or login with

Total War: Rome 2 Review

13 Sep 2013  by   Peter Parrish
Game Details
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: SEGA
Reviewed on: PC
Tweet about this on Twitter5Share on Facebook0Share on Google+4Share on Reddit0

Which just leaves the issues that have arisen from the features and changes introduced with Rome 2.

Let’s start with the new user interface, which gives the impression of being streamlined, while simultaneously managing to hide or obscure a great deal of useful information.

total war rome 2 (1)

I didn’t complete that mission, actually. The game just thinks I did for some reason.

It took me forever, for example, to learn what actual function basic attributes like zeal, authority and cunning had. Zeal makes you more of a battlefield badass, authority extends the general’s zone of control on the battlefield and cunning reduces special ability cool-downs, but I still have no idea where I eventually found that out. Tech trees are either squeezed into a tiny box or, in the case of a general’s ability tree, not even present at all. For that one you need to fire up the separate encyclopedia, memorise the tree, then return to the general to make your actual choice. Intuitive, it is not.

Aspects like the internal faction system are barely explained at all, which isn’t too helpful when getting it wrong brings the risk of a dangerous civil war. It’s clear enough that Republican factions need to maintain a power balance between ‘families,’ and Monarchies need to assert their dominance, but the actual mechanics of political intrigue for achieving those goals are rather muddled. Taking actions against the opposing faction costs me court nobles, which in turn reduces my influence, so … how do I benefit from doing that, again?

The family tree aspect of previous Total War titles has also been removed, which is a bit of a loss as it used to add dynastic character to your progress through the game. Minor bonuses provided by a surfeit of ‘retinue’ cards are a poor substitute, and the lack of mini-cinematics robs this edition’s agents (spies, dignitaries and champions) of much of their flavour.

total war rome 2 (2)

The cinematic unit camera is a gimmicky but welcome addition.

Prior to release, much was made of Total War: Rome 2‘s transparent new diplomacy system, which would show you precisely why a rival faction was prepared or unprepared to make deals with you. It’s presented in much the same way as a tooltip from Europa Universalis, with plus and minus points based on your recent actions leading to an overall “how friendly are we feeling towards you” score.

A neat idea, but unfortunately it seems to be functioning in a fairly haphazard way at present. When it works, you can cleverly negotiate a military alliance or non-aggression pact to secure a weak border while you pursue campaigns elsewhere. When it’s misbehaving, you’ll find a faction that you’ve almost obliterated attempting to broker a peace deal in which you pay them large sums of gold. Err … no thanks, chaps.

It doesn’t help that the “balance of power” bars that are supposed to give you an idea what kind of bargaining position you’re in appear to be bugged. They’ll show up correctly as you browse the faction list, but seem to default back to 50/50 as soon as you engage someone in conversation. The question is, are the bars simply displaying incorrectly or is the balance really defaulting back to its starting position? It’s impossible to say, but some of the auto-resolve “relative army strength” bars for Rome 2‘s battles seem to suffer from the same problem, displaying values that can’t possibly be correct.

total war rome 2 (6)

You don’t even have any settlements left! Just accept my bloody peace offer!

When Tim McDonald and I ventured into the co-op multiplayer campaign, the AI turn times went from arduous to absurd. It got so ridiculous that we were forced to alleviate our boredom by comparing the insignia of the Namnetes to the face of Arrested Development’s Tobias Funke (see for yourself) and laughing at the AI’s further attempts to extort money from us in return for trade access. Turgid turns aside, co-op functioned pretty reliably, although other people have been reporting regular ‘desyncing’ issues which lock the game up entirely.

Tactical battles offered the option for units to be ‘gifted’ to the co-op partner (regardless of whether an army of theirs was anywhere nearby,) which meant they could actually be true co-operative exercises. As the Iceni, I took the opportunity to go and set Wales on fire, while Tim’s Averni besieged … somewhere in central-ish Europe.

We also set up a quick skirmish battle to settle the ultimate question of the age: whether rampaging African war elephants or packs of savage tribal dogs would win in a fight. The result may surprise and astonish! (It’s dogs.)

Sadly, the Avatar mode that was present in Shogun 2 has been completely removed for Rome 2, so if you were a fan of that you’ll have to content yourself with basic co-op (or competitive) campaigns and one-off battles. Quite why Creative Assembly has ditched it is something of a mystery, but may be yet another example of needing to get the game out of the door in a hurry.

total war rome 2

Yes, moments later we were drawing dicks all over the map.

The glimmer of good news is that Total War: Rome 2 is not irreparably broken, and does still have a fair amount going for it. Like previous series entries, it’s capable of portraying the great spectacle of history-writ-large in a way few other games manage. There remains something thrilling about a pair of three thousand-strong forces clashing on the desert plains, spurred on by the motivating words of their generals. Every now and again, Rome 2 offers up just such a battle, where last minute reinforcements save the day with a late charge, after plucky garrison forces have held out against superior numbers and are moments away from crumbling.

The new system of uniting separate regions under the umbrella of a province (and applying all modifiers across that province,) actually works well. As does the supporting economic system, once you grasp that it’s best to have one center of military excellence bolstered by several other settlements doing farming and feel-good activities to balance the happiness, public order and squalor ratings. Even here though, some of the upper tier building values seem in need of tweaking (at times there appears to be no benefit to upgrading, say, a farm, as the overall food gain isn’t worth it,) and the UI likes to hide what buildings are available to you on newly activated land until after you activate it. Not ideal, as if it turns out you can’t afford the buildings on offer the new land will auto-convert to unhelpful slums (for … some reason) on the next turn.

Unit variety, at least, is the best it has been since Medieval 2, with Egyptian charioteers rubbing shoulders with woad-covered tribesmen, elephants and Greek hoplites. If Rome itself isn’t for you, there should be another faction here to catch your interest.

total war rome 2 (7)

Sadly, even these larger and more interesting battles tend to be over in about five minutes.

But none of this can outweigh or excuse the state Total War: Rome 2 has launched in. There seems to be something fundamentally flawed in the relationship between publisher and developer, which has led to a near-repeat of the Empire debacle. Creative Assembly is making the right noises about accepting the title’s faults and committing to a regular patching schedule (even if it does take several months,) but it’s astonishing and saddening that the developer has found itself in this position yet again.

A spectrum of technical problems, AI that ceases to function under certain campaign/battle conditions, and a UI that sometimes does its inadvertent best to conceal important information about new features of the game that may not even be working as intended are all huge flashing signs that Total War: Rome 2 was rushed to release. Anybody who purchased on (or prior) to release has every right to be appalled; especially in light of the obnoxious bragging about vastly increased budgets and record pre-order sales.

My minor role in this sorry affair is to rate the game based on the condition it’s in when I played it. So here’s your score, SEGA: you’ve earned it.

Tweet about this on Twitter5Share on Facebook0Share on Google+4Share on Reddit0

Related to this story

4/10
In six months time Rome 2 could be a decent game. At present, it’s in desperate need of a lengthy patching schedule to shore up the walls against a barbarian horde of troubles.
Have you got all our top PC game picks in your Steam library? Follow the IncGamers Curator list.
Register an IncGamers account to post comments, enter giveways and more!
You can also post through a social network or without logging in.
    
or login with

  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

You're too late! The comments are now closed.

Game advertisements by <a href="http://www.game-advertising-online.com" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.