Why must we fight? All of this senseless bloodshed and turmoil for what? I’ll tell you for what: a very entertaining game about stabbing people in the faces and then stabbing where their faces used to be until there’s no face-place left to stab. Rome: Total War will come into your house, kick your head in and lay about on your couch all day, that’s how violent and unpredictable it is. Oh, and it’s also a really cool game.
In the Rome: Total War campaign mode, you play as one of three factions of the Roman Empire: the Julii, Bruti or Scipii. Each faction has its own basic goals that the senate will levy missions for as well as each player certainly has his or her personal goals within the game. Campaign games take place on the campaign map and on individual battlefields when the talks break down and the only course of action involves a foot and an unspecified part of the enemy.
The campaign map is where the army movement and city management takes place. Dotting the countryside, there are many small towns that can be captured and put to use in different ways. Other than capturing cities, the campaign map allows for all grand-scale movement of multiple armies as well as a graphic representation of your troops and towns.
City manipulation comes down to a few basic items and the options built upon those. Most fans of strategy will be familiar with the overall city management feel. All of the old chestnuts are in place. In the city management, you can erect new buildings, which allow for quicker growth or better troops as well as recruit and retrain your forces. When a governor is present, you have control over what the city does, but without him the game turns control over to auto-manage, which does a pretty decent job overall.
Now, in Rome: Total War each of the factions is basically a family. Each commander or governor will come from directly within the decided upon family, and each one will have things that he is better at. These family members are either born in the family and reach the proper age, are adopted or marry in. Certain ones will do much better in a city than on a battlefield and vice-versa. For instance, you wouldn’t want to send someone who is really, really good at tax collecting out to lead your largest army against your toughest opponent. The same would go for not wanting your most bloodthirsty general to be in charge of “Mr. Funs Happy Time Daycare”, it’s just a bad idea.
These characters gain in skills as the game goes on, depending on what they end up doing most. After a particularly decisive battle, a General may receive a bonus to certain skills or a new trait. The leaders of your house will also attract those who want to serve him, an entourage if you will. These men also add bonuses to your General and make him a more attractive leader.
Just as family members come of age and can then join your ranks to rule, they can also get really old and die. Of course, not every death is caused by old age, there’s always the popular “get stabbed to death” method that so many battlefields have employed. Losing a General is a drag, of course, but there’s always some up and coming whippersnapper to take his place. The circle of life.
On occasion, your family will receive missions from the Senate that offer bonuses such as money or a new unit. These missions almost always involve some sort of violence, such as blockading a port or capturing a town. These deplorable actions bring us to the next wonderful section of the game.
Now, to get to the heart of the issue: the battles. Once your troops have attacked or been attacked, you have the option of commanding the battle yourself (trust me, you’ll want to). This will bring you to the tactical map and troop deployment. Before you begin deployment, though, you can listen to your General rally the troops while the camera pans over all of your units shouting and taunting the enemy. This would be known as the “We plan to kick your ASS” phase of the battle.
Once deployment is set, the battle begins in earnest. If on a field of war such as a forest or a plain, then the battle is a basic free-for-all that requires quick strategic thinking and a little luck. There are different terrain types to consider if fighting out in the wilderness. The trees can hide certain troop types for instance and can slow armies down, whereas on the plains it’s a game of who can break the enemy first.
In city sieges or assaults, the attacks come down to whether or not your army can hold the walls. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but nine times out of ten it comes down to whether you could contain the armies at the front gate or break through into the town. Once an army reaches the inner walls of a town, it’s mostly over unless the defending side has a fairly competent force inside.
In either situation, there are several different conditions that lead to a victory. If one army manages to break all the opposing units, then the option to end the battle appears, otherwise you may continue to run down the enemy so that they won’t live to fight another day. Once all units have retreated, been run down or the timer expires, the battle will automatically end. The only other win scenario comes from being able to take and hold a town square from the enemy for three minutes. Once the three minutes has been reached, the town belongs to the attacker.
The graphics during the battle scenes deserve special attention. Each of the units now has 3D rendered characters and the effect is really outstanding. Watching your cavalry fling foot soldiers in the air after a charge, or seeing the battles play out in real-time is quite the sight to see. A personal favorite is the wardog units. Though not of complete historical accuracy, watching violent, angry swarms of dogs rush through the field attacking whatever enemy they can reach is definitely satisfying.
The campaign eventually ends after playing several hundred turns as one of the great houses of Rome (or considerably less if you get annihilated). Once the campaign has been completed, you can come back and play as some of the factions that you wiped out during the campaign. This doesn’t hold true for all of the factions, but a few such as the Gauls or Carthage are playable and each have unique units that are both useful and cool. So hey, replay value.
Other than the campaign, there are quick skirmish modes as well as the ability to play a few historical battles. In the skirmish mode, you can set up a battle any way you want it and just go nutty with it. However, in the historical mode things are a tad more static, but hey, it’s a historical mode so what do you expect.
Another area that Rome: Total War deserves a good amount of praise is the soundtrack and just overall sound work that’s present in game. The score is pretty amazing and fits the game perfectly. The on-field sound is also really impressive and does quite a bit to immerse the player in the game. Hearing your General shout out commands to the different units is pretty fulfilling.
The multiplayer segment of Rome: Total War consists of two different types of battles. The first mode is a basic skirmish that can be played out as a historical battle or any type of possible combination of elements and troops. Then there’s the assault mode where several players fight for control of a city. Both modes are very fun, but don’t offer the same level of enjoyment that most will receive from the campaign.
Not everything is peachy in Rome, however. There a few little nagging problems that really bugs me. The worst, at least in my experience, being reinforcements. Reinforcements are great, don’t get me wrong, but when the reinforcements (that are controlled by the games AI) manage to wipe out my secondary army and the character I had leading them, it kinda makes me sad. There are other little bugs and loopholes here and there like bribing being way too easy and certain population exploits, but these end up being mostly irritating and not game breaking. Well, not as game breaking as losing your best General because he got a crazy notion and charged headlong into certain death. That’s kind of heartbreaking.
Even with a few minor bugs and one irritating AI action, Rome: Total War is a must for strategy fans and sometimes even those who aren’t. This is a game that easily gives you more than your moneys worth of play. No matter if you’re a fan of strategy, combat, really angry guys with spears or some mixture of all of the above, Rome: Total War will definitely please.