so much dishonesty from “professional” reviewers (it is the only wat I can view so many glowing reviews for a clearly incomplete product) it is a pleasure to see someone treat this game fairly and acknowlege its (significant) flaws. I wrote in a review on Amazon that this is a disgracefully incomplete & flawed game – I rarely pre-order games now as this has sadly become an all too prevalent occurence in the gaming industry – I did with Rome II as I have been such a fan of the franchise from the beginning but I will never make that mistake again – I’m a middle aged gamer with significant disposable income which will be selectively used to purchase games only after seeing user reviews and a few select professional reviews such as Incgamers. Gamers must “demand” better from game developers & publishers – and professional gaming reviews should be leading this charge not enabling publishers by dishonest reviwing.

    September 22, 2013 at 7:36 am

  13. Antonio IT

    I am very surpised to read such a negative comment about a game that was considered a major release and therefore expected with impacience by numerous fun (like me)! Nevertheless thank you for your detailed and honest review. One thing I do not understand: when a patch is released and you got the game through Steam, the patch is automatically applied to the game following its release?

    October 4, 2013 at 10:19 am
  14. Avatar of
    Peter Parrish
    +1

    Hi Antonio. Yes, Rome 2 will automatically update itself when Creative Assembly puts out patches. They also have a system where you can play with beta patches as well, but you have to specifically choose to download those (the latest is beta patch 4, which you can opt-in to by right-clicking Rome 2 in your Steam list, going to properties, then betas, and then choosing patch4beta from the drop-down menu.)

    Once a beta patch goes out of internal testing, it’s downloaded automatically. So if you just do nothing you’ll still get all of the patches as they come out ‘officially.’ Beta patch 4 will probably become an official one in a week or so. Right now, your game will be patched up to patch 3.

    Thanks for the nice words about the review (that goes for everyone!) – the game IS a bit better now, and I will give credit to Creative Assembly for keeping decent patches rolling out pretty quickly.

    October 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    1. Antonio IT
      +1

      Hi Peter,
      thanks for your tip on patches. You know I really hope the game will be “fixed” a little bit because Rome 1 was my favourite game since the time I stopped playng wargame on traditional cardboard maps! (with great relief of my mum ´cause I was using the living room table!).
      thanks again!!

      October 9, 2013 at 9:38 am

  15. Antonio IT

    Ave CA FANS!!
    I bring good news. I bought ROME II last week and after patch 5 it seems to work well. Very well. AI is challenging at difficult level on the campaign map (a little bit less on tactical but do not underestimate it).
    Turn sequence is lasting 1 min average now (I am turn 100 now but at the beginning of the game it was incredible fast!).
    I confess at the beginning I had to strive with a persistent video flickering problem witch took me several attempt to defeat. Simply try on the video option of the game to select the best video resolution and sincronyze vertical refresh. My pc is a laptop Sony vayo with Ratheon graphic card. Not extremely powerful, nevertheless I am enjoyg the wonderful imagines the game offers. I got only 1 crash in almost 60 hours of gaming.
    Diplomacy is quite consistent with the situation even if could offer some more option (like exchange territories, or offering them as part of an agreement etc).
    Anyway it was worth to wait a couple of month before buying!!!

    November 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

  16. Bellabia
    +3

    Could someone explain to me, how other review sites giving this game 95%. They are shamelessly misleading people and they are getting away with it. This is ridiculous what goes on in this world lately!

    November 28, 2013 at 6:18 am

  17. Shiro
    +3

    This was an amazing review! 5 star quality! It’s thorough, but to the point.

    Also, I really appreciate all the insight you’ve provided in the comment section, Peter. You’re really intelligent; everything you’ve said about SEGA, Creative Assembly, and the other reviews is dead on in my opinion.

    incgamers.com has itself a new fan.

    Thank you!

    January 7, 2014 at 6:57 pm

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