Total War: Rome II Emperor Edition - game title

A couple years ago, I wrote an impressions post for Total War: Rome II with a tentative review score of 5 out of 10. I never got around to writing a full review of the game because it remained in a near constant state of flux for over a year after its release. The developers kept adding new DLC ranging from modest culture packs to the tiny Blood & Gore pack. Last year, Creative Assembly released a massive DLC pack that also included across-the-board balance updates and expansion of some of the game's core features. This "Emperor Edition", and its attached Imperator Augustus campaign was free to everyone who bought the original Rome II, and so I decided to give it a try to see if it greatly improved the game.

Total War: Rome II - Blood & Gore
Blood & Gore costs a few dollars extra for those who want it, and increases the ESRB rating to Mature.

Core gameplay has subtle changes

Most of the changes to the core game are subtle, but they do add up to create a more enjoyable experience. The A.I. isn't nearly as bad as it originally was, and naval battles are actually playable now. Building effects have been completely rebalanced in order to avoid the problems with rampant squalor and lack of food that plagued the core game, and the politics systems have been changed to be more active and relevant to the game. Unfortunately, many of these changes are so sweeping, that they break existing campaign save games, meaning that if your version of Rome II was automatically updated, then you lost the ability to continue with any of your previous campaigns.

The most notable changes to empire management is that resources and building upgrades allow for much greater specialization of your various regions. This combined with the rebalancing of squalor and food means that there is incentive to actually upgrade your buildings past the first couple of levels. You also have some more meaningful decisions on what buildings you want to build and upgrade.

Total War: Rome II - the glory of Rome
Squalor is no longer an intractable restriction towards building the glory of Rome.

Cities still physically grow on the map as the population grows and more buildings are constructed, and many of the high level buildings can add unique visual flairs to individual cities. It's also informative, since it's easy to see (at a glance) what infrastructure a city might have, which can help you manage your own empire, and can help you to assess the worth of a city for potential conquest.

A.I.s have also been designed to build higher-level settlements and to manage their armies better. Having higher-level buildings means that they have larger armies with more advanced units and better equipment. They provide a much greater challenge, as well as more tempting targets of conquest now. I haven't run into situations in which major factions (Carthage) dissolve into rebellions at the start of the game like I used to see in the base game.

Higher morale means battles last longer

Perhaps the best improvement that's been made by the post-release patches and the Emperor Edition is that the real-time battles are paced much better. Unit morale has been significantly tweaked so that units don't route and flee as soon as they make contact with a superior enemy force. Battles will generally take more than just a couple of minutes to complete, but they still aren't anywhere close to occupying the entire hour that the battle timer allows.

You'll actually have time to move some support units to help out an outnumbered defender before they flee, so there's also a lot more strategy involved in the individual battles. Reserve forces and cavalry flanking maneuvers have more relevance, and generals actually have time to reach front-line units in order to use their powers. You don't have to just clump all your units together in a single wall and ram them into your opponent anymore. You can even engage the enemy with a smaller force if you are stuck having to wait for reinforcements to arrive.

Total War: Rome II - bigger battles
Tactical battles are slower, making cavalry and reserves more relevant, and allowing for more strategic thinking.

Speaking of cavalry, they are actually useful now, since units are generally more responsive to movement commands. In the initial launch version, I found cavalry to be useless because once they engaged an enemy unit, it was almost impossible to disengage without the whole unit getting routed or wiped out. Basically the only thing they were useful for was chasing down enemy skirmishers or flanking artillery. Now, I actually build and use cavalry because they are useful for hit-and-run attacks against regular melee infantry. You still want to keep them away from the pointy end of spears and pikes, but that's to be expected.

I still wish the battles were slowed down a little bit more, but the pacing is a lot better than it was at release. I still rarely see battles last more than 5 minutes of actual fighting, and I still routinely have to pause the game in order to issue orders because unit movement and combat happens so fast ...

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Total War Rome II: title

I had high expectations for Total War: Rome II. Shogun 2 is one of my favorite games of the recent years, and its second expansion Fall of the Samurai made it even better!

Total War is one of the few game franchises that has managed to keep itself outside of the grasp of the casual-gaming market, and has time after time provided some of the deepest, and most engaging strategy games available. But it was only a matter of time before Sega and Creative Assembly began to treat their flagship franchise as a mainstream release rather than a niche title, and they chose to begin with Rome II. The result is a series of questionable changes to the way the game is played, a dumbing-down of the overall interface, a gutting of features, and a host of bugs and balance issues in a game that feels more like a paid-for beta than a full release.

Creative Assembly has been tweaking the game with patches every one or two weeks since release trying to bring the game up to par, so it's in a state of constant flux as major balance tweaks, mechanic changes, and even new feature sets are being introduced. As such, I don't feel it's appropriate to fully review the game quite yet, and I will treat the release version more like a public (paid for) beta. Hopefully, the game will see marked improvement, and it will not end up like disastrous SimCity "reboot". I also wrote an impressions post about that game, but never got around to a full review because the game never became worth playing.

The most immediately noticeable area in which depth and control have been lost is in the interface. I'm not going to complain too much about the campaign interface, since it still has most of the information that you would expect. Provinces are divided up into regions, and each region contains a settlement, but the province interface allows you to manage all the settlements in the province. This is a little bit of streamlining that makes sense. You don't have to manually click on every little settlement in order to give build orders or view public order. The only downside is that this system has minimized the role of resources. You don't build specific structures on improvements (such as mines or pastures). Instead, this is all apparently handled by the cities, which would be fine, except that now enemy armies can't pillage your resources directly. Instead, a more abstract "raid" order has been tacked on to armies that lets them automatically pillage resources in the province.

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